Our A/C broke last week…in the middle of summer…in Florida. Not to worry, the repair man has come and gone, and all is good (and cold) in the hood. But even a few days without our beloved A/C has brought my desire for cooler days to a whole new level…..aaaannnnddd speaking of cooler temperatures, FALL is almost upon us! That’s right, friends, the season of pumpkin everything, bonfires, camping, & ALL kinds of garden goodness is nearly here!! The mild climate from October to March provides our longest growing season of the year and allows gardeners to grow the most variety. So while I sat in my living room sweating, I decided to usher in these glorious days of cooler air by planting my fall seeds!
Sure, it’s easy to pick up a few tomatoes and herbs at the garden center. But why do that when you can have a greater selection of veggies for way less money, and know for certain that the plants have never been treated with chemical fertilizers or herbicides? Seems like a no-brainer to me. Seed packets often come with more seeds than you need, so consider swapping some with a friend. You’ll both expand the crops in your gardens, so it’s a win-win for everyone.
Most vegetables should be sown indoors about 6 to 7 weeks before you want to plant them outside, so August is the perfect time to start the seeds you’ll want to plant in October. Seedlings need a lot of light! Although you can grow some seedlings near a south-facing windowsill, most will quickly become leggy and weak due to low light exposure. You really need a few grow lights in order to achieve consistent germination rates. When growing under lights, keep the seedlings just a few inches away from the light, and raise the lights as the seedlings grow taller.
Oxygen is also vital to the germination process. Until seedlings have leaves to enable them to rely solar energy, they use oxygen found in the soil to grow new cells. This is why it’s important to start your seeds in a light-weight potting medium and not over-water them. Check the seed packet to determine how deep you should plant each variety. Most prefer to be planted about 1/4 inch deep. For insurance, I plant two seeds per cell.
What You Can Plant:
- Brussel Sprouts
- Endive, Escarole
- Long Beans
- Mustard Greens
- Peas, english
- Peppers, sweet and hot
What You’ll Need:
- Seedling Flat(s): (I purchased this tray from Lowe’s. I’ve also had success using their peat moss seed trays, but this season I wanted to use my own seedling mix. An egg carton also makes a great container. Just be sure to poke holes on the sides near the bottom to provide drainage.)
- Seed Starting Mix: (Gardeners Organic Seed Starting Mix is a great brand, or you can make your own using equal parts compost, vermiculite, and peat moss.
- Grow Lights: I purchased this model from Lowe’s, and they’ve done the trick.
- Seeds: This is my favorite type of shopping spree. I highly recommend you purchase your seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They have largest selection of heirloom, organic, non-GMO vegetable garden seeds worldwide. Their website also has a growing guide that offers great information for each variety of vegetable or herb that they sell.
Planting Your Seeds:
- Fill clean container(s) with seedling mix. It is important to start with a fresh, sterile mix to ensure healthy, disease-free seedlings.
- Moisten cells of seed tray with water thoroughly.
- Plant your seeds according to your seed packet. You can use the eraser end of a pencil to create a little well in the soil, gently sprinkle in the seeds and cover lightly with soil.
- Label each cell with the seed variety or make a chart on a piece of paper to keep track of what you planted.
- Cover containers with plastic. (You can use cling wrap if you’re in a pinch)
- Place seed tray under grow lights, and keep lights on 15 hours a day using an outlet timer.
- Water regularly to keep soil moist but not soggy. Allow to dry in between watering.
- When sprouts appear, remove the plastic cover.
- Once the seedlings get their first pair of true leaves, begin a fertilizing regimen using half-strength organic fish fertilizer, and repeat every few weeks.
- Once the seedlings get their second pair of true leaves , which usually takes 3-4 weeks, prepare individual 3″ pots (or solo cups with holes in the bottom) filled with organic potting mix. Transplant the seedlings carefully to the new pots and water well.
- Continue to keep seedlings under grow lights until they are 6-7 week old.
- When you’re ready to plant them outside, you must slowly acclimate them to the sun’s powerful rays. This process is called hardening off. About a week before you want to plant your seedlings in the garden, place them in a shaded spot outdoors for a few hours each day, bringing them in at night. Gradually expose them to more and more sunlight over the course of a week to ten days. Taking the time to do this will ensure that your seedlings do not go into shock when you transplant them.
When you observe your seeds grow and mature, you develop a deeper connection with nature and the seasons. Watching the hard work of each seed will give you a huge appreciation for the produce they’ll provide in the coming months. Aside from the unbeatable flavor, the best part about cutting into your homegrown tomatoes, peppers, watermelon, and other crops, is that you can save their seeds to plant next season. Learning how to grow a fruit or vegetable from seed and then harvest its seeds to grow the crop again builds self-sufficiency and a great sense of empowerment. Buy a little pack of seeds and try to grow them. What do you have to lose?
If you’re new to gardening in Florida, check out my Vegetable Gardening Guide for a breakdown of our whacky seasons and details on what to plant and when to plant it!