How To Start Seeds Indoors
Starting seeds indoors is a great way to start your garden plants early so you get the longest time possible in the growing season. I have lived in a number of cool climates and I have been able to add weeks or months to the growing time.
For food crops like tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, this means the plants will be mature enough to produce food closer to the beginning of the season. You will get a lot more food in one season if you can start the plants early and then transplant them when the weather is suitable for planting outside.
Starting seeds indoors is not rocket science so don’t be afraid of it. You will need enough containers to start your seeds, potting soil and whatever seeds you want to start.
Containers for Starting Seeds Indoors
I prefer using deli containers with clear plastic lids to start seeds because you can make what is essentially a small greenhouse. This will help the seeds to sprout faster and give them more even growing conditions so they are more likely to survive.
You can plant the seeds directly in the deli containers or if you would like them to be more organized, you can plant the seeds in individual containers that can fit into the deli containers. I like to use dixie cups because they’re the perfect size, they are cheap and they are easy to manage.
The Best Potting Soil for Starting Seeds Indoors
Potting soil from the store works best for starting seeds indoors since it is sterilized and it won’t have bacteria and fungus that can contaminate your seedlings.
Any soil that has not been treated with a chemical herbicide would probably work, but if it is contaminated with something like a bacteria or fungus, it might kill your seedlings before they mature, so I personally always use potting soil from the store. That way I don’t waste all the effort to end up with dead plants.
To Plant The Seeds
If you’re using dixie cups, fill the dixie cups with soil. Put in a couple of seeds and pat down the soil gently so they are slightly covered with soil. Water. Continue doing this until all of the seeds have been planted in the dixie cups. Then place the cups into the deli container.
Put the top on the deli container and you will have a mini-greenhouse. This provides a nice environment for little seedlings with a more even temperature and humidity. As long as you see condensation, you don’t have to water them. If they dry out and you no longer see the condensation, it’s time to water.
Place the container in or near a window where the plants can get sun and check on it every day.
As soon as you see little green sprouts, take the top off the mini-greenhouse and watch carefully to make sure they don’t dry out. Check the soil every day by sticking your finger in it. If it is dry, add a little bit of water. Don’t water the little plants too much or the roots will rot.
I place my seedlings on a bread rack by the window. If some of them are shaded, I move them around to make sure they all get plenty of sunlight.
If you don’t have dixie cups for starting seeds indoors, you can just plant the garden seeds directly in a deli container. I usually just fill the deli container with soil and sprinkle a few seeds into it. For larger deli containers, use more seeds and for smaller containers, use fewer. You don’t have to be too precise about this.
All of the seeds may not sprout, especially if the seed packet is older, so keep that in mind as you are deciding how many to plant.
Even though I like to use them, you don’t actually have to use a deli container when starting seeds indoors. You can use any kind of open container, but the deli container makes the seedlings sprout quicker because it is like a little greenhouse. If you use an open container, you will need to check more frequently to make sure the soil is not dry and you will want to be a little more careful that the location where you place the seeds has a consistent temperature and is not too cool.
When I’m starting seeds indoors, I like to put them in containers and then stage them on a bread rack by the window, where they can get plenty of sunlight.
When To Plant The Seeds Outdoors
Plants should have 8-10 sets of leaves before transplanting into the ground. If the plants are big enough to go into the ground, but it is still too cool to plant them outside, they can stay in the pot longer. Just keep checking the soil and watering as necessary.
Frost will kill plants, so be sure not to plant them until you are past the last frost for your area. Google the last frost date for your area. If you do plant them outside and discover there will possibly be frost one night, cover each plant with a milk jug or put a lightweight sheet or blanket over the top of them. make sure the covering is lightweight enough not to break the plant.
If there is frost, but it is not too cool, this will protect the plants. If there is a hard freeze, the plants will die even if covered, so be sure to wait to plant them until the last frost date in your area.
Here you can see how I went through this process in the past and then after that, you’ll find a video and some helpful tips for starting seeds indoors!
Starting Seeds Indoors With My Son
(Here is my step by step process starting seeds indoors with my son that I originally posted on my old blog in March 2008.)
We started planting seeds for the garden the other day. I like to start my seeds indoors so that I have plants that are ready to go as soon as the garden season starts.
I used an old cake pan to set the little cups in. I put a piece of cardboard down so the cups wouldn’t tip over on the grooves.
Since we had recently moved, I didn’t have a huge collection of covered deli trays like I usually use for starting seeds, so I bought some little Dixie type cups. It cost $2 for 100 cups so it wasn’t a bad deal. I punched a hole in the bottom of each cup to give drainage for the plants.
Note the ice pick sticking up out of the top of the cups. I put a bunch together and just jammed it down through about ten of them all at once to punch the holes.
I planted things like tomatoes in the Dixie cups. That way I don’t have to move them to larger containers before I put them in the ground in my garden.
I put the rest of the plants in the ten or so deli trays I did have. My lettuce is already up and ready to go outside! Yeah! At $1.39 for a head of lettuce, I’m happy about that!
I had a lot of “help” starting seeds so it did go slowly and, as you can see, I felt like I was one step closer to death that day. :-)
I forced myself to sit up and get it done even though starting seeds was the last thing I wanted to do that day. I’m glad I did it because now I have some great starts going and my garden is going to be happy!
Here’s a video we made showing an easy way to recycle using free containers for starting seeds indoors!
Here are 5 easy ways to start seeds for your garden that will help you save money and have fun gardening. Our readers weigh in with their tips!
Here are some of our readers tips on starting seeds…
Egg Carton Starters For Starting Seeds Indoors
I save money at the beginning of the year by seeding a lot of my plants and veggies in clean egg cartons, which I save during the winter season. I also place a pin through each egg placement for drainage when watering. When ready to transplant, you just pop them out of the carton with a spoon and place in the ground. Works terrific!
I also save coffee cans to cover fragile young veggies in the spring in case of a freeze which could kill them! Hope this helps! Thanks, S. Hendrick
Warm Spot for Seedlings
When you’re starting seeds indoors for your garden, place the trays on top of the refrigerator. That nice even warmth will help them germinate. When they’re about 1″ tall, move them to a sunny spot. Louise Reilly Sacco, www.FrugalYankee.com
Note from Tawra: I do this all the time and it works great.
Grocery Store Seed Starting
I buy a vegetable at the store and plant the seeds. I have so many papaya plants from one fruit. I am now taking the seeds and roasting them and then grinding them into a “pepper” for salad dressing.
I cut the eyes off of a few potatoes. I took large old plastic pots and put a shallow layer of soil and the eye cuttings into the pots. As the plants grow, I keep adding soil. This makes the plants stronger and grows more potatoes, and all for free.
I took cloves of garlic, broke them apart, and have lots of new garlic plants growing, also almost free.
Cuttings of tomato plants grow very well. I dig a small ditch and lay the stem into the ditch, leaving only a few leaves exposed. The roots develop rapidly, and new plants grow. I do not buy seeds or plants: I simply dry the seeds from a few tomatoes, and then plant them. The same goes for peppers!
I bought coriander seeds at the spice section of a grocery store, and I sowed them, a few at a time. Much cheaper than buying seeds, and the plants are wonderful.
I love ginger, and I did not know what it would do, so I bought a few roots at the grocery store. I now have about 12 ginger plants. They have not flowered yet, nor do I know how the roots will taste, but at about 40 cents, I am having fun watching them grow, and I am very hopeful.
I bought some dried beans in the grocery store, and ended up with wonderful bean plants around my fence, and a whole lot more dried beans, and the ones I cooked were delicious.
I also have about 15 banana plants that came from one small plant someone gave me. I freeze the peeled bananas, and eat them year round.
I grow all kinds of spices and herbs, and some of these reseed themselves. I divide my plants at the roots to make new plants. This works especially well for my lemon grass and tarragon.
My gardening area is rather small, at most 400 square feet total. I sure do love eating the fruit from it. I tried Nasturtium this year, and the flowers are plentiful and delicious along with my mesclun salad plants.
Oh, I live in Miami, Florida, Dade County. We have extreme heat and dry spells, along with rainy seasons.
I loved your gardening tips, especially using milk jugs as greenhouses for young plants that prefer to be warm, and the ideas for kids.
My vegetable garden tip is to lay down landscaping fabric and then plant. I start my own seeds so this tip is easy to use, I just cut an ‘X’ in the fabric but it could be used for direct planting of seeds too. Using landscape fabric saves me from having to weed, which I dislike, especially in the middle of summer when everything seems to be growing green and fast.
And since it doesn’t break down, you can use the fabric for years. -Paige
Note from Tawra: You can find landscape fabric for really cheap at yard sales. I got some free landscape fabric from a rebate at Ace. I have to say this stuff has changed my life! I used to use newspaper but now if the soil is good I will use landscape fabric instead. It is much easier to handle than blowing newspapers all over Kansas! hehehe
If you can’t find landscape fabric for cheap then just use newspapers. I would wet them, lay them down and then put mulch on top. You only need to wet them if it’s windy out.
Cheap Way Of Starting Seeds Indoors
I have a frugal gardening tip for you to use or pass along. I came across an easy, cheap and reliable method of starting seeds indoors, called winter sowing. It involves recycling milk cartons or other containers and using them as starting containers and mini-greenhouses for your seeds.
Note from Tawra: This is the way I sow my seeds. I use all the deli contains, pie containers, milk cartons and other similar containers that I can find for starting seeds indoors.
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