As a substitute for in-person programming, we’re offering a series of posts on starting a vegetable garden. This science-based information comes from the Seed to Supper program, developed by the Oregon Food Bank. During these difficult times, the Oregon Food Bank welcomes your donations.
OSU is also offering its vegetable gardening class online.
Before planting your garden, you must decide which crops to seed directly into the soil and which crops to transplant into the garden as plant starts. Seeds can be less expensive than starts, so direct seeding can give you more plants for less money. Seeds will also give you a bigger choice of plant varieties, because most stores have space for only a few varieties of plant starts.
Transplanting has its advantages too. Many favorite summer crops need a longer growing season than we have in Oregon. Plant starts for these crops are grown in a warm greenhouse, so they get a jump on the growing season. When you transplant them into your garden, you give them plenty of time to produce a crop before the first frost kills them. Also, weeds can crowd out young plants, but transplants are already big enough to get a head start on weeds. You can use your SNAP/Oregon Trail card to purchase vegetable seeds and transplants.
You can also grow your own transplants from seeds. Starting your seeds indoors is good for annual plants that you want to get a head-start on growing, giving you a head start on annual crops that have a long growing season, like tomatoes & peppers.
Try to buy only enough seeds for this one planting year. Some seeds can last for several years (three years on average) if you store them properly, but they germinate best in the year stamped on the packet. You can store leftover seeds in a cool, dark place like a closet or basement. Put leftover seed packets in a sealed jar with a drying agent (like a silica packet from a pill bottle) to absorb moisture.
In order to germinate, or break out of their protective outer shells and begin to grow, seeds need MOISTURE and WARMTH. Seeds also germinate best in loose soil. When growing your own transplants (also called “starts”) use seed starting soil rather than regular potting soil and start your transplants on dates that align with the “planting out” dates indicated on seed packets and in seed catalogs. Plant the seeds in small containers with drainage holes. Water them in, but don’t let the soil get waterlogged. A seed mat—a sort of waterproof heating pad—will help seeds germinate more quickly.
You can cover your pots with clear plastic so the soil stays damp, but be sure to remove this as the seedlings poke through the soil. Seeds don’t need light to germinate, but after the seedlings emerge, they need a good source of light (sunlight or grow light) for 6 – 8 hours a day. If the light source is weak or distant, the seedlings will become “leggy” as they reach for the light, and they may not be strong enough to transplant.
Next up: Growing seeds outdoors