EAT YOUR VEGETABLES: Carrie Lyle posts on vegetable gardening each Tuesday.
Several of my friends are growing vegetable gardens for the first time this year and have been asking questions about starting seeds at home. For those who'd like to try, it's not too late.
You'll find very detailed information online about starting seeds, but don't be intimidated. My own setup is as low-key as you can get. I use a desk lamp with a fluorescent grow light, a seed starting tray bought years ago at Meyer Seed, containers I've saved from past plant purchases, and a soilless seed-starting mix. Some people advise using a heating pad under the tray or covering it with plastic, but I've never bothered with that and still had good luck.
To plant, wet down the seed-starting mix and follow the instructions on the seed packet. For insurance, I usually sow two seeds per pot and pinch the smaller plant off if both germinate. Check every day that the soil is moist, but not damp. Some people water with spray bottles, but I like to pour water into the tray so it's slowly absorbed through the bottom of the containers.
Once the seeds germinate, make sure they get plenty of light. If you're using a grow light, keep it on for at least 12 hours a day. Otherwise, placing the containers on a south- or east-facing windowsill should do.
What sorts of vegetable seeds should be started at home? Don't bother with root vegetables like beets, carrots and radishes. They're best sown directly in the garden, as are beans, peas and corn. It's better to start warm-season vegetables — tomatoes, eggplants, peppers — to get a head start and have a longer harvest. Some people also start summer squash, melons, cucumbers and basil, but I find that once the warm weather hits, those direct-sown outdoors catch up very quickly to their transplanted peers. I'll be swimming in basil by July no matter which planting method I choose.
Now that I've explained how I start seeds, I have to confess: I don't do it anymore. I have a curious cat who loves to eat tender leaves, and the door on the only south-facing room in my house doesn't latch. Sure, I could fix it. But then I wouldn't have an excuse to visit my favorite garden fairs in May to pick out my seedlings.
Photo credit: istockphoto