With the rising costs of gasoline and food and the worry about the quality of the food we buy, many of you will be planting a vegetable garden this year. If you grow your own food, you can save money and you can be sure of the quality of your vegetables because you will control the environment in which they are grown.
There are some vegetable plants that you can start indoors, and there are some that you can plant from seed directly into your garden beds.
The plants that you would commonly start indoors include tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, watermelon and herbs. There are other plants that don't transplant well, and they should be seeded directly into the garden. These would include carrots and beets.
If you want to start some of your plants indoors, you need to start the plants at the right time. If you start the plants too soon, they will be overgrown before you have a chance to set the plants into the garden.
Many of your vegetable plants will be killed by a frost if you set the plants out too early. In our area, the average date for the last frost is May 10. But we have had frosts as late as Memorial Day. As a general rule, you want to start your plants indoors 8 to 10 weeks before you would place the plants in the garden. There are some vegetables that you can plant earlier in the garden, in late April or early May. These include broccoli, cabbage, lettuce and kale. If you look at your calendar, now would be the right time to start many of your plants indoors.
If you want to successfully grow your vegetable plants indoors, you need to put them in a warm and sunny area. If you have a south- or west-facing window, and your home temperatures are in the mid- to upper-60s during the day, you should be able to successfully grow your plants indoors. If your conditions are less than perfect, you can set up grow lights to provide sufficient light for your plants. Heat mats can provide the warmth your plants need for optimum growth.
One mistake many gardeners make when starting vegetable plants indoors is that they use improper soil. If you use soil from your garden or if you use regular potting soil, you may have a problem with bacteria or fungus killing off your plants.
You should always use a seed-starting soil. The containers should also not have been in contact with soil from your garden. If you have pots that have been outside, you can sterilize the pots before you use them. All in all, it is better to use new containers each year to start your plants.
Space limitations won't allow me to get into all of the details of starting your plants indoors. If you need help or if you have questions, feel free to stop by the store.
Starting your vegetable plants indoors is a fun way to get you started on the gardening season. If you have to buy grow lights or heat mats, there is a higher up-front cost, but these items can be used from year to year. Otherwise, starting plants from seed can also save you money.
Well, that's all for this week. I'll talk to you again next week.
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Tim Lamprey is the owner of Harbor Garden Center on Route 1 in Salisbury. His website is www.Harborgardens.com. Do you have questions for Tim? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, and he will answer them in upcoming columns.