Growing plants indoors

Published 7:00 am Saturday, March 19, 2016

Starting your own transplants from seeds can be a lot of fun and is probably much easier than you might imagine. In many situations, one or two propagation flats for growing transplants are enough to stock the vegetable garden with nearly all the vegetables a small family will need. All the “stuff” you need to get started may be found at your local garden center.

There are many types of containers that can be used to start seeds. Egg cartons, plastic food containers, Styrofoam cups, etc. My favorite is a small, rectangular tray that comes complete with a plastic lid and compressed soil pellets. This package sells for less than five dollars. The tray holds the pellets that substitute for loose soil. The clear plastic lid is used to maintain a moist environment, retain heat and protect young seedlings from the wind. The tray is designed so that each soil pellet has its own compartment to insure adequate spacing. This unit is also very portable so that it can be brought inside if freezing weather threatens.

To begin with, the soil pellets are about one quarter inch tall and 72 of them fit in one tray. Before planting, one or two quarts of warm water are poured into the tray. Immediately, the pellets begin to absorb water causing them to enlarge until they reach a height of about two inches. It is fascinating to watch, especially for children. When the pellets finish absorbing water it’s time to plant the seeds.

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Many vegetable plants can be grown from seed including cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumber, squash, tomato, pepper and lettuce. Surprisingly, sweet corn and okra may also be grown this way! Before inserting the seeds, use a sharpened pencil to make a planting hole in the top of each pellet. Then insert one or two seeds and pinch the hole shut. Label each section of vegetables in order to remember what’s what when the seedlings emerge.

Prior to planting, consider how many of each particular plant you will need. Think of how much garden space you have for the vegetables you want to grow. For instance, one watermelon plant needs at least 24 square feet! Unless you are going to sell melons you’ll probably just want one or two plants. It’s a very common mistake to plant more than is needed because planting this way can be so much fun!

After your seedlings emerge, be sure they receive enough light. The trays may be placed outdoors in the sun or indoors under a “grow” light. If the seedlings begin to bend or stretch, more sunlight is needed. Liquid fertilizer can be used every other watering at half the label rate. Set transplants in the garden when the danger of frost is past.

Eddie M. L. Smith, Ph.D.
Extension Agent/County Coordinator
Mississippi State University
Pearl River County Extension Service