Class Handout: How to grow seeds

Edible Gardening | January 2022
By Jennifer Brennan 

Chalet Horticultural Manager

 4 Questions to ask yourself when deciding what to grow:

  • What do you buy from the grocery store on a regular basis? 
  • What meals show up on your family’s menu each month?
  • Which foods provide the highest value? What vegetables are expensive to buy?
  • What will make you happy to grow in your garden? 

 Top 5 tips for a successful season:

  • Stop tilling your vegetable garden. You should have a permanent design of beds and paths in your garden.
  • Don’t shop at the big box store for seeds or seedlings.
  • Reduce weeding with mulch. The secret—keeping your soil covered.
  • Keep garden records.
  • Make a map of your garden, put it in a binder and then write down everything you plant and when each season.
  • Join a community & share information with other gardeners. Gardening is more fun when it’s a shared with a community of equally passionate gardeners.

#2 Mistake to avoid:  Growing things you don't eat Selecting varieties of vegetables:

Click here for our online seed collection, including:

  1. Renee’s Garden Seeds
  2. Botanical Interest
  3. Seed Saver’s Exchange
  4. Hudson Valley

 Renee’s Garden philosophy:

  • We work hard to find the best sustainable and organic growers with the skill and expertise to produce high-quality, high germinating seeds we know we can count on to ensure our customers' success. All our varieties are Renee's personal selections, chosen for great flavor in garden to table cooking, productivity, and top garden performance for home gardeners.
  • Gardening from seed has several benefits. With seed gardening, there are more varieties available to you, you know what's going into your food because you are growing it, and you'll save money in the long run, not to mention the great satisfaction that comes with starting from seed.


Botanical Interest philosophy:

       Why start seeds indoors?

  • Some varieties are best started indoors because they need particular conditions, and you have more control over the growing conditions.
  • Starting seeds indoors extends your gardening season, allowing you to grow varieties that require longer growing times than your area's natural growing season allows.
  • In the case of perennial flowers, an early start can reap first year blooms.


       When is the correct time to start my seeds indoors?

  • Botanical Interests uses the average last frost date as a guideline for when to sow seed. Your average last frost date is usually defined as the first day of the year when there is less than a 50% chance a frost will occur. It's also helpful to know your average first fall frost date so you can determine the number of days in your growing season as well as plan your summer and fall sowings.
  • What types of plants should be started indoors?
  • Plants that require a long growing season to reach maturity.
  • Perennial flowersthat you want to encourage to bloom in first season.
  • Sproutsand 
  • Here are some examples of varieties that would benefit from a head start indoors:
  • Astersblack-eyed Susans (rudbeckia)coleuslavendereggplantsbulbing onionsand leekspepperstomatoesrosemary, and thyme.


On the inside of every Botanical Interests seed packet you will find the best              growing conditions for the variety.

  • We provide information about special care, organic gardening methods, and tips to improve your garden throughout the seasons.
  • All that's left to do is watch your seeds grow into beautiful, healthy plants!”

 Variables to consider in selection process:

  • Disease resistance
  • Days until harvest
  • Germination time
  • Plant size

Heirloom vs. Hybrid Varieties:


  • Seed retrieval
  • Flavor
  • Sustainablility
  • Memories


  • Disease resistance
  • Varieties available
  • Readily available
  • New hybrids each year

Look at the seed packets  loaded with information

Variables to consider in selection process:

  • Disease resistance
  • Days until harvest
  • Germination time

 Starting from Seed:

  • Let There Be Light: For seedlings to grow properly, they need light. And lots of it.
  • Use Self-Watering Seed Starting Systems: I will never start a seed in a small peat pot again. They just dry out too fast.
  • Use a Good Seed Starting Medium
  • Feed Your Seedlings: Most sterile planting mixes don’t have any built-in nutrients at all.
  • Ventilation and Wind
  • Read the Seed Packet: Most seed packets have a wealth of information

 Recommended Supplies:

  • Soil-less planting mix or seed starting mix
  • Wooden stakes to label trays or rows
  • Seedling flats or pots
  • Thermometer for soil & air temperatures
  • Top soil, peat moss & perlite to transplant
  • Water soluble fertilizer or transplanting solution
  • Artificial light in early season
  • Sunlight – minimum 6 hours

To start from seed or transplants?

  • SEED
  1. More variety
  2. Control of growing environment (organic)
  3. Control of timing
  1. Instant gratifiction
  2. Quality
  3. Available at proper planting time

 Improve success using these tips:

  • Seedlings need light and lots of it
  • Use self-watering seed starting systems
  • Use a good seed starting medium
  • Feed your seedlings
  • Ventilation
  • Read the seed packets
  • Benefit of artificial lights

 A Good Seed Starting Medium

  • Espoma brand
  • 80-90% Sphagnum Moss
  • Perlite
  • Limestone for pH
  • Yucca juice to hydrate and re-hydrate well

 Alternate Option – Self Watering containers

 Seed starting trays and cell packs

 Benefit of Artificial Lights

LED lights are the way to grow

  • LED  technology is continually being developed to address these difficulties. LED Grow Lights have been designed to maximize spectrum and coverage, while minimizing wasted energy and dangerous heat. These lights meet the needs of the crops, not the other way around.
    SunBlaster brand (self-watering)
    SunBlaster brand (self-watering)
  • MiracleLED 45W Grow Panel
  • Miracle LED bulbs and SunBlasterT5HO Combo Tubes 48”

 Expert tips for “Planting Out”:

  • “Harden Off”
  • Watering
  • Protection from sun burn

 Basic tools needed:

  • Shovel or spade
  • Garden fork
  • Hand trowel
  • Watering wand with “rose head”

 What to plant?

The trick is to grow what you and your children like to eat

 Kid’s favorite crops:
(try only 4-5 to begin)

  • Basil
  • Beans
  • Carrots
  • Chives
  • Cucumbers
  • Lettuce
  • Marigolds
  • Radishes
  • Sunflowers
  • Tomatoes
  • Zinnias

 Getting Started:

  • Pick a garden spot
    • At least 6 hours of sun
    • Determine North side
    • Good drainage
    • First garden size – 10x10 maximum
  • Dig Garden
  • Remove grass
  • Remove weeds
  • Loosen soil
  • Fix pH – best 6.5 – 7
  • Add organic matter
  • Mix with spading fork
  • Rake smooth
  • Fence



  • Make stakes with name and date planted
  • Use line for straight rows


  • Firm soil around root ball
  • Water & use transplant solution

(organic-based vs. synthetic)

  • Plants can not read
  • Organic lasts longer
  • Synthetic is fast feed
  • More soil microbes with organic

 Why is the “Frost Free Date” important?

  • The average date of the last freezing temperature of the season
  • In Chicago area – May 15th
  • The distinction date between “Cool” and “Warm” season annuals and vegetables
  • Guide for your “Planting Schedule”

 Planting Schedule:

Start dates:

Cool season crops

  • Lettuce
  • Radishes
  • Spinach
  • Cabbage family
  • Onion family

      Count back from Frost Free Date – May 15 – to start seeds (8 weeks)

 Warm season crops

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Squash
  • Beans
  • Corn

 Radishes (cool season)

  • Easy from seed
  • Fun for children

Cabbage & Cabbage Family (cool)

  • Cabbage
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Broccoli

Lettuce (cool)

  • Leaf lettuce are the easiest in this warm humid climate
  • Growing & Planting Tips
  • Start at the same time as cabbage, scallions and radishes – early cool season crops
  • Set out plants started in early April, usually at the end of the first week of May
  • Scallions (cool)
  • Use either “starts” to set out or direct sow into soil
  • Seed germinates in 7 days
  • Delicious when young

Leeks (cool)

  • Start from seed as early as March 7th
  • Be sure to thin out rows to give developing leeks room to form
  • Can leave in garden until late in fall to harvest

Carrots (cool)

  • Take a long time to germinate, 25 days
  • Many people think rabbits get them
  • Varieties for heavy soil:
  • Nantes, short & fat
  • Royal Chantenay, great for heavy soils


Warm season crops

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Squash
  • Beans
  • Corn


Tomatoes (warm)

  • Determinant
  • Indeterminant
  • Semi
  • Dwarf – newest area


Growing & Planting Tips:

  • Plant deeper than original planting depth
  • Protect stem from cutter worm
  • Use wire cages
  • Only fertilize 2 times per season using “direct” PVC pipe method – at planting and at flower set

Growing & Planting Tips (continued)

Peppers (warm) – Do not “harden off”

  • Sweet types
  • Hot types
  • Ornamental types
  • Growing & Planting Tips
  • Use a water soluble fertilizer at planting and twice during season
  • Amend soil with compost & Garden-tone
  • Leave soaker hose beside plants all season


Cucumbers (warm)

  • Non-bitter types
  • Growing & Planting Tips
  • Do not transplant, always start outdoors
  • Use growing supports
  • Use Bonide Tomato & Vegetable Ready to Use 3 in 1 spray or Bonide Captain Jack’s Deadbug Spray or Earth-tone Insect Control for control of cucumber beetle (carrier of bacterial wilt disease)


Eggplants (warm)

  • Use any variety, they are all about the same
  • Some are earlier to harvest
  • Growing & Planting Tips
  • Start early indoors
  • Wait until the soil is warm at night to plant eggplant out into the garden
  • Problem: Flea-beetles make tiny holes in the leaves, use Bonide Tomato & Vegetable Ready to Use 3 in 1 spray or Bonide Captain Jack’s Deadbug Spray to control


Green Beans (warm)

  • Pole types
  • Kentucky Wonder
  • Italian Flat Bean
  • Bush types
  • Kentucky Wonder-Bush
  • Growing & Planting Tips
  • Direct seed into the garden soil
  • Needs warm soil
  • Use chain link fence to support vines
  • Warning: rabbits love bean plants, so protect when young


Squash (warm)

  • Zucchini
  • So easy, good for beginner, any varieties good
  • Summer Squash
  • Winter Squash
  • Difficult to grow due to squirrel problem & take too much space
  • Growing & Planting Tips
  • Use wood chips around the base of the plant to discourage squash vine borer females from laying eggs
  • Interrupts life cycle
  • Take up a lot of space in garden


Herbs (warm)

  • Annual
  • Basils, Cilantro, Dill, Fennel, Parsley
  • Perennial
  • Chives, Mint, Oregano, Sages, Tarragon, Thyme
  • Tender Perennial
  • Bay, Rosemary
  • Growing & Planting Tips
  • Use to edge garden
  • Add color accents
  • Repel harmful insects
  • Attract beneficial insects

Taking Care of Garden:

  • Most important requirements:
  • Fertile soil
  • Water (1inch/week at 65 degrees or lower)
  • Mulching to prevent weeds
  • Common sense pest control


  • Recommended Pesticides
    (Earth-Friendly Natural)
  • Insect control – Bonide Eight
  • Combination control – or Bonide Tomato & Vegetable XXXX
  • Disease control – Bonide Copper Fungicide


  • Recommended Pesticides

Harvesting & Enjoying:

  • Reasons to harvest
  • Keep plants productive
  • To eat
  • Enjoy favorite recipes

 Avoid these common mistakes:

  • Not enough light
  • Too much or too little water
  • Starting too soon
  • Planting too deep
  • Tough love about weak seedings
  • Getting seduced
  • Too cool
  • Labeling issues

Biggest mistake – giving up

Great Example Garden

 Quick Summary:

  • Find full sun
  • Start small
  • Test the soil
  • Plan carefully
  • Consider transplants
  • Amend the soil
  • Plan for water
  • Add supports and protection
  • Don’t plant too early (indoors or outdoors)

 “Vegetable gardening is not a definite, but an exercise in fun and experimentation; always try new varieties and enjoy!”