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The Dirt about Starting Seeds

3 min read

The Dirt about Starting Seeds

We get so excited about Spring arriving – and buying and planting seeds is a good ‘spring’ activity that you can do when it is still cold out.


A few factoids – the frost free date is the ‘official’ date when the risk of a killing frost is less than 50%...  for Ontario we use some old data from the 80’s that might not take into effect the recent climate change issues – but here is a guide that will give you an approximation for when it is safe to plant out tender flowers and vegetables.

Barrie - May 26
Hamilton - Apr. 29
Kapuskasing - Jun. 12
Kingston - May 2
Kitchener - May 11
London - May 9
Ottawa - May 6
Owen Sound - May 12
Peterborough - May 18
Sudbury - May 17
Thunder Bay - Jun. 1
Timmins - Jun. 8
Toronto - May 9
Windsor - Apr. 25


But we can play with seeds ahead of the frost free dates – both indoors and out in the garden.


Both vegetable and flower gardens have two types of seedling processes – one is for seeds you need to start indoors before they are put into the garden, while the other activity is with seeds you plant directly outdoors into your garden beds. 


Plants that are started early in commercial greenhouses are the same types of plants that you could grow yourself indoors on your windowsill or start under artificial light. Typically, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers and squashes are all good candidates to start indoors - all plants that need warm soil and take a long time to fruit. The annual flowers we start ‘indoors’ include begonias, marigolds, alyssum and other slow to grow flowers. 


Indoor Seed Starting

1) Clean is key – you need to use ‘sterile’ seedling mix or Jiffy pellets as bacteria and slimy stuff likes warm, humid environment.  Do not use garden soil – way too risky. See the selection of seed starter items that we have in-store and online for you to choose from.

2) Light is important – you need a bright windowsill, or strong artificial light from grow lamps to keep young tomato plants from getting too stretchy. 

3) High moisture when seeds are germinating and seedling are very small is key. Use a clear plastic greenhouse cover or you can use clear saran wrap – also good to know that after seedlings are an inch or so high to ease back on high humidity to toughen up the small plants to get used to the drier air of the garden.

4) Do not start seedlings too soon – this is probably the number issue we see.  We all get so excited about spring coming that we plant seeds in dark of winter.  Look at your outdoor planting date – then back up from that date time for seeds to germinate then about 3-4 weeks of growing time for peppers/eggplant/tomato – only 2-3 weeks growing time for cucumbers (they grow really fast).

5) Read the packet – all seeds are a little different – some like to be covered – some like light to germinate. Spend a few minutes reading each seed packet and you will have greater success.

6) Start with easy plants – if you have not done this before consider trying some of the easier plants first to get experience and see if seed staring is for you. Good beginner seed items include any cucumber or squash, peppers, marigolds, sunflowers and zinnias. Tomatoes are a little harder but worth a go if you are keen – and small seeded and slow growing plants like begonias and petunias are perhaps for more experienced gardeners.


But if you start clean, have enough light and moisture and leave just the right amount of time – chances are you will have great success with indoor sowing.


Outdoor Seed Starting

The vast majority of veggie crops can be sown directly into the garden. Radish, peas, lettuce, cabbage, beans are the most common.  Add into that mix sweet corn, cucumbers & zucchini (for those who chose not to try these two fast growing plants indoors), carrots, onions, leeks - - it is a long list. 


In early April, you can plant peas (which you can plant when there is still snow on the ground), broccoli, cabbage, lettuce and onions.  Warm loving crops like peppers and tomatoes need to wait a few more weeks


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