Many lessons involve opportunities to plant seeds – whether saved from the fruits they taste in class or seeds that are purchased and started in the classroom or outdoors. Keep in mind, many seeds collected from fruits may not germinate because they have been genetically modified. Before planting, do your research and find out the growing zone, planting dates, sun, water, and soil requirements, and days to maturity for each plant. If you can’t meet these requirements, find something else to plant.

Seeds suited to start indoors include: broccoli, Brussels sprout, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, Chinese cabbage, lettuce, sweet potato slips, and tomatoes, eggplant, melons, celery, pepper, and onion.

It is possible to germinate seeds in many different growing mediums, from in-between moist paper towels in a plastic bag to potting soil, peat pellets or in a soilless or peat-lite mix. Garden soil is not advisable for starting seeds indoors because it can contain harmful organisms.

Peat pellets are small, compact, dried peat pellets that expand when watered. Two or three seeds can be sown in each pellet. The roots grow right through the peat, so you can plant the whole thing directly in the ground. Peat is a sterile planting medium which prevents “damping off”, a mildew or fungus disease that kills the seedlings. Damping off is more common in soil from the ground. Peat pellets are the ideal method for young children, because they are contained (no loose soil) and easy to handle.

Recycled food containers can be used to sprout seedlings and to make plant labels. Yogurt containers can be cut into strips to make plant labels, and seeds can be planted in milk cartons, egg crates, and other food packages (no metal cans). The containers don’t need to be large, in fact small and shallow is ideal. Be sure to poke several holes in the bottom of any recycled containers to allow extra water to drain and put the container on a tray or plate to collect the water that drains out of the containers.

Read the seed package to find out when and how to plant the seeds. Firm them into the soil and water them with gentle water from a shower head, not a single hard stream from a hose. Place the seeds in a sunny window, ideally southern exposure. Alternatively, use a grow light, or a basic fluorescent shop light with one warm white bulb and one cool white bulb. Seeds that don’t get enough sunlight become leggy and weak.

Cover the seed containers with plastic wrap until they germinate, to trap moisture and heat which will accelerate germination. Keep the soil damp, don’t let it dry out or get soggy or waterlogged. Too much water can cause the seeds to rot or mold, and not enough water can cause them to dry out and die. Feel the soil and gently add water when the soil is starting to get a bit dry. You can water from the top or pour water on the under-liner tray and it will wick up to the soil in the container. You can also mist seedlings, ideally with distilled water.

When the second pair of leaves appear (the “true” leaves), you can carefully transplant the seedlings to larger individual containers and keep them on a sunny windowsill (transplanting is optional). Keep the soil moist but not saturated. Transplant the seedlings to the garden when they’re big enough and strong enough to handle outdoor weather conditions. Seedlings are very fragile, so be gentle when transplanting and try to provide optimal conditions for growth. The transition from indoors to the climate outdoors can shock seedlings if the change is too sudden. It is important to gradually introduce seedlings grown indoors to the harsher climate outdoors; this is called “hardening off” or to “harden off”. Seedlings are fragile and need time to acclimate to outdoor weather. Ideally, transplanting should be done in the afternoon or evening, the cooler part of the day. If it’s too hot, the transplants will wilt and can become stressed. Give them a lot of water once they’re in the ground and keep them watered regularly.

Dig a hole big enough to hold the roots. Pour water into the hole, set the plant in the hole carefully, and fill in the hole with soil. Pat the soil flat and water the small plant very well. Don’t let it dry out. If you have not hardened off the seedlings before transplanting, then protect them in the garden for a few days from the full intensity of the sun by creating some type of shade over them.

Many greenhouses and nurseries start seeds indoors and sell seedlings that can be transplanted in your garden. In some areas, transplants extend the growing season and make it possible for gardeners and farmers to grow crops in areas that have short growing seasons. Buying transplants is a good backup plan if you don’t have time or space to start seeds indoors, or if you are not successful at starting seeds indoors. Select transplants that look healthy, sturdy, disease-free, and have good roots.

Alternatively, seeds can be sown directly in the garden soil when it’s warm enough, and do not do well as transplants. Seeds suited to direct sowing in garden soil include beans, beets, carrots, corn, cucumber, okra, peas, radish, spinach, squash, and turnips. These plants do not do well as transplants.

Read the seed packet to find out how deep to plant the seeds, and how much space between them. The general rule of thumb is that larger seeds are planted deeper than tiny seeds which need only a light covering of soil. Use row markers to label the types of plants.