Seed Starting Basics: Hardening and Transplanting

Your seedlings are happy and thriving, and the temperature is starting to warm up… now what?

Well first of all, don’t let a mid-March warm snap fool you (we weren’t fooled this year, mostly because it never warmed up in March). You should base your planting schedule on your average last frost date (there are a number of places you can find this date), which for us here in northern Ohio (zone 5/6) is toward the end of May. (That means you probably shouldn’t be planting your tender vegetables out in April – recipe for disaster. Some plants, like the brassicas, will do okay with some light frost, but tomatoes, not so much.)

But (another but? I thought this was easy…) you can’t just move the tomatoes from your basement and stick them out in the ground on a clear, sunny day – another recipe for disaster. Now is the time for that final step in your seed starting journey, the hardening and transplanting process.

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Seed Starting Basics: The Equipment

Now that you’ve got the soil mix down and a place to grow, the next step in starting your own plants from seed is coming up with the right seed starting equipment.

It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, and really, shouldn’t be, unless you’re doing it as a business, or you just have lots of money that you need to spend.

Your seeds need only a few things: light, warmth, and some moisture, light being the most important (I’m going to assume that you won’t forget to water).

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Homemade Corned Beef

Nothing says St. Patrick’s Day like a dinner of corned beef and cabbage… that, and a bunch of clearly non-Irish people dressing in leprechaun suits and drinking green beer.

Of course, as with many other products, what you’d pick up in stores is generally full of unfriendly additives, doesn’t taste as good, and is more expensive than what you could make yourself (and note that the cheaper it gets, the more full-of-garbage it gets too!). Since it’s so easy to make your own homemade corned beef, why don’t you start a new tradition this St. Patrick’s Day?

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Seed Starting Basics: Creating a Seed Starting Mix

The next step in your seed starting journey is coming up with a medium in which to plant them.

Seeds will germinate on a wet paper towel just fine, but they won’t make it a whole lot further without a good seed starting mix. You can certainly just go out and bring in a bucketful of your regular soil, but in all likelihood, that’s gonna be a little on the heavy, dense side. I’m not suggesting that it won’t work; if you want to give it a shot, go ahead, and you’ll probably get some kind of results.

But ideally, your delicate little seeds would prefer something on the lighter side, something that holds water and warmth, but also drains very well – one of the biggest causes of dead seedlings is too much wet, not enough dry. So to reach that ideal combination, I’m going to show you how I make my own seed starting mix. Sure, you can buy those little bags from your local nursery, but they don’t stretch very far (really, you’d be surprised at how quickly a 2 quart bag is gone), and they’re a lot more expensive. And I like cheap.

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Seed Starting Basics: The Why and the How (To Decide)

Although you wouldn’t be able to guess based on the weather, it’s time to start thinking about starting your indoor seeds! Not only those tender plants like tomatoes and peppers, but hardy ones like onions, cabbage, and broccoli, which get a head start by being started inside before an early spring transplanting.

Never started your own seeds before? It’s not quite as simple as sticking some seeds in the ground outside, but still easy enough that a caveman could do it. If you’ve read the Gardening 101 series, consider this Gardening 201.

Yes, you’ll need a little bit of equipment and some time, but your setup can be about as rustic or as fancy as you’re comfortable with. Hopefully, by the time we wrap this series up on seed starting basics, you’ll be itching to get a pack of tomato seeds!

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