Neal Weisenberger

It may seem way too early to be thinking about your vegetable garden. However, if you want to grow your own vegetable from seeds, it is time for some, and a few weeks away for other vegetables.

Step one is to search some online seed catalogs to find some unique vegetables to grow. In my garden, I do not plant orange carrots, but red, yellow, purple, white and many other types of carrots. I try not to grow vegetables that you can find in the grocery store, but different types that are just tastier and more fun to eat.

By starting this early, you can start your own plants from seeds, instead of buying transplants. One advantage of starting your own transplants from seeds is you have a larger selection of plants in seed packs than as transplants at a nursery, or you can order seeds from many garden seed suppliers. You may have already received catalogs in the mail. If not, just google vegetable seeds. There may be five different varieties of tomato transplants in a nursery, but they may have 10 or more different types of tomato seeds, and if you do some searching, you can find hundreds of different tomato types.

Another advantage of starting transplants is that I know people who start their tomatoes so early that they are large enough to be in one gallon containers or milk cartons by the middle of April. These plants can have tomatoes already on the plants before they are even planted outside, which gives the gardener a long season of tomatoes.

Growing transplants from seeds may be cheaper. You can buy a packet of seeds, with enough seeds for many years, for about the same price as a single transplant. However, considering your time, water, fertilizer, and light it may be costlier. One of the biggest disadvantages to starting your own transplants is that you want to grow too many plants. Most people want to start 20 or 30 plants from seeds. An average family only needs about four tomato plants. Those four plants give you more than enough fresh tomatoes. I find I need to plant pepper seeds extra early, especially the hotter varieties, they seem to grow slower in the beginning.

But you can still start late winter and early spring seeds now. This includes snow peas, cauliflower, broccoli, beets and carrots. Beets and carrots are probable best planted directly into the garden in a few

Here are 10 quick and easy steps to starting seeds and growing your vegetables into transplants.

1 — Soak your seeds overnight in a small glass or even in a shallow saucer.

2 — Fill your container, egg cartons or small pots, to within one-quarter inch of the top with soil and add water to moisten all the soil. I use a bag of potting soil for this step.

3 — Place a couple seeds in each container and cover with a fine layer of the potting soil. Do not mix different seedlings in the same container, when they are small, they all look alike.

4 — Place all the containers in a shallow pan. Cover the pan and containers with clear plastic or use a large clear plastic bag and place the pan and containers in the bag. Poke a few holes in the plastic to allow for fresh air to get into the bag. The plastic will keep in the moisture and you will not have to water the plants as often. Place the container under the lights or in the south window.

5 — In a few days, the seeds should germinate. Remove the plastic after the seeds start germinating. If you leave the seedlings in the plastic after they germinate you can cause a disease called “damping off,” which will kill the seedlings.

6 — Water the seedlings only when they need water and continue to give them plenty of light. Check the soil with your finger if the soil is dry about one-half inch into the soil it is time to water.

7 — When the seedlings grow to about two inches tall, remove all the seedlings except for the strongest, leaving one plant per container. Fertilize the plants with a liquid fertilizer at about one-half the strength of the recommended amount.

8 — When the seedlings get too large for the container, they can be transplanted into larger containers, like milk cartons or one-liter soda bottles with the top cut off and holes punched in the bottom.

9 — About two weeks before you plant them outside, move the plants to a cooler location but continue to give the plants plenty of light. If you move the plants from 70 degrees house temperatures to 40-degree night temperatures, the plants will die.

10 — One week before the plants are going to be planted, move them to a patio and cover with plastic at night to harden off the seedlings.

If you start your own transplants, you can have a better selection of vegetables. It is also a great activity to get the entire family involved in gardening.

If you do not plan to start your own seeds that’s OK, and for most beginners it may be easier not to start your own transplants. But the time to plant is important. Remember you will start finding tomato transplants in some nurseries long before they can be planted outside.

So, keep in mind the frost date for the Antelope Valley, which is April 17. Remember if you plant before the frost date without special frost protection, you are gambling with the life of your vegetable plants.

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