When you live in an area with a short growing season, starting seedlings indoors is a great way to jump start the garden. Summer vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, beans and cucumbers can be started indoors up to 8 weeks before the start of the summer gardening season which means that you could be enjoying fresh produce as early as July.
While many gardeners start their seeds using a cold frame or greenhouse, it is also possible to start your vegetable seedlings indoors in a sunny living room or bedroom window. This is the method I used for many years before finally getting a green house. I found that a window that gets at least 5-6 hours of sunlight a day is a perfect location for jump starting a garden.
All seeds need is warmth, sunlight and moisture to start the germination process which can take anywhere from three days to a couple of weeks. Quick sprouting vegetables include favorites such as tomatoes, squashes, beans, peas, and cukes which often poke through the ground in 4 days or less. Vegetables that take longer to sprout include herbs and peppers which is why these are often the first plants that I’ll start indoors.
Once these vegetables sprout however, they can only remain in the window for a few more weeks or until they reach a height of about 1-2 inches. After that, the starts must be moved outdoors during the daylight hours or place beneath a grow lamp. This prevents the spindly, tilted growth that will happen to all plants which are trying to grow in insufficient light.
On sunny days where the temperatures are nice, seedlings can be moved outside in an area of filtered light. They should be started off with just a couple of hours of sunlight a day in the beginning, with the time gradually increased until they are outdoors all day. (This is known as “hardening” them off.) On the days the temps are below 38 degrees, the plants should stay indoors or can go into a solar greenhouse where they still can benefit from natural lighting without the risk of freezing.
Bringing your vegetable plants outdoors as early as possible not only prevents spindly growth, it’s a good way to get them acclimated to the weather. This way they will be ready to go into the ground after the last spring frost.
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