Potential Problems

Observe your seedlings carefully as they grow. Watch the leaves to see that they are green and healthy and not too skinny or spindly. Common problems for seedlings are damping-off disease, mold, and insects. Damping-off disease occurs when there is poor air circulation and excessive moisture. If your seedlings topple inexplicably or have brown, shriveled stems, or if mold appears on the soil’s surface, cut back on the water, check that drainage is good, and try using a small fan to improve air circulation. Segregate the flat that seems to have this problem from the healthy seedlings. The best preventive measure for insects like aphids, which can be lethal to seedlings, is to keep all plants that could be harboring eggs or grown insects out of the room where you’re starting seeds.

The process of hand-sowing seeds, tending seedlings, and harvesting your own vegetables is a great way to establish a more meaningful connection to the food you eat. By observing your seedlings and adjusting to local weather cycles and particular plants’ needs, you’ll tune in to timeless seasonal rhythms that have guided human, agricultural, and culinary patterns for millennia. But starting vegetables from seed is also economical, fun, and maybe even an act of flagrant optimism. Who knows? Maybe this year you’ll be able to harvest your first batch of tomatoes in June instead of late July.