How to Grow Vegetables From Seed
Starting your very own vegetable garden and seeing it through to harvest is one of the most rewarding activities that anyone can do. Here at True Leaf Market, we want to make the process of preparing your garden bed or containers and planting your seed as easy as possible! This booklet is intended on providing you with the know-how you need to feel confident in not only pursuing a garden but completing it.
Discover All of These Vegetable Seed Varieties:
Life Cycle Terms
The terms annual, biennial and perennial refer to the life cycle of a plant as it relates to the season it is growing in. When talking about days to maturity in regards to herbs, we will often refer to the herb’s lifecycle. This is because defining an herb’s maturity is tricky since maturity can mean when the plant or parts of it are harvestable, or when the plant goes to seed. If we include a specific number of days, it is in tandem with ideal growing conditions, and aimed at giving you an idea of when to expect that plant to be in peak growth.
Annual - plants that go through a full life cycle over the course of one season or year, meaning the seed grows into a plant to seed again. Annuals will grow differently depending on the climate. For example, some annuals can bolt and go to seed very quickly in very hot climates, thus, ending its life cycle.
Biennial - a plant that requires two years to complete its life cycle. Biennials take a period of dormancy to complete its life cycle, which may be fruiting or going to seed. Usually the first year, the plants produce a root system, stems, and leaves. The second year is when the plant flowers or fruits.
Perennial - plants that live for three years or more, where top foliage will die during the cold season each year, but then regrowing from the root system left behind. Some perennials have extensive lifespans, such as trees.
What is GMO Seed?
The term GMO is a term that is feared, misunderstood, and misused, leading to confusion about what a GMO seed really means. Genetically modified organisms (GMO) are living things, including seeds, whose DNA has been engineered outside the natural process of cross pollination to inherit desirable traits.
When we see anti-GMO social media posts or speak with people about what GMO means to them we find that most people don’t really know why GMO is bad they just know it is. We are a little concerned that the lack of understanding of GMO is frequently dragging non-GMO seeds, such as Hybrids, into the discussion. We do have a concern with GMO but like most people who spend time really understanding the topic our concern is that the science is moving faster than the protections, labeling laws, and crop protocols. Many of the GMO products being grown today have used very impressive technologies to introduce NON-PLANT BASED genetics into plants. It is this “crossing” of two living organisms that nature would otherwise NOT allow that has us, and many others so concerned.
For us, we reiterate that we don’t carry any type of GMO seed here at True Leaf Market.
Also known as hardiness zones, grow zones are USDA recommendations that track each region’s Average Annual Extreme Minimum Temperature, allowing gardeners to know the coldest their garden may experience during the year. Grow zones don't determine whether a plant is suitable for a region, but merely enable you to know the average lowest temperature to determine whether a particular crop may do well in your garden. Understanding grow zones is generally most important for outdoor perennial gardening because most vegetable and flower crops will grow as a seasonal annual here in the United States.
The USDA has a very user-friendly online Plant Hardiness Zone Map in which you can easily look up your hardiness zone by searching with your zip code. As mentioned, use this information to understand the extremes in your region, both hot and cold, to tailor a garden best suited to your climate.
The next question you want to ask yourself is “How much space do I realistically have to garden?” Second question is “How much light does that area receive throughout the day and where is the sun’s position?” Be aware of its trajectory. As the sun moves during the growing season, so do the conditions of that space. Be sure to pick a spot that will be consistent and beneficial to your garden throughout the growing season. It may be easier for you to find a spot if you have a yard, but don’t be discouraged if you live in a place with only a patio or less.
Urban gardening is much easier to accomplish than you might think. Just build your garden around the available space. Opt for vegetables and herbs that are known to grow well in containers and the amount of sunlight available. Determine the kind of light that space will see over the season. If you live in an apartment flat with a deck, but without direct sunlight, choose shade tolerant plants such as lettuce, chard, beet, and carrot. If you have a small patio, consider growing crops that have an upright trailing habit, such as pole beans and peas, to best utilize space. If you only have roof access or live in south-facing places that receive the heaviest sunlight, consider planting heat tolerant plants, such as dill, fennel, tomato, and pepper.
When and how you choose to sow your seeds is a critical factor when it comes to a successful garden. Look at the climate of where you live and determine the length of your grow season. The idea here is to let your environment inform you of when and how you sow your seeds for the coming season. You can directly sow them outside when temperatures are right if the length of your season permits or sow them in plug trays indoors. Much of this is determined by the seed variety itself.
When growing indoors, a grow light is necessary if you don't have a window that receives direct sunlight for eight hours of the day—and even then, with certain varieties more light exposure is required for optimal growth. Start seeds several weeks before your last frost date of the year. The number of weeks is usually stated on the seed packet.
All seeds started indoors will require a process known as “hardening off”, which is when you acclimate the seedlings to outdoor conditions, by placing them outside in increasing increments each day until they spend the whole day outside. This can take anywhere from one week to a month depending on the plant. Be wary of setting them out overnight as a sudden drop in temperatures can kill your seedlings. After you harden off your seedlings, you can transplant them in soil that is loose and moist.
Soil Types and Textures
The make-up of your soil will determine the success of your plant growth. It is rare for soils to go unamended in a garden. Most are treated using fertilizers, cover crops, mulch, and other texture additives. We recommend all-natural cover crops. Understanding soil textures also helps you choose the best soil to purchase for the varieties of plants you wish to grow in planters or containers. Understanding the elements that make up each soil type will help you to know what to add to your soil to accommodate each plant.
pH Balance of Soil
pH is simply the acidity or alkaline levels of a substance. When it comes to soil, it is important because certain plant diseases or fungi thrive in highly acidic or basic conditions. Most plants need slightly acidic soil to grow so they can properly absorb iron. Some soil amendments, such as organic worm castings offer a neutral 7.0 pH to help balance the acidity or alkalinity in soils. The right pH level allows microorganisms to convert nitrogen into a form plants can absorb. If the soil’s pH is too low, your plant can become poisoned by too much manganese.
Don't overwater - Water Consistently Yet Consciously
Lightly press your finger into the soil and feel for an ideal moisture. It should feel moist to the touch, but not soggy. Use this touch method accordingly as your seeds germinate and subsequently grow. Know that plants in containers will dry out quicker than those planted in garden beds. So, close attention needs to be paid to the soil’s moisture content. Same with raised beds; since they are elevated beds, the soil does dry out quicker than plants growing directly in the ground. Adding mulch, vermiculite, or peat moss to your raised beds is another great additive that can help your soil retain moisture without overwatering.
Remember to aim your water stream toward the roots. Avoid getting any water on the leaves or foliage of your plants, as moist leaves can lead to diseases.
The first drink of water in the morning is usually the most important, and it’s no truer than with your garden plants. It gives your plant a head start on the day by allowing it to consume the water without having to fight against evaporation. Also, if leaves or foliage of the plant get wet, they have time to dry over the course of the day. Whereas, if the leaves and foliage were to remain moist overnight, it may be detrimental to the plant’s health.
Mulches and or straw can be a great option for preserving moisture. They help reduce surface runoff and slow evaporation.
Sometimes known as crop rotation, intercropping, or even cover cropping, companion planting follows an age-old belief that some plants may be mutually beneficial for each other. Although the idea of companion planting is not a hard science and still leaves much up for debate and conjecture, there are some proven situations of plants thriving with the help of other plants. For example, cover crops are a variety of legumes and cereal grains that can grow over winter or during the warm season to provide all-natural weed suppression and pest control, while replenishing depleted soils of vital nitrogen. Pea, clover, fava bean, mustard, rye, and wheat are just some examples of cover crops either grown alongside a seasonal crop or during the winter months to ensure a garden is as healthy as possible. Marigolds are also popularly intercropped throughout larger farms because they emit a chemical into the soil known as limonene, which is sold as a store-bought concentrate pesticide.
In simplest terms, companion planting aims to create diversity in the garden while fighting against monoculture, which is known to foster disease and pests. Whether a simple crop rotation or intercropping with cover crops, diversity will invite beneficial insects and pollinators to help turn your seasonal garden into a healthy and vibrant little ecosystem.