The most cost-effective way to grow vegetables is to grow them from seeds. The cost of just one small vegetable transplant can buy a package of seeds that can produce hundreds of plants. Properly stored, many varieties of vegetable seeds will remain viable for as long as 10 years. One package of just one type of vegetable can grow enough of that vegetable for your family's needs for years to come.
Start Some Seeds Indoors
Hot-weather crops like tomatoes, peppers, melons and cucumbers cannot be planted outdoors in the ground until the soil has warmed up. In most areas of the United States this does not give these vegetables enough time to produce a crop before autumn frosts arrive. Starting 8 to 10 weeks before the average date of your last spring frost, sow seeds of these hot-weather-loving vegetables indoors under lights. When transplanted into the garden in late May and early June, they will grow rapidly and begin bearing fruit in 60 to 90 days, depending on the variety.
Grow Appropriate Varieties
Growing vegetables from seeds opens up your choices and you can purchase any variety you choose. Select varieties that are compatible with your location and growing season. For example, choose tomatoes that mature quickly in shorter-season northern gardens. For southern gardens, choose tomato varieties that grow well in hot, humid conditions.
Thoroughly prepare the garden soil and seedbed prior to sowing. Turn over the soil with a spade or rototiller and rake it smooth. Use a string tied to a stick at each end to mark the row where you will plant the seeds. If possible, thoroughly water the growing bed the day before planting the seeds. Once the seeds are sown, mist the seedbed daily with a hose-end sprayer set to a fine mist until the seeds germinate, then keep them consistently moist until they are established and in active growth.
Gardening from seeds also means thinning out seedlings. Thin relentlessly, as garden vegetables will not produce well if they are grown too close together. Follow the guidelines on the seed packages for final spacing of the young seedlings after thinning. Do not wait too long after their emergence; crops should be thinned to their final spacing when they are between 2 and 4 inches high.
At the time you thin your seedlings, thoroughly weed the row and the adjacent areas. Vegetable seedlings do not compete well with weed seedlings; the weed seedlings must be removed. Pull weeds by hand that are within two fingers' width of the row of seedlings and cultivate the ground to remove any weeds further away or between the rows. Mulch the soil well between the rows and also between individual plants within the rows. This will reduce the growth of weeds and help keep the soil consistently moist.
Seeds of many open-pollinated varieties of vegetables can easily be collected and saved for next year's crop. When purchasing garden vegetable seeds, choose varieties labeled "heirloom" or "open pollinated" for seed saving. Seeds of hybrid varieties do not reliably produce plants that are identical to their parents and must be purchased from reliable seed companies. But even hybrid seeds remain viable for many years, so choose both hybrid and open pollinated varieties. Save some seeds and buy others.