If you have tried your hand at gardening in Texas you know one thing is for certain - Texas has unpredictable weather. The trick to growing a successful garden is to get a jump on the season because Spring can go from warm to incredibly hot very suddenly. In order to accomplish this you either need to own a greenhouse, which can be expensive and will take up a lot of space on your property, or you will need to start your transplants indoors. I decided to do the latter this year, so I did some research to figure out the best options to do so.
Through my research I discovered that lighting technology has certainly come a long way. Grow lights used to have many disadvantages: they were big and bulky; they put off a lot of heat which required a lot of expensive ventilation and created a fire hazard; they consumed a lot of energy which made them very expensive to run; or in the case of fluorescent lights they didn't put off enough quality light for optimal plant growth.
Starting plants indoors has its benefits: you can control the temperature, you have less chance of insect damage, and you can increase the amount of light your plants are receiving as compared to the lower light levels outside during the winter.
Here is a list of things to consider if you choose to start transplants indoors:
1. Temperature - Most seeds have an optimal germination temperature of about 70 degrees. Since most of us keep our houses around this temperature anyway, this makes for an optimal environment to start seedlings quickly. If you choose to start your plants in a garage or shed that may be cooler than 70 degrees then you might want to consider a germination heat mat to place under your trays. A space heater can also be used to keep the overall temperature of the room within an ideal range.
2. Air Circulation - Good air circulation is key if you are growing seedlings indoors to prevent fungal or bacterial problems. Utilizing a box fan or any smaller mountable fan will suffice for a smaller table-top operation.
3. Light - Plants need good quality light for optimal plant growth. If your seedlings don't receive enough light they will stretch and become leggy. A leggy plant is hard to recover from. Good quality light will ensure that your plants are compact and healthy. I chose to use four 1500 watt LED lights to cover an area of about 5 ft x 10ft. If you are just starting a few trays you may only need one light to achieve this. The great thing about LED lights is that they don't put off a lot of heat and they consume a lot less energy than high pressure sodium or metal halide grow lights. The LED lights are designed to put off the exact spectrum of light needed by plants too, which means optimal growth is achieved. The lights that I purchased were Yehsence 1500 watt:
4. Quality seedling soil - A good quality seedling mix is ideal when starting seeds in trays indoors. I do not recommend using Miracle Grow or actual soil from your garden. The two brands that I use are SunGro and Happy Frog by Fox Farm. You can usually find these soils at your local feed store or anywhere else they sell gardening supplies. They are available on Amazon as well if you are in a pinch and need them delivered.
5. Moisture - Keeping your seed trays moist will ensure quick germination rates. I use a spray bottle to mist the soil to keep it damp without dislodging the seeds. Once your plants are larger and are consuming more water you will want to water your trays with a watering can. You can take them outside to water them and bring them back in once they have drained, or you can water them in a sink to allow for the water to drain that way.
6. Fertilizer - Using a good quality liquid fertilizer is essential for your transplants to grow healthy roots and shoots. I recommend using an organic fertilizer because they are safe and effective, and you don't have to worry about burning your plants. Liquid fertilizer should be mixed based on the manufacturer's recommendations and applied to your plants about once a week until you are ready to plant your transplants outdoors. My recommendation for liquid fertilizer is Ocean Harvest by Microlife. This product is formulated with macro and micro nutrients, as well as growth stimulators, which are all essential for your plants.
Keeping these key elements in mind will ensure that you grow successful transplants indoors to get a jump on the Texas season. I have hundreds of seedlings growing to prepare for the spring season, as well as to get ready for the plant sale at the farm on May 5th during our Spring Farm Day event.
For more information about the event please visit the Facebook event page at:
Tickets for the event can be purchased at:
Below you will find the list of my favorite seed companies. Each one offers something slightly different, making each of them unique and valuable. I hope you explore them all and have an enjoyable time choosing some fun varieties for your spring garden.
Texas Seed Companies
Willhite Seed, Inc. - Poolville, TX
What started out as a watermelon seed company in a house in 1905 has now blossomed into a more diversified, yet still family owned, seed company in Poolville, TX. They offer a wide-range of vegetable seeds and you can be sure that these varieties will do well here in Texas.
Dixondale Farms - Carrizo Springs, TX
Dixondale Farms is the go-to source for onion sets. This family owned company has been growing onions in Texas for over 100 years and they offer high quality onion sets perfect for growing in Texas. Remember to shop in the "short day" section for onion varieties that will do well here. I have had some success with the "intermediate day" varieties, but they didn't grow as large as they could have in a more Northern region.
East Texas Seed Company
I use the East Texas Seed company for all of my cover crop seed needs. They have great customer service and fast shipping. I recommend planting cowpeas and buckwheat in the summer, and a mix of hairy vetch and clover in the fall, winter, and spring as cover crops.
Native American Seed Company - Junction, TX
Last but not least is the local family owned seed company in Junction, TX called Native American Seed. This company specializes in native Texas grasses and wildflower seeds. They are committed to providing 100% pure native seed and are a great source if you are looking to plant some blue bonnets or any other spring wildflower.
National Seed Companies
Johnny's Seeds - Albion, Maine
This is hands down the best seed company in my opinion. Johnny's is 100% employee owned and committed to quality. They focus on highly productive hybrids, but they do have a good selection of heirloom and organic seeds as well. Their prices tend to be slightly higher than most, but this is a perfect example of "you pay for what you get".
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds - Mansfield, Missouri
What is there not to love about Baker Creek Seed Company? They're a family owned company with one of the largest collections of heirloom seeds in the world. If you are looking to try something rare, unique, and interesting then you'll want to check them out. I recommend requesting one of their famous seed catalogs because it's always more enjoyable to have something tangible to look through.
Botanical Interests - Broomfield, Colorado
Known for their incredibly detailed and informational seed packets, I always snag some seeds from the Botanical Interests rack at Producer's Co-op in Bryan. They offer a good mix of heirloom and hybrids seeds, and the artwork on the packet is worth every penny.
TomatoFest - California
If you want to grow tomatoes then look no further than TomatoFest. A husband and wife team in California with one of the largest selections of heirloom tomatoes around. I purchased their "hot and humid" collection to grow at the farm this year. One of the owners also happens to be from my hometown of Spokane, WA.
Seeds of Change - Rancho Dominquez, California
Seeds of Change is a seed company that is dedicated to preserving heirloom varieties, all while giving plenty back to the community. They donate 1% of all their sales to community-based garden projects, and have donated more than $1,000,000 to date. They do have an Amazon store, which makes it convenient if you have a Prime account. They also offer nutritious packaged meals if you're ever in a pinch and need a healthy option.
Eden Brothers is my go-to company for ordering bulbs. They do offer a large selection of vegetable and flower seeds as well, but they are a great source for a wide range of perennial bulbs and roots. I will be ordering some gladiolus, ranunculus, and canna bulbs from them very soon!
Native Seeds - Tucson, Arizona
I highly recommend that you support this company as they are preserving some incredibly rare native varieties from the Southwest. Most of what they offer is well adapted to drought and heat, making them perfect seed for Texas gardens. We grew their Navajo Grey Hubbard squash at the farm and served it at the restaurant in the Summer of 2018 - it was a real treat!
There's something special about this time of year - the holidays are coming to an end, we have consumed more calories than we care to admit, and somewhere deep inside us a restlessness brews for what the new year has in store. Personally I am extremely excited for the new growing season. I have spent the past year building the farm and putting all the necessary pieces into place. Now it's time to focus on building the soil and producing even more amazing food for Ronin restaurant.
This year I decided to partake in a healthy New Years Eve celebration. I figured it would be a little more productive to set goals, and dream big dreams, while completely sober with a nice farm fresh meal as my inspiration. So I traded in the booze for some Topo Chico instead and I headed out to the farm to harvest some fresh veggies for dinner. I knew I had plenty of daikon at the farm so I decided to go with an Asian recipe. I gathered some daikon and carrots and then headed to the herb garden. A quick glance around and I knew exactly what I wanted to make. I grabbed some Japanese green onions, Japanese wild parsley, and some cilantro and I headed to the kitchen.
First off, I would like to preface this recipe by saying that even though I am obsessed with Vietnamese food right now I actually don't know a lot about it. Thai food used to be my go-to style when it came to Asian food, but lately Vietnamese food has won my heart. I will admit that this recipe is probably not 100% authentic. I guess you could also call it a fusion recipe since I am using soba noodles (soba is actually the Japanese word for buckwheat). I found it to be delicious nonetheless and I hope you enjoy it.
Corey Wahl - director of farm operations at Ronin Farm - Bryan, TX.