Reader Question: Starting Seeds


Our reader question for today is timely since we’ve been discussing starting veggies for the spring garden.

I’ve ordered some of the seed catalogs that you had in your post and my mailbox is filling up. I’m trying to figure out how many seeds to plant of each variety. My garden is on the small side, about 10’x20′. This is my first year trying to start seeds. Your help is appreciated.


Hi Susanna! I’m really excited to know that you’ve ordered some of the free seed catalogs. Isn’t it exciting to look through all of the choices that you have? I know it can be overwhelming too but to me, I see it as an opportunity to dream and choose some plants that I haven’t grown before.

It is completely up to you what you decide to plant in your garden. You may think that your garden is small at 10’x20′ but that’s 200 ft2. And you can plant a whole bunch of veggies in that space. I think the first thing you should do is sketch out the garden on a piece of graph paper; you can make your own in Microsoft Excel if you don’t have any lying around. Then use the chart below to figure out how many plants you can squeeze into your garden. Keep in mind that many of these plants, including beans, cucumbers and peas can be grown up on fences or trellises that you install.

Veggie Name # per ft2
Beans 4
Beets 16
Broccoli 1
Cabbage 1
Carrots 16
Cauliflower 1
Cucumbers – Bush type 0.5
Cucumbers – Vining type 1
Eggplants 1
Onions 16
Peas 16
Peppers 1
Potatoes 1
Radishes 16
Spinach 4
Stawberries 2
Summer Squash – Bush type 0.5
Summer Squash – Vining type 1
Sweet Potato 1
Tomatoes – Bush type 1
Tomatoes – Vining type 0.5
Zucchini 0.5


When figuring out which plants to grow for your garden, don’t forget about walkways and aisles in your garden. I can’t think of many things that are more frustrating than growing a beautiful vegetable garden and not being able to harvest it easily. I recommend that the aisles be 3′ apart but 2′ will suffice if you don’t mind walking heel-to-toe.

Say that you wanted to grow 10 bush types tomatoes (Sophie’s Choice is an example). These tomatoes can be grown with 1 plant per square foot. I would sow 20 seeds in 10 Jiffy pellets or something similar. When the seedlings are up and growing, select the strongest plant and cut the other one off at the soil line…don’t pull it out or you risk disturbing the roots of the survivor. Considering that tomato seed packets usually have 50 or 60 seeds inside, you’ll have enough for next year too! If you wanted to grow a vining cucumber, the same theory would apply: plant 2 seeds per cell and thin to the strongest one. If you wanted to sow your seeds directly in the ground in the spring, I would recommend planting 4 for each plant that you want to have. There is an old farmers’ saying that goes something like this: “One for the mouse, one for the crow, one to rot and one to grow”. If you are fortunate enough to have all 4 seedlings emerge, just thin to the strongest one once they’re up and growing.

Don’t be discouraged if your seedlings don’t do as well as you hope they will your first year. I’m a horticulturist and the first year I tried growing them at home, I almost killed them all by not having enough light. I was used to growing them in a greenhouse and trying to replicate that in a house is all but impossible. I’m excited that you’ve decided to try starting seeds indoors. I’m sure that you will be rewarded many times over when you’re picking bushels of fresh veggies this summer. If you have any recommendations for Susanna, leave a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!

December 29, 2011Permalink Leave a comment

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