How to Start Seed Indoors (Part 1 of 6): Reading the Seed Packet
By: Maureen Gilmer
Starting seed indoors is the best way to get your garden off to an early start. It also provides for earlier and longer harvest by extending the growing season. Not all plants are suitable to start indoors. Those that enjoy a long growing season such as tomatoes and peppers are best started early. These small seeds are hard to keep track of outdoors and too easily washed out or eaten by crawling pests when very young. Raising your slow-to-start plants indoors where you can control conditions yields larger plants that are better able to thrive once moved outdoors.
The first step in this process is to read all the information on the packet, which is your guide to growing that particular plant from seed. Each packet will contain:
All seed packets are stamped with a “packed for” date, which should be this year. Like food, dates ensure fresh seed is 100% viable. Out of date seed is no bargain at any price because every year that passes reduces the overall viability. With lettuce for example, seed dies after just one year in storage.
Each seed type is planted at a specific depth designated on the back of the packet. Plant deeper than specified or two shallow and seed main fail to germinate altogether.
This tells you how long it takes for that seed to germinate. If you sow properly and soil is warm enough, you can expect to see a tiny bean plant in 7 to 14 days. If there’s no sign of life after two weeks, you’ll know there’s a problem.
This tells you how much space is required to grow a single plant. The distance between plants ensures they won’t be over-crowded. While it is not essential to starting plants indoors, it does tell you how many seedlings you’ll need to start indoors so there’s enough to transplant into the designated area.
This is the duration of your crop. Corn takes 75 days till harvest, beans just fifty days. Long duration crops are among the best for starting indoors if you live in the north where the growing season is short. When started indoors, you can artificially extend the life span of many crops.
Finally, save the empty seed packets after you use the seed. They’ll help you next year when reordering to make sure you get the proper variety and avoid any that failed.