Get your homestead backyard garden started by planting seeds. Planting seeds the right way in optimal soil conditions will increase growth and allow your nourishing vegetables to flourish no matter what season. This is Chapter 5 of 11 of the Homestead Handbook to fulfill all your gardening needs.
Planting Seeds In Your Backyard Garden
Your boxes have been built and placed, and the optimized soil has been mixed and loaded in. Now comes the most fun part—it’s time to plant your crops. Hopefully by this point, you’ve made a planting plan with your family and have a pretty good idea of what type of crops you want in your garden. A great starting point for any square foot garden is to consider planting only the types of crops you want to eat. You’ll need to know, however, how large the crops you’re planting will be. Some crops simply require more room to grow, and some less. For instance you will be able to grow 16 carrot plants in the same square-foot space where only a single broccoli plant will grow. Large plants like broccoli should be planted in the center of their squares, whereas smaller plants like carrots should be arranged in their own “mini-grid” within the square, to allow each individual plant space to grow while maximizing space efficiency.
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To plant your seeds, follow this process:
- Use your fingertips to poke holes in the soil where each plant will go (could be 1-16 holes depending on the crop)
- Grasp 2-4 seeds in your fingers from the seed bag
- After ensuring the correct depth for each seed type, drop the seeds in the hole and cover with optimized soil
- Gently water the newly planted square
Some gardeners may choose to plant young or sprouted plants rather than seeds. There are advantages to starting your garden with transplants. First, there are some crops which simply require more time to mature, like those plants in the cabbage family, or the ever-popular tomatoes. Starting such plants from seeds would not allow you enough time to enjoy any harvest. Transplants are a bit more costly compared to seeds and are at a greater risk of failing—it’s much easier to damage a root system during transplant than to damage seeds during planting. So we recommend that transplant work be done after you have had a year of practice, if this is your first attempt at gardening. Don’t overload yourself with all sorts of new tasks to learn, or even this simpler style of gardening is at risk of failing and becoming bothersome.
An example of the typical differences in a square foot planting system. Larger plants require more room and you would use the grids on the left to plant, and vice versa for smaller crops that need less room.
A sample guide for what kinds of crops, and how many, you can fit into a square foot.
We mentioned earlier that a great feature of the square foot garden means you do not have to waste so many seeds to get your garden planted—no more dumping a thousand seeds in a single row garden, only to pull up most of them during the season, and wind up with far more produce than your family can eat. Instead, you only plant a few seeds, and you can store the rest. Under proper conditions, this seed storage can last you years! Think of the money saved.
When it comes to seed storage, you want to make sure you have found somewhere that is cool and dry, like an insulated garage, basement, or cellar. You can also freeze or refrigerate your seeds, though there is some disagreement as to weather the freezing process really keeps moisture out as well as other methods, so be cautious on using it. You can place your seeds in a simple glass jar with a screw lid. You can also increase the dryness of the jar environment by adding a desiccant, or moisture absorber—those same little packets you often find in the pockets of your new clothes stamped with “DO NOT EAT” across their bags. If you can’t find any of these, you can substitute with powdered milk wrapped in tissue. Either of these methods will help absorb any moisture that may find its way into the jar and prevent it from affecting the seeds.
There are certain plants that may require special preparation or instructions for planting. This will typically be made obvious on the seed packet and the instructions are usually simple to follow, just be sure you are looking for them.
Seeds typically take different times to sprout depending on the species of plant, as well as the temperature they are being grown in. You can give any seed a jump start by doing what’s called a “presoak”. Depending on the seed, you can do an overnight soak, or one of only half an hour; each seed will differ. This can be tricky though, if you oversoak a seed, it can instantly fall apart once you try to remove it from the cup. Another method of sprouting is the easiest to use, and that is the paper towel method. Get a regular kitchen paper towel moist (not dripping), and then put the moist towel and seeds into a tray or dish that isn’t too deep. Make sure the towel stays moist and make sure the entire setup is put in a warm area of the house. You’ll want to keep an eye on this and check them daily. When you see the roots beginning to sprout from the seed, you will know it is time to transplant the little guy into your garden or into an indoor “waiting area”, if you have begun this process early in the season. Be careful that you don’t handle the growing seed directly. Instead, cut the paper towel into small squares and bring them slowly out of the tray. Once you’ve planted it and covered it with the optimized soil recipe, give it a bit more water. And that’s all there is to this process! Doing that can cut weeks off your sprouting time.
To sprout your seeds, you will need to grab a few extra tools and ingredients. You should already have all the soil you need on hand with your optimized soil recipe. Add to that some regular cups and saucers, as well as seedling packs and trays. You can sprout your seeds (see below) in a bit of vermiculite, and transplant them as soon as they are growing and ready to be moved.
Here is the vermiculite method of starting the seeds for your garden.
- Find a small plastic container and cut holes into the bottom for drainage, and put the container on a larger plate. Then fill the container with vermiculite, which you should have on hand from the optimized soil recipe. Pour water onto the plate’s rim.
- You will know you’ve added enough water when the vermiculite changes shades, to a darker shade, than it was before.
- Select the type of seeds you want to use, and pour a small amount into your hand.
- Using your thumb and forefinger, sprinkle the seeds across the surface
- Pour another thin layer of vermiculite on top of the seeds—unless the seed package specifically calls for light to germinate.
When you use the above method to sprout, you want to check daily and watch carefully for signs of sprouting. Once you’ve seen them, you need to move your seeds into the four-pack. Some garden specialists will say to wait until the seed has “true” leaves, but by that time, the root systems have also grown more complex and tangled and this puts the plant at more of a risk during transplant. Instead watch for the first two leaves, which are called the “seed leaves”. Once you see these, it’s time to transplant. This is a very careful and delicate process.
You want to lift the plant by one of the seed leaves, very careful. Bring out your trusty garden pencil, and use it to dig in the vermiculite container until you’re able to lift the entire sprouted plant and all its roots safely from the container. Do your best NOT to touch the stem of the plant. If the roots seem like they’re too long, pull out your scissors and very delicately trim them from the bottom, up to a third of their size depending on the growth. This will not harm the plant. Take your pencil and make a small hole in the four-pack, or outdoors if you are moving your sprouts directly to the garden. It is important you make enough space in the soil for the entire root. Once it’s planted, water it and then give it immediate shade; sun is incredibly powerful on a young seedling. The new plant should have shade for the first week if you are moving it directly outside to your garden. If you are transplanting to another indoor container, providing this shade shouldn’t be a problem.
After the indoor seedlings are ready to get into the garden, do a check on their root systems. Are they “rootbound”? This is a term used when a plant’s roots have begun to grow in a circle around the plant. If this has happened, take your scissors and cut off the bottom roots, including the soil. This should leave the new ends of the roots ready to branch out and find new space to breathe in your garden. Then place the entire plant into the hole you’ve prepared in your square foot garden. You want to make sure your plants and roots are extremely wet before you perform the transplant. You can even take the four-pack and float it in warm water until it sinks, which lets you know the plants and roots are fully soaked. Once the plant is in place, create a circular depression around the stem of the plant in the soil. We want any water the plant receives to be diverted straight to its roots, where it is most needed, and this type of depression will facilitate that happening.
That was Chapter 5: Planting Seeds in Your Backyard Garden from our Homestead Handbook: How to Grow All The Food You Need In Your Own Backyard