One of the best things that any gardener can learn in order to help them in their adventures is the ability of starting seeds indoors. Starting your own seeds is an extremely important skill to have as it allows you to get a head start on the growing season, saves you money and it also gives you the opportunity to grow something that may not be available in your area.
So, you have decided to start your own seeds indoors for your garden. That is awesome because starting your own seeds will give you a certain freedom for your garden. Have you ever went to your local big box store or garden center to buy plants? The plants they sell are usually common varieties that are barely taken care of and are over priced. I mean, who wants to pay $4.50 for one plant? I would rather grow my own.
For $4.50, I can start potentially hundreds of plants depending on variety which I can then plant what I want and then donate the left over plants to a local school or community garden. So you have decided on starting seeds indoors, below is a list of things that I use and you are going to need:
- Soil less starting mix $5.00
- Soil $5.50
- Perlite $4.50
- Seed starting greenhouse kit $4.50
- Heat Mat $20.00
- Cups $4.00
- Popsicle sticks & sharpie pen $2.00-3.00
- Lights $15-20.00
- Seeds (prices vary depending on vendor)
Those are the supplies that I choose to use for starting seeds indoors but based on what is available locally you may have to substitute different things. I bought all of my supplies relatively cheap at either Home Depot or Wal-Mart. Each one of these items have a specific purpose in starting seeds indoors which we will cover.
- I use a soil-less starting mix for starting seeds indoors because it tends to be sterile and free from weed seeds and insect eggs. The main ingredient is typically peat moss or coconut coir. This soil-less mix needs to be a really fine mix free of all clumps or sticks. I plant my seeds in this mix and then transplant my seedlings into larger containers into nutrient dense mix of soil, perlite and some of my homemade compost until they are ready to be put outside. The soil I use as my base is Kellogg’s Container blend soil that is rich with nutrients because it contains bat guano, worm castings and compost. I take the Kellogg’s soil and then add in perlite loosen the mix up as well as aid in draining. The main thing about your soil is it needs to be nutrient rich and well draining.
- As far as the starter greenhouse kit, this is optional based on what you would prefer to use or what you have on hand. There are literally thousands of different options as to what you use for starting seeds indoors because you can practically use anything that you have around your house. Just add your starting soil, plant your seeds and then cover with plastic wrap. I have seen people re-purpose plastic salad mix containers that have lids. All you need is a container that after punching some drainage holes in it you can cover with plastic wrap or a lid to help hold in some humidity. I just find it easier and neater looking to use the kits. I also wash them and store them for future use the next growing season. That way I am sure I get my money’s worth. Even though I use the greenhouse starter kits, that may not be possible for you. I encourage you to be creative; think outside of the box because what you use is really only limited by your imagination.
- Item number 3 is a heat mat and completely optional but highly recommended. The heat mat can be a very important tool in starting seeds indoors. Seeds are living things; wait, what? Yes! Seeds are living, breathing things and they need certain things in order to sprout, grow and thrive. Things like water, oxygen, nutrients and heat are necessary for starting seeds indoors. Like all things in life there is a balance that has to be there, for example, a seed planted into overly wet soil without any kind of heat or sunlight will produce a culture of mold because it cannot dry out. So, balance is a key factor in this process. Even though warmth is needed for seeds to germinate, there are many ways to replicate this. Here are some of the ways to warm your seeds so that they will germinate, placing your planted seeds on top of your refrigerator, hot water heater or a nearby south facing window. Some seeds germinate with little to no additional heat, some seeds have better germination rates if sowed or started outside. Things like cucumbers, squash and melons germinate quickly and easily unlike certain other things. There are some seeds that need a very warm soil and still take upwards of 30 days to germinate. Pepper seeds are very particular about their conditions as some take up to a month. We will have more to come on starting your pepper seeds indoors!
- After your seeds have germinated you will need some cups to transplant those seedlings into. You can also choose to start your seeds directly in those cups. Normally, I over sow seeds into cell packs then separate them into their own individual cups. Most seedlings are resilient and can take some transplanting. I would recommend that if you are starting seeds indoors to pay close attention to the size of the seeds. The vegetables with the larger seeds need to be started in a larger container from the beginning. Things like cucumbers, squash, zucchini, melons, pumpkins and watermelons sprout and quickly overgrow their containers. The last thing you will need is your seeds. There is a lot of discussion going on right now about what seeds to buy and from where. Let me just give you an overview:
- Open pollinated means that the seed plant was not isolated and the flowers may have been pollinated by another source. Isolating seed stock is not hard but rather time consuming.
- Hybrid all that really means is that those seeds are the product of a crossing of two different plants. Much like your parents, you will receive traits from your mother and your father. The plants are the same way, they cross them to ingrain certain traits into their next generation. One of the most common traits is disease resistance or to get a more uniform fruit. There is absolutely nothing wrong with growing hybrid plants except for the fact that if you save the seeds and regrow you will most likely get a plant that resembles one of the parent plants.
- Heirloom seeds have generally been around for 50-100 years growing, producing the same fruit where farmers have saved the seeds and passed them down over the generations. The seeds will produce tried and true to the parent plant.
- GMO There has been a uprising over the last year or two about being “gmo-free” or “non-gmo” that has been pushed to the extreme. GMO seeds are not available to small time growers or home growers. Generally, gmo seeds are sold in bulk quantities to farmers who are growing acre upon acre of the same crop. What GMO stands for is “Genetically Modified Organisms” which basically means that they have modified certain seeds in order to gain a resistance to bugs or to produce a certain amount of crops. Once again, small/backyard/home growers can not buy GMO seeds anywhere.
Here are a couple of my favorite seed suppliers:
Starting seeds indoors can be a very fulfilling process that can get you through a long winter where you are stuck inside but also provide with something fun and educational to do. Starting seeds indoors can have a learning curve where you may seem like you cannot get things right and you may have to start over a few times. With practice you can start your own seeds throughout the year for your vegetable garden. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to comment or contact us. Be sure to check out our other articles so how to plan your garden.