One of my summer 2017 goals was to plant a vegetable garden, something I knew absolutely nothing about. In February, I dove into youtube videos and got supplies for growing seedlings. I started my first round of seedlings in March with peas, chard, lettuce and onion with a second round of tomatoes, eggplant and cucumber about a month later, planning on supplementing with already grown plants from my favorite garden center.
While I learned a lot from these two youtube channels ( MI Gardener & The Rusted Garden) I made quite a few mistakes that taught me along the way. I overcrowded my chard and under crowded my onions in their seedling pots so neither made it. started hardening off my tomatoes and eggplant too early, and failed to cover my strawberry plants to protect them from squirrels. I also found that while my DIY economical starter green house was AWESOME for sprouting seedlings, they outgrew the makeshift greenhouse incredibly quickly and started to run into the top of the box. It was a bit to early in the season to start hardening off the warm weather plants outside, and some of my tomatoes and eggplants suffered for it, not able to grow to greater heights.
Next year we will probably build an indoor light situation for maturing plants so they have room to grow inside while the season transitions to warmer weather. The benefit of this is having an early harvest for warm plants. They can go outside as larger plants as soon as the weather permits, instead of starting from seed when the weather is warm enough.
If you're unfamiliar with gardening terms, hardening off is the process of getting young plants used to direct sunlight. When seed started in artificial light, the plants aren't used to the "harsh" environment of UV sun rays, wind and rain. So planting them directly outside after they are a few weeks old will result in burned leaves and a possible dead plant. Its recommended to leave them out a few hours a day, slowly increasing until they're used to the sun.
So read on to see early garden progress (its grown so much even since these photos were taken) and read some more things I've learned along the way.
While I knew a good portion of my garden would consist of plants purchased from a nursery, I wanted to try my hand at growing from seed. It takes a bit more work, but many of the plants I grew myself ended up being healthier and not as root bound as seedlings purchased from a nursery. When you plant from seed, you are able to start getting them outside or in bigger containers as soon as they're ready instead of them sitting on the shelf waiting to be purchased. I found myself checking on them daily, careful calculation giving way to childish glee whenever they started to sprout.
DIY Greenhouse Box
We made our outdoor garden box in February, and after doing some research, decided to start growing some veggies from seed instead of purchasing as everything as plants from a garden center. Once you are equipped to do it this way, its much cheaper overall. A packet of seed costs $1-$2 and contains at least 50 seeds, whereas plants about $5 each. I used this video to build my garden box.
Starting Peas Indoors
A lot of online sources warn against starting peas indoors but I was encouraged to try it after doing some research. You just have to keep an eye on them and transfer them early and carefully without doing damage to their roots. You can see the pea plants that got a head start from seed starting them indoors in the above photo. The pods to the right are much farther along and are putting out their little tendrils, while the plants on the left are just emerging. Another tip is to soak the pea pods in water overnight before planting. This helps them germinate a lot faster. The photos below were taken about a month apart and you can see the pods growing. They're ready to pick when the pod is circular and firm. I picked the pea in the bottom photo just to see how it tasted, even though the pod wasn't sufficiently plump. It tasted delicious but the peas were underdeveloped.
After planting veggies outdoors, they absolutely take off. Just make sure you read the seed packets on how far apart the mature plants will need to be from one another. A few of my plants ended up being a bit crowded after growing to maturity. See below for how these little guys have progressed. My favorite comparison is that lettuce. It struggled for a couple of weeks after planting outside, but it ended up being my favorite lettuce crop by far!
The garden has grown even more since these photos were taken, so update number two when harvest begins is coming soon!