How to Grow Vegetables

Prep the Seeds

Seeds such as broccoli, cabbage, and arugula use moisture efficiently and germinate promptly without presoaking. But slower-starting parsley and parsnip seeds benefit from presoaking. Dunk the seeds in room-temperature water for several hours or even overnight, but don't forget them and leave them in too long. Drain and plant the seeds immediately.
  • Use water-filled tepees around early planted tender vegetables for protection from the cold. You can buy inexpensive plastic sheets of connected tubes that, when filled with water, form self-supporting walls around seedlings. The clear walls allow sun to penetrate to the plant inside while the solar-heated water stays warm into the night.

  • Rather than direct sowing, start with large seedlings grown on the windowsill or purchased at a nursery for quick results especially in cold climates. This strategy works well for tender vegetables such as beefsteak tomatoes and chili peppers, which take a long time to ripen but must squeeze in their performance before the last curtain (frost) does them in for the season.
Look for seedlings grown in large pots (check for a strong, well developed root system) with healthy green leaves and a sturdy constitution. Avoid neglected, spindly, or overgrown seedlings.

Cucumbers taste their best fresh from the vine.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Cucumbers taste their best fresh
from the vine. See more
pictures of vegetable gardens.

Note that not every seedling transplants well when older. Cucumbers, squash, zucchini, pumpkins, and gourds are best started by direct sowing or from young seedlings planted carefully to minimize root disturbance.
  • Plant leggy vegetable seedlings deeper (up to the first set of leaves) to provide a stronger start outdoors. Seedlings started indoors or in crowded greenhouses (places without enough light) may develop lanky, barren stems that topple over in the garden. As long as they grow from a single stem (rather than a rosette of leaves) and go into well-drained soil, leggy seedlings can be submerged slightly deep for extra support.
For flexible-stemmed seedlings like tomatoes, a horizontal planting trench is better than a vertical one. It is warmer and better aerated than deeper soil, encouraging good root growth and fast development.
  • Keep cutworms away from seedlings with the cardboard centers of toilet paper rolls. Cutworms, which are moth caterpillars, creep along the soil surface, eating tender stem bases of young seedlings and cutting sprouts off at the roots.