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Starting Seeds Indoors: 7 Best Tips for Success

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.

What is the cheapest way to start seeds indoors?

Use yogurt cups, other plastic cups, or any other item in your kitchen for starting seeds indoors. Use Plastic wrap over each of your homemade containers until your seed sprouts to keep in the warmth. Use seed starting soil mix because it’s lighter and generally sterile. The other stuff may work or it may not.

What is the best way to start seeds indoors?

  1. Purchase your seeds from a trusted source. Fresher, higher quality seeds will have a higher germination rate (meaning more will sprout), and will give you a head-start in growing delicious, nutritious vegetables. (Check out Botanical Interests, for some of the best heirloom vegetable seeds!)

  2. Use seed-starting mix. These mixes don’t contain any actual soil, but they provide ideal conditions for sprouting seeds. Most importantly, they provide a good balance of drainage and water-holding capacity, and they minimize problems with disease on vulnerable seedlings. If possible, don’t use garden soil to start seeds indoors; it generally doesn’t drain well and may contain plant disease spores.

  3. Make sure your containers have drainage holes. You can use recycled pots — for example, empty yogurt containers — but be sure to poke holes in the bottom for draining, so that your seeds are not over-watered. Plastic six-packs and flats are good choices and can be reused year after year. Biodegradable pots are fine, too.

  4. Plant seeds at the proper depth. Check the seed packet for planting depth. You don’t need to measure precisely, but be careful not to plant any deeper than the directions suggest. The rule of thumb is to plant the seed two-to-three times as deep as the seed is wide. For example, tiny seeds should be barely covered by soil mix, while large seeds like beans should be sown about an inch deep. If you sow seeds too deeply, they won’t have enough stored energy to make it to the surface. Plant extra seeds, because it’s likely not all of them will germinate; you’ll thin out the extra ones later.

  5. After sowing, set the containers in a warm location. On top of the refrigerator or near a radiator are usually good spots. Check your pots every day for signs of growth!

  6. Keep seed-starting mix moist. Seedling roots need both air and water. Strive to keep the mix moist but not saturated with water — think of it as a damp sponge that contains both water and air.

  7. As soon as seedlings emerge, place pots in a bright location. A sunny window will do, but adding consistent light from supplemental fluorescent lights will give you the best results. Suspend the lights just an inch or two over the tops of the plants.

  8. Cool room temperature is best for seedlings. You’ll get sturdier, stockier seedlings if you grow them at temperatures in the high 60s. Finding a cooler room in your house or garage, while still maintaining a good light source, will help them thrive. At higher temperatures, seedlings may get leggy.

  9. Begin fertilizing weekly. Use a half-strength fertilizer once your seedlings have one or two sets of leaves. Organic fertilizers are a good choice, since they provide a range of nutrients, including micronutrients.

  10. Once seedlings have two sets of leaves, it’s time to thin. You want one seedling per pot, so choose the healthiest, strongest-looking seedling to keep. Snip the other seedlings off at the soil line and discard them.

Do you need a grow light to start seeds indoors?

Most veggies need between 6 to 8 hours of direct sun (minimum), so it’s important to have a grow light if you are starting seeds indoors in late winter. A grow light will also keep your seedlings from getting too leggy. Learn more about using grow lights.

Should I soak seeds before planting?

It is recommended that you only soak most seeds for 12 to 24 hours and no more than 48 hours. … After soaking your seeds, they can be planted as directed. The benefit of soaking seeds before planting is that your germination time will be reduced, which means you can have happy, growing plants faster.

Seed Starting Supplies:

  1. Soil less starting mix $5.00
  2. Soil $5.50
  3. Perlite $4.50
  4. Seed starting greenhouse kit $4.50
  5. Heat Mat $20.00
  6. Cups $4.00
  7. Popsicle sticks & sharpie pen $2.00-3.00
  8. Lights $15-20.00
  9. 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 on Amazon. Each one of these items have a specific purpose in starting seeds indoors which we will cover.

The Best Supplies for Starting Seeds Indoors:

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.

The next thing 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:

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.

My absolute favorite source for heirloom seeds is Botanical Interests

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.

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Also, check out our article on How to grow zucchini or What is vertical gardening?!

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7 thoughts on “Starting Seeds Indoors: 7 Best Tips for Success”

  1. Pingback: Planning your Garden Pt: 1 - Backyard Eden

  2. I have a small deck with two large containers previously planted with flowers. I intend to start modestly with veg and/or herbs in the spring. I am north of Reno so growing season is short. I wonder how to choose first vegetables. My deck is sunny most of the day and has vertical planting capability.

    1. You are already doing good if you realize it’s better to start small. Since your deck gets sun most of the day then you should plant sun loving plants such as Tomatoes, peppers, squash or zucchini, okra, cucumbers and even melons. All of those things can be grown in containers and even grown vertically. What types of foods do you like?

  3. Pingback: Start seeds indoors - Backyard Eden

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