I know it’s not easy to get in the gardening head space while the ground is still freezing at night. However, some of the most staple veggies do need to be started indoors before they are transplanted outside. On our farm we are lucky to live in a fantastic four-season climate that allows us to grow basically anything that isn’t tropical (hardiness zone: 6A), but there are still seeds that should be planted inside. This also means that we can start eating from our garden early.
Starting our own seeds is an easy, proactive way to save a lot of money on seedlings later on. It also lets us break up the work of the early season and better regulate the spacing in the garden beds. Check out How to Calculate When to Plant Seeds for a guide on coming up with planting dates. It’s time to start watching the weather!
6 Vegetable Plants to Start Indoors
Every year peppers are among the first seeds we plant. We start two in each tray section. This year they had a great germination rate, so many of the second plants got cut off early on (you could also transplant into two separate pots at this point). Peppers thrive on heat, so keep them by the window in your living space where they will flourish.
With onions you have a choice of seeds vs sets. Sets are small onions that can be planted directly into the garden. While sets are convenient, seeds are cheaper and allow for saving seeds. Using seeds also allows for more choice in variety. Seeds must be started early and can be planted densely in flats—you can up-cycle trays and containers.
Eggplants are a strangely novel plant around here, but delicious. They can’t be planted outdoors until several weeks after the last frost, so an indoor start is essential. Again, we plant the seeds directly into seed trays and move into pots as needed.
For me, tomatoes are an absolutely mandatory crop. The sooner I can start eating plump tomatoes packed with flavour, the better. While they could technically be started outside here, some simple indoor planting allows us a much longer, fuller, and tastier season. They are started much like peppers, as detailed above.
While squash can also be direct sown in our climate, they’re big plants with big seeds that can easily be started indoors. Cucumbers are also included in this category. Because they pop up easily and quickly, I plant them directly into the larger indoor pots.
This is an unusual inclusion to this list, and corn certainly does not need to be started indoors. However, my mom first started her corn indoors when she discovered it kept pheasants from eating all the seed and allowed for successfully spaced corn plants. Corn doesn’t take deep soil to start—we use the lids of ice cream buckets. Corn seedlings can also be tightly sown. When the seedlings are about an inch high they can be removed all together, gently broken apart, and settled into loose soil in rows. This also means less weeding before the corn is tall enough to take care of itself.
Bonus: Kale (and other greens)
Leafy greens really don’t need to be started indoors. However, they are quick to come up and can be one of the earliest fresh foods that can be harvested from a garden. If you can find a good sized planter box, these can even be enjoyed throughout the winter.