Potager 101 – Starting Seeds

Mar 14, 2011 | Gardening, Potager, Potager 101 | 13 comments

Starting Seeds
Since I alluded to how I start my seeds I thought I would give a brief “how to”.  Like I said before, despite what the books and websites say most of us develop our own technique after a few years of trial and error.  Please remember any timing I refer to is focused on zone 5a.
First thing you need to be able to do is count backwards.
Count backwards?
Sure thing.  Learn the typical “last frost” date in your zone and count backwards about* 8 weeks.  Mine happens to coicide with Mothers Day and Big Daddy’s birthday – easy enough to remember.  Though it never fails that we end up running out there with sheets of plastic a few nights to protect our little veggies from the cold.  I should just as well wait til the 3rd week of May – but I never can, I am too anxious to get started.
(I say “about” because things like peppers and tomatoes and most herbs need 8 weeks, broccoli and cauliflower need 6, and onions… well I blew it for onions seeds this year… they need a lot of time.)
Now, you can use dirt from your garden but you will need to bake it in the oven to kill bad microbes (or something like that) so I choose to start with a bag of Jiffy Organic Seed mix.   There are many greenhouse type systems and supplies to choose from at your garden center… “green” products and the like but I am pretty content with the results from Jiffy brand.
The seed packet, your favorite gardening book or a simple Google search will give you details on planting each variety of seed.  Some get placed on the top of the soil, barely covered, others planted 1/2 inch, others an inch.
This is where you can get the chickens involved.  It is a wonderful time to teach them about seeds, food and where it comes from… the joys of growing your own food.  Oh, how happy they will be to pat the dirt down and oh what a mess will be made 🙂  They will LOVE to check the seedlings progress day after day and will find great pride in eating food they have grown from a little seed… so will you!

After planting, lightly water and keep water according to the variety of seed you have planted.

And place in a sunny, warm location.
Midwest sun and warmth is not reliable, so you can see here we are using a heat lamp to keep this tray’s soil nice and warm… peppers need warm soil and I simply use a food thermometer to monitor the warmth of the soil.  After four days our first jalapenos have sprouted!  Seven more weeks to go!

Even though it’s just a card table and a table cloth I love looking out there and feeling like we have our very own greenhouse… it’s got such a botanical feel with the sunlight, the palms and terra cotta and baby wellies that I added for fun!
After your seeds have sprouted and grown a bit it’s time to take off the greenhouse lid as per your Jiffy instructions.

Different plants may have different directions (some, for example want you to pinch off certain leaves as they grow) but after your seeds have grown and before you plant them outside you will need to “harden them off”.  This is the part I really don’t like.
It takes about a week and you begin by finding a shady, protected area for your seedlings to hang out for the day.  No wind!  BE SURE to bring them back in at the end of the day.
After a few days you can move them into a sunny location for part of the day, then move them back to the shade for the rest… told you it was a pain.
By the end of the week they should be strong enough to handle a full day of sun and they are ready to plant!

Bonne Chance!

Our next class will be later this week on decorative planting.  We will then be just about ready to wrap it up so if you have any questions please send them to me and I will do a post about the questions!



  1. Adrienne

    I need to get my seeds started post haste! Last year I started about 1 or 2 weeks too late.

  2. Adrienne

    Oh – I forgot. This will be the first year I move them to my upright cold frame hubby built for me after a few weeks inside. It’ll either work or they’ll freeze to death.

    I’ll post a picture of the cold frame. When you see it you will want one and you have plenty of room. It’s easy peasy…

  3. Adrienne

    That first sentence is really weird. Hubby didn’t build the cold frame after being inside for a few weeks – heh.

    I think you got the drift, though – seeing as how dang smarty pants you are. 😉

  4. LaurieAnna's Vintage Home

    What great tips, and you’re right, we all develop our own ways of doing things. Thanks for taking time to share yours with us! I’m so looking forward to getting my fingers into the dirt!

  5. Theanne and Baron

    Thank you for the encouragement…since I have no space for a potager garden, I’m thinking maybe I’ll try using a grow light I had one back in my hippie, back to the earth days. I want to grow a veggie and some herbs nothing earth shattering. Maybe I’ll even start making my own yoghurt again…so tangy! You’re certainly inspiring me and that’s a good thing! Hope you’re feeling better!

  6. Jenn @ Spejory

    I am enjoying these gardening posts since this is the first year I will be starting my own seeds. I can’t wait!

    Oh my…your word verification thingy is telling me to “repent.”

  7. Ann at eightacresofeden

    Frost? What is frost? I know – it is not fair is it but then I miss out on having the decorative potager because all my plants have to be protected from marauding possums, wallabies and all the other wild animals that inhabit my garden and love to share in its produce. I let my children go wild with seed and I know they went overboard with sowing cucumber seed last spring because we had zillions of the things – even enough to share with the animals as a few did get chewed by mice which can squeeze through the tiniest hole. It is autumn here now, the soil is still warm and just planted beans which had germinated in days – once again the kids had got carried away but I’m not worried as I’m hoping those beans grow up and cover the back of my netted totally enclosed vegetable garden. I like the idea of those vertical Italian kitchen gardens – maybe I can have one of those rather than the potager of my dreams!
    Oh and I almost forgot to say congratulations Ang – your ‘flock’ is growing and as your gardens do I’m sure you are just going to be a flourishing mother – can’t wait for all your nesting posts or have you already started?

  8. claudia b

    I was supposed to start this year’s garden from seed but life got in the way. And the month long plague that hit us last month. But next year . . .!

  9. à la parisienne

    My seeds from Baker Creek arrived last week and I already planted my tomato seeds in an egg carton. I am not really sure where to put them…Right now, they are sitting on my masterbath window seal that is south-facing. Right now they are basking in the warm sunshine.

    A few weeks ago, I planted some other tomato seeds and dillweed in a pot and left them outside. My dad chided me and said-“They’ll never germinate outside; it’s still too cold at night.” Too stubborn to bring them in, I left them outside.
    Now, I already have a potful of dill seedlings and two happy tomato seedlings that are still outside:)
    We’ll see how the indoor seeds go.

    I like your “greenhouse” set up there. Maybe next year I can try something like this.

    Hope you have a great week and that your sickness is less intense.


  10. Carissa

    We planted our seeds for the first time a few days ago. We are so excited… i’m sure we will have trial and error, but you have to start somewhere!! 😉

    Congratulations on your WONDERFUL news!!!! While reading your posts over the past month I had my suspicions when you kept mentioning how sick you were. I am truly sorry for the hard time you have been having with your illness, you poor thing! I pray that you are feeling better, even if it is a little bit. It is SO HARD to get things done and be a Mama when you are feeling this way.

    Please take care!

    PS We are looking into getting chickens this year!!! Hoping to start on the chicken coop early June. Chickens to follow. 🙂

  11. Beth - In My World...

    Bon soir! Here in Upstate New York I think it may be a bit early for me to start my seeds. Two years ago I began them early and they grew like gangbusters – I was thrilled! We had a beautiful April day so I set them out in the sunshine and then…I forgot to bring them in. Sadly, the cold evening did them in and I was so sad! Now I am afraid to start them too soon and experience a jungle again. But I can’t wait to start!

  12. Jenn

    I started my seeds on Saturday and have cabbage and broccoli already sprouting! I liked the heat lamp idea…I’m sure my peppers would do better with the added warmth.

  13. Old Centennial Farmhouse

    Oh, this is just so precious, I especially love the little girlies helping mommy with planting the seeds!

    I have to admit, I’ve never been brave enough to try starting seeds in the house! I would probably leave them out in the cold the first night I tried to harden them off!

    I just LOVE your new header!


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