As you begin to explore starting seeds indoors, you’ll come across the term heirloom seeds. When you read about heirlooms, the books and catalogs make them seem like the best thing in the world. But what are they, and should you plant them in your garden?
The first thing to understand about heirloom seeds is that there is no set definition of what they are; there’s no agreement on what the term means.
Some people consider heirlooms those seeds that are passed down through a family across the span of many years. Flower or vegetable seeds saved by your grandmother, given to your mother, and then given to you may be considered heirloom seeds.
Others believe that heirlooms are plant seeds with a long history of cultivation. Generally, such seeds are open-pollinated. Hybrid seeds rarely breed true, so collecting seeds from hybrid plants results in offspring that differ from the parents.
Last year I grew these heirloom seeds – chard, Rainbow mix.
Interest is growing in heirloom seeds. They’re fun to grow. It’s even more fun to explore the interesting tastes, colors, and textures among the many heirloom varieties of vegetables available.
Starting Seeds Indoors with Heirloom Seeds
You can find heirloom seeds in different ways. Of course, if you have a grandparent or parents with a seed collection, beg or borrow from them!
Save your own garden seeds when you can especially from open-pollinated, non-hybrid sources.
Specialty catalogs offer heirlooms. Baker Creek is my favorite. Last year I was able to grow several varieties of heirlooms from their catalog. “Lincoln” peas, an heirloom vegetable seed variety from around 1908, produced the best pea harvest in my garden.
I have also grown heirloom carrots, chard, and tomatoes. Have you ever heard of the tomato called Brandywine? When I was working at a garden center in the 1990s, Brandywine was the latest introduction. It is supposed to be ‘find’ from a Pennsylvania garden where the seeds have been saved and passed along down the generations.
Tomatoes are one of the most popular heirlooms to try.
How to Grow Heirloom Seeds
Heirloom seeds are grown just like any other type of seed. Follow the directions on the seed package. If you receive the seeds from another gardener, a reference book on plant propagation of your local Cooperative Extension website should have instructions on how to grow these seeds.
Part of the fun of starting seeds indoors is growing heirlooms. Try them this year.
Growing basil from seed is an easy way to add this herb to your garden.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a tender annual. It is very sensitive to frost and cold. Do not plant your basil outside until all danger of frost is gone.
In Virginia (Zone 6B) where I live, that means waiting to plant basil outside until around Mother’s Day or after May 15. I like to add a few days onto our “official” frost-free date to be absolutely sure I won’t lose my basil plants to cold.
When starting seeds indoors, having the right equipment and supplies is important. Here’s a list of the items you need for successfully starting seeds indoors this spring.
Starting Seeds Indoors
If you’re new to backyard gardening, starting seeds indoors may seem like a mysterious task. Should you bother to start seed indoors or plant them directly in the ground? Or should you purchase plants at the garden center instead of trying to start vegetables and flowers from seeds?
Some plants are best to start from seed directly in the garden soil. Among vegetables, many root crops such as beets, turnips, carrots and similar vegetables prefer that their seeds are sown directly into the garden soil at the right time. The ‘right’ time is stated on the back of your seed package. Each seed package comes with detailed instructions, including planting dates and directions on how to plant your garden seeds so that they will germinate.
With other plants, you can start seeds indoors several weeks before the last anticipated frost date for your region (the so-called ‘frost free’ date you see mentioned a lot on Home Garden Joy and in books and magazines.) If you prefer and if it’s easier, you can also buy the same plants at your local nursery and garden center and transplant them into your garden in the spring.
If it’s easier to buy plants already grown and waiting to be planted in the garden, then why bother starting seeds indoors? It’s simple: variety. When I start my backyard garden seeds indoors, I can choose from among hundreds of varieties of tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and flowers for my garden. I can choose heirloom seeds, or seeds handed down over the generations, or I can choose the latest hybrids. I can grow yellow tomatoes or big crimson ones. It may be hard to find such a great variety at the garden center, where limited space means the retailers have to cater to the masses rather than special tastes.
So for those wondering whether starting seeds indoors is worth it, it is if you want to save money or grow special varieties. If you’re unsure you have the time, space, or dedicated to nurturing your seeds through until the spring, wait and buy plants for your backyard garden. It’s better to plant some vegetables than nothing, and it may be easier to wait to choose your plants than to struggle with seed starting if you’re not sure you’ll enjoy it.
Seed Starting Equipment and Supplies
The basic seed starting equipment and supplies that you’ll need include:
Garden seeds: Vegetable seeds, flower seeds, or any combination of both are fine. Choose seeds from reputable companies and look for details on the back of the seed package to find out when to plant them indoors or outside.
Seed starting tray: Seed starting trays have small cells or pockets. Many have a tray that fits underneath to capture water that drips out and a clear dome or plastic cover that fits over the top. The dome or cover acts like a miniature greenhouse, preventing the soil from drying out and keeping heat inside.
Soil: Sterile seed starting mix is the best mixture for starting seeds indoors. It’s a light, powdery, almost fluffy-textured soil filled with small white ‘pebbles’ called vermiculite. These lightweight rocks add drainage to the soil mixture. If you can’t find seed starting mixture, use a good potting soil. Do not use soil dug up from your yard. You may accidentally dig up and bring indoors insect eggs, larva or pupae. You don’t want to hatch a nice crop of flies, beetles, or other insects inside your home.
Light: Some seeds need light to germinate while others require darkness. All plants need light once the seed germinates. Light sources for indoor seed starting can come from a sunny windowsill or a fluorescent light fixture. While fluorescent lights do not contain the full spectrum of light that plants need for long-term health, they are fine for short-term seed starting indoors.
Water: A simple watering can and a spray mister are all you need to water your plants.
Plant markers or stakes: Small plant labels, markers or stakes should be used to identify seeds and seedlings. Many plants look-alike when they’re young and it is easy to confuse them. Use a waterproof marker or a pencil to mark the plant’s name on the stick so that daily watering doesn’t wash away the name.
Below you can see a picture of my seed starting area:
It’s not fancy, but it works well for my needs.
Here you can see the plant labels that I use. I label the seed area with the name of the vegetable seed (Tomato) and the variety (Beefsteak on the left, Early Girl on the right.) These plant labels are made from a clean cake frosting can cut apart into strips. You can also use strips of an old Venetian blind or purchase plant labels at any garden center.
Heirloom seeds, such as these packages from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, offer the variety that I crave. It’s hard to find similar vegetable seeds at the store or plants at the garden center. These four seed types – lettuce, beets, and carrots – are best sown directly into the garden soil.
The back of the seed package contains all the information that you need to grow your seeds. “Direct sow” means sowing it straight in the garden soil. If these seeds should be started inside, the seed package would provide information on how and when to start seeds indoors.
Recommended Resources for Starting Seeds Indoors
I hope this short introduction to starting seeds indoors, and the equipment and supplies that you’ll need, has inspired you. Happy gardening and keep growing!
I spent time this past weekend completing my seed inventory. What is a seed inventory? If you’ve been gardening for a while, you tend to collect a lot of half-full seed packages. Although my garden is big, I don’t use all the seeds that I buy each season. Instead, I save them for the next year.
The problem? I usually forget what I have, buy too much of what I don’t need, and find myself scrambling to locate specific varieties when the season is already underway and local garden centers are sold out.
Taking a Seed Inventory
A seed inventory is simply a count of what you have on hand and a list of what you need. I take my seed inventory by first mapping out what I plan to plant in the vegetable garden. Here is my list for 2017:
Lettuce – red leaf, mixes
Swiss Chard – rainbow mix “Bright Lights”
Peas – Lincoln, our favorite variety
Beets – Detroit Dark Red
Onions – sweet
Carrots – Scarlet Nantes and Nantes Half-Long
Late Spring – Summer
Tomatoes – Beefsteak, Early Girl, Roma/Plum types, Sweet 100s (cherry).
Peppers – just four plants this year since we always have too many.
Green Beans – Blue Lake (our favorite variety, a bush type).
Sweet Potatoes – slips (starter plants) for “Beauregard”
Garlic – Elephant type
We have many herb plants but need more. This is a list of what I plan to grow, including some we already have.
Holy Basil (tulsi)
On the list of herbs, above, I have all except for the basils, dill, and parsley. I do need more lemon balm, however, since the plants I have seem to be struggling.
Starting garden seeds starts well before planting time. Now is the time to start planning your winter garden, browsing those seed catalogs, taking stock of what you have, and making a list of what you need.
What dreams do you have for your garden this year? Do you dream about a beautiful garden bed filled with flowers? Ripe tomatoes from plants in containers on your deck? Fresh herbs growing on your kitchen windowsill?
Whatever your garden dreams, you can take steps towards achieving them.
Starting Garden Seeds: First Steps
I’ve written a lot about starting a garden from scratch. If you are a subscriber to my email list, you should have access to the e-book, Get Your Hands Dirty – A Beginner’s Guide to Gardening. This is a 50+ page e-book I created to share basics on how to set up your garden. Join my list to receive your free copy by email.
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If you have dabbled in gardening a little and have some seeds, tools and resources already…here are the steps to plan your spring garden.
Consider what grew well last year and what didn’t. Make a list of both.
Think about which vegetables your family loves and which they loathe. I try not to plant what my husband won’t eat, or at least I plant very few of the veggies he doesn’t like. I love parsnips, and he dislikes them, so I plant just two rows of them in the garden in the fall, about enough for two meals for me. Vegetables he loves, like green beans, peas, and beets, fill garden beds. Make lists of what your family loves.
Now make a list of what you’re dreaming about growing! Do you want to try your hand at growing heirloom vegetables? Rare varieties? Asian or Italian vegetables?
Once you have your list…it’s time to go “window shopping.” And by window shopping, I mean Windows (or Mac), as in online browsing. Don’t buy anything yet! Just start browsing around the seed companies and reviewing what is available to you.
Great Seed Catalogs to Explore
Garden catalogs are both informative and beautiful but becoming scarce as more seed companies move to greener, online resources. Some of my favorite catalogs include Baker Creek, Park, Burpee, American Meadow Seeds, and Select Seeds. Select Seeds has wonderful plants and seeds for butterfly gardens. I choose my herb seeds from Strictly Medicinal Seeds. I also buy many of my herb, vegetable and flower plants locally from friends and growers like Long Ears Herbs, Evergreen Lavender Farm, and others.
Some seed companies to consider….
Once you’ve gone window shopping via your computer, it’s time to select your seeds. We’ll talk a little more about the different types of seeds, seed starting setups, and equipment this month. Until then, enjoy a little “fun time” with your catalogs and dreams!