How to Start Vegetable Seeds Outside
Starting a vegetable garden from seeds can be easy, satisfying and eliminate the need to transplant which can lead to plant shock and loss. It’s also cheaper than transplanting ready grown plants.
So what’s the easiest and most productive way to start seeds for a vegetable garden?
Is it, in peat pots outside?
Or in garden soil outside?
Or by soaking them in water first and then planting them?
Starting Seeds in Peat Pots
Peat pots are designed for starting seeds and then transplanting them to an outside area or garden. When I was a kid in New Jersey, these are what I used to start a vegetable garden. It worked back then. But New Jersey has a different climate than Arizona. It’s much more humid. This makes it easier to keep the peat pots moist.
I figured this out the hard way…from experience. I tried the peat pots filled with garden soil. I placed them outside on my patio. I put 3 cucumber seeds in a 1/2 deep hole in each peat pot and watered every other day. They dried out very fast. The peat pots are small and are exposed to air on all sides. This makes it really easy to dry out in the dry hot air of Arizona. I tried watering them more often and soaking them but failed. They never sprouted after 2 months of trying.
I think if I tried this indoors, it most likely would have worked fine. Indoor temperature was 75 degrees while the outdoor temperature was 95 degrees. The peat pots would not have dried out indoors.
So did I give up? Nope
Starting Seeds Outdoors in Soil
I had been experimenting with grass mulch in the yard. I have a 6′ x 4′ garden area covered with grass mulch/clippings. Mulch does wonderful things to soil. Anyway, I decided to throw the last 10 or so seeds into this area under about 1/2″ of soil and then covered it with grass mulch. I watered every few days for about 2 weeks.
And Wah lah. I now have 10 seedlings growing through the grass mulch.
Here is a close up of the cucumber seedlings growing through the grass mulch.
So why did this work?
Well, the grass mulch kept the soil moist by preventing the air from evaporating the water. Mulch acts like a “blanket” and seals in the moisture. Mulch also blocks the sunlight and prevents it from heating up the soil. Heating up of the soil will increase evaporation.
The seeds stayed moist and germinated in about 10 days. It works every time.
Soaking Seeds Before Planting?
Soaking seeds in water prior to planting them is a good idea if you want to speed up germination and sprouting. You can soak them in a container with warm water inside for 12-24 hours and then plant in a good organic soil. Do not soak them longer than 48 hours because you can actually drown them.
Soaking seeds signals it to begin the process of germination and growing. By soaking seeds you can reduce the germination time from 10-14 days to 5-7 days. This can give your garden a jump start in early spring.
How Deep to Plant Seeds
The depth you should plants seeds depends on the type or species of plant. The general rule is to plant seeds 2-3x as deep as the seed is long.
Seeds are pretty finicky about how much sunlight they need to germinate. Some seeds need total darkness while others need sunlight. Check the seed packet for specific instructions on seed depth. When in doubt and with no instructions available, always err on the shallow side. Some seeds will germinate on the surface of the soil.
Best Soil for Starting Seeds Outdoors
When trying to grow plants from seeds, it’s very important to remember that seeds have to stay moist in order to germinate and then grow. They need to stay moist or wet for the better part of the day or all day. I kept them moist all day and they germinated fast.
So the soil has to be able to retain moisture. The best soil for moisture retention is organic compost mixed with soil. The more organic material in a soil the better the water retention. You can use compost, composted steer manure, composted chicken manure, coconut coir, soil enhancers/amendments and garden soil mixes. All of these will ready the soil for seed germination and growth.
I like Kellogg’s N-Rich Soil Enriching Conditioner and GardenTime Composted Mulch Soil Conditioner. I use both mixed in the soil and as a mulch on top. They work great. I use these 2 all the time and buy them at Lowes.
After you prepare the soil with organic material. You can plant the seeds and cover. Now cover the area where you planted the seeds with mulch. Mulch will cool the soil and increase water retention even more. This will give you the best chance of sprouting seeds. Mulch can be any organic material like grass clippings, compost, straw or even cardboard.
Cardboard as Mulch
You can lay down cardboard over the area where the seeds are after you water. Wet the cardboard before laying it down. This will keep the moisture in the soil. As soon as the seeds sprout, remove the cardboard so the sprouts can get sunlight.
Cardboard is great for moisture retention and keeping soil from getting hot from the sunlight. When soil heats up, it dries out.