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Published on 23/02/2023

You can grow vegetable plants indoors for up to ten weeks. Peppers, eggplants, cauliflower, and tomatoes are rarely planted directly in the garden. In this case, they are started indoors before transplanting. Here are some basic rules to follow when starting seeds.

Choosing a container for seeds

Large seeds can be sown in plastic or peat pots. Peat pots can be planted directly into the ground, where they decompose, so plants suffer less shock.

When to plant seeds

Plan your indoor seed planting schedule by considering the time each vegetable needs to grow. In addition, consider the right time to transplant them outside. For example, peppers need 8 to 10 weeks of indoor growth and should be planted outside well after the last frost.

Keep seed trays or pots warm. Cover them until the seeds germinate to block out light and retain moisture. Monitor the expected germination times. For example, if no eggplant sprouts appear three weeks after sowing, there is a problem with the seeds, and you should get some replacement plants. Once the seeds have germinated, place them where they will get maximum light.

How to prevent "damping off"

The heat and moisture that encourage germination also promote the growth of fungi that can prevent seed germination or collapse.

You can prevent this "damping off" by using sterile soil, avoiding overwatering or fertilizing the seeds, and keeping a close eye on your seed trays to monitor for signs of excessive moisture. If water droplets accumulate inside plastic or glass covers, remove and wipe them, or shake the water off before replacing them.

Thinning and repoting

When the seeds have germinated and the young plants have their first true leaves, thin them out by removing the smaller specimens. This is so that the stronger ones have room to grow.

Cut the stems with small scissors; do not pull them out, as this can disturb the root systems. Later, when the plants are established and the pot is full again, repot the young plants. Very gently, take a stake or fork and use the pointed end to separate the young plants and transplant them into individual pots of 6 to 8 cm (2 1/2 to 3 in). If they were growing in a soilless mix, transplant them into a compost-based mix in the new pot, providing them with nutrients for continued growth. Water the transplanted plants with a "tea" manure solution to reduce transplant shock.

Hardening off seedlings

Before transplantation, indoor-grown seedlings must be hardened off, that is, acclimated to lower and more variable temperatures and less water. The easiest and safest way to harden off is to use a cold frame.

When the spring sun begins to warm and less than a week before planting your seeds outside, put them in the cold frame. On clear and sunny days, protect young plants from the sun by placing newspaper on the glass cover. Open the cold frame cover a bit more each day as the weather warms up, ensuring the internal temperature of the frame never exceeds 21°C (70°F). If the temperature drops below 13°C (55°F) at night, close the cover. In case of a cold snap, cover the cold frame with a blanket. When transplanting the seedlings in the garden, they must have benefited from two or three nights of uncovered hardening off. If the nights are too cold for this, delay the planting.