7 Steps to seed-starting

Why should you start seeds indoors?

  • It will extend your growing season, depending on which growing zone you live in (see below). I’m in zone 7b, the little yellow dot in the southern portion of Idaho. I can’t safely grow tomatoes and peppers outside until May. If I put an Amish Paste tomato seed (superseeds.com/collections/tomatoes) in the ground on May 15 I will not get tomatoes until August 5th. Who wants to wait that long?! I like, no, I LIVE to have juicy sweet tomatoes all summer long and not wait until the end of summer to start enjoying them. By starting them inside 6-8 weeks before May 15th I can harvest tomatoes as soon as mid-June! Now that’s what I’m talking about.
  • You can personalize your garden choices. Most stores carry seedlings that were the most popular by purchase from the previous year. For example, for sweet bell peppers you will find most stores carrying the California Wonder, which is an excellent sweet pepper that you may very well prefer. But maybe you heard about Cubanelle sweet peppers (rareseeds.com) and wanted to grow your own but you can’t find the seedlings anywhere. Order seed packets. More than likely you can have the seeds in your hands within a week. Another great reason to order seeds is the amount of seeds you get in a packet. Not many of us small plot gardeners can use all those seeds, but did you know that if you keep them in a cool, dry place you will have them for next year as well?
  • You can grow organically. When purchasing seedlings from big box stores, you do not know how that plant was raised. Was it grown in chemically altered soil? Was it sprayed with pesticides? When starting your plants from seeds you get to determine their environment from the moment it emerges from its casing.
  • It is less expensive. Seeds are just way less expensive to buy than seedlings. I realize that is a simplistic comparison because with seeds you also need to buy soil. (DO NOT use outside soil to start your baby
    seedlings).I got this organic seedling mix from a local store for about $5-6 for 12 quarts of soil. You can pick up seed trays for about $5 too or use your own containers from around the house. I use plastic trays from the supermarket that have lids attached as well as recycled solo cups. There are so many options: yogurt cups, egg shell cartons, even milk cartons, or make your own from newspapers.

7 Simple Steps to get you going

  1. Make a list of what you would like to grow. First, be sure you will eat it – there is no use growing broccoli if everyone in your house doesn’t like it. I suggest starting small if this is your first time. Second, what do you use the most? Lettuce is a staple for a good salad. That might be a good place to start, plus lettuce is cold-hardy and can go outside much earlier than tomatoes, peppers, and watermelon!
  2. Order your seed See how I put an s on the end of packet? This will quickly become an addiction (of the healthy sort) and soon you will find you’ve become a seed-hoarder! We’ll have to chat about that another time. There is a ton of lettuce varieties, look for the kind that you prefer. How about a butterleaf if you like soft leaf lettuces, or romaine if you like crunchy textures. These two are great options because leaf lettuces are “cut and come again” unlike head lettuces where you cut off the head and the plant is done. This is your garden so choose what you want.
  3. Planning your space. How many plants of each veggie, fruit, or herb would you like to have? And, how much outside garden space do you have to put them? 1 onion may only need a 6” x 6” space whereas 1 tomato needs 24” x 24”. On the back of every seed packet you will find the specific spacing needs for each variety. I like to measure my outside garden area and divide it into square feet so I can get a better idea of what I can grow. I also like to draw it on graph paper, or create a word document.
  4. Gather pots or trays. When reusing/recycling containers, be sure to wash them well. Punch holes in the bottoms with a drill or hammer and nail to allow water to drain off. If you do not have a tray to sit them in to catch the water runoff, you can sit one carton inside the other that does not have holes so it can catch the runoff. This enables the roots to reach for the water and prevents the roots from sitting in too much moisture which could cause root rot. I use this method with solo cups because they fit very nicely together. I have one 72-celled tray with a dome that I got from a local supermarket that cost under $10. That’s 72 possible plants! Some will fail so I always plant 2 seeds per cell. Even then, something may cause one cell to die back so I try to account for that as well by carefully moving one seedling, if both sprouted, into an empty cell. Domes: if your container does not have a covering, just use plastic wrap. Remove it when the seeds have sprouted.
  5. Purchase soil. As mentioned above, do not use outside soil to start your seedlings. It is inexpensive, and only costs about $5-6 at the local big box store. Just give up one drive-by coffee this week and voila, your
    budget will still be intact! To use: I pour about 6 quarts of soil into a medium sized tub and wet it with warm water until damp. You should not be able to squeeze water out of it. Fill the cells about ¾ full. I use a round dowel (or wooden spoon handle) to poke a shallow hole for the seeds. Follow their depth instructions from the seed packets.
  6. Warming mats. (See the cord in the above photo). These are great for keeping the seeds warm which they need to germinate. However, you could just sit them on or near your stove/oven. You only need to do this while germinating for about 2 weeks. Since your plants are still indoors for another 4 weeks, your house temp will be about perfect. Cold crops such as chard, kale, cabbage, broccoli, and lettuce like to be cool anyway so be sure to not use the warming mats with them after germination.
  7. Grow lights. I have successfully grown many plants inside without grow lights, however, once your seedlings emerge, they need lots of light. Put them in a south window to maximize their light reception potential. If you do not have a south facing window, you will need a
    grow light. My first-ever grow light was a small, under the cabinet fixture. It did not have the capability to adjust its height, so I just raised the seedlings to be closer to the light by using boxes or bricks, or whatever was handy. Then I graduated to a small 2 ft. system by Jump Start. This year I’m graduating again to 2, 4 ft T8 fixtures!

Warming mats and grow lights are only needed if you live in frost areas.

Here is a list of the companies I ordered seed from this year, just in case you were wondering:

www.migardener.com – Luke also has a great YouTube channel with loads of great information!



www.superseeds.com (Pinetree)

www.wildboarfarms.com (unique tomato plants)

and etsy (did you know you can get live plants too? I even got an herb from Vietnam last year!)

Tell me what you are starting inside this year. I would love to hear from you.

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