Growing food is one of the most rewarding activities we can do for—and even with—our family. You can get a jump start on your growing season by starting some seeds indoors a few months before normal planting time. Here are 5 of my favorites that are easy to start from seed indoors:
The date on which you start your tomato seeds depends on the variety and your season. Typically, it is best to give tomatoes six to eight weeks to mature. Pot the seedling up into a larger pot once it develops a fairly strong stem. Be sure to plant the seedlings deep in the ground.
Peppers also love heat. And that goes for jalapenos, green chile or sweet bell peppers. Peppers are related to tomatoes and have many of the same requirements. In fact, peppers need warm soil to begin growing, and often go in the ground a week or so after your tomatoes.
This is my favorite annual herb by far. Start basil seeds about 6 weeks before planting time and watch them grow. Basil seeds germinate easily, so the hardest part is pinching out a few seedlings to avoid overcrowding (they already taste yummy).
Lettuces and Kale
I typically start lettuce in the ground because it matures faster than other edibles. But head lettuces, such as romaine or butter crunch, take a little longer from seed to harvest. So, you can start the lettuces and kale indoors first and then transplant. These plants prefer cooler temperatures than many other vegetables, and those in the low desert should adjust recommended planting times (typically spring and late summer in higher desert) accordingly.
Another heat lover, okra is a fun plant to grow and harvest, and the flowers are among the most attractive. We have some trouble growing okra in our short season with cool nights, so we often grow a few as ornamental plants. Start the seeds 4 to 6 weeks before planting time and for best success, soak the seeds in water overnight before starting.
Timing of seed starts matters. You generally need to choose your typical start date for a plant (usually either after no danger of frost or when the soil has warmed). Check with master gardeners, nurseries and landscape consultants if you’re unsure. Once you know the start date, back up about six weeks to give you time to start seeds and harden them off before planting.
Your starts need some warmth from a heat mat if possible, plenty of daylight (or 8 to 10 hours of grow lights), water and air circulation. Warmth and consistent moisture help the seeds germinate. Light gives them energy to grow and air circulation keeps them healthy and the main stems strong.
Other edibles you can start indoors are cool season plants like broccoli, radicchio and Brussels sprouts. Eggplants also transplant well from your seedlings or store-bought stock. Watermelon needs heat for a longer period of time to ripen and starting it indoors will lengthen its season.