A Beginners Guide to Starting Seeds Indoors

Reader Contribution by Karen Bertelsen
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The biggest trick to starting your seeds at home is knowing when to start them inside.

To eliminate any guesswork or counting backwards I’ve developed The Seed Starting Calculator.

Before you start to plant any of your seeds, enter your last frost free date into this calculator and it will tell you when to start your different vegetable seeds and when you can plant them outside.

If you have kids that don’t like vegetables I’ll tell you right now, the easiest way to get them to eat veggies, is to have them grow them themselves.  I say this with all the confidence of someone who doesn’t have kids.

I was, however, a child myself at one point.  That’s how I know this little method works.

My dad always had a vegetable garden.  Like me, my dad had a tiny case of OCD.  The rows were measured, everything was thinned out perfectly and he obsessed over his tomato plants.  The goal of course was to grow the biggest tomatoes possible.  Like most men, he thought bigger was better.  Much to the chagrin of my mother he’d often return from the market with carrots the size of table legs.  Once in grade 5, when the neighborhood kids and I couldn’t find a football, we substituted with one of my dad’s potatoes.

As is the case with a lot of kids who grow up around vegetable gardens, I wanted my own vegetable to plant.  So my dad gave me some seeds for the easiest, most foolproof, fasting growing vegetable around.  The radish. Not exactly the jelly beans I had imagined growing, but I gave it a shot.  I grew those radishes and I ate them too.  I can guarantee that if I hadn’t grown them myself I never would have sat down to eat a plate of radishes.

I still love radishes!  I’ve never been able to grow them to a size that I could use in a sporting event, but there’s still satisfaction in growing them.

If you live in a colder climate like I do in Southern Ontario, where the growing season is a bit shorter than elsewhere, you have to get a head start on your plants.  This can either mean, buying pregrown plants at a nursery or … starting your own from seed at home.  

For instance … this gal from Cubits on Etsy sells Black Organic Popcorn Seeds.  You don’t see that at your local nursery.

If you’re going BIG and growing a lot of plants, the best thing for you to invest in is a drip tray, seedling tray and lid.  You can get these at seed stores.  You may even be able to get them at one of the larger hardware stores like Lowes or Home Depot.

The seedling tray has long narrow holes perfect for making compact little plants with deep root systems.  The drip tray … catches the drips when you water. Plus it allows you to water from below which is safer for tiny seeds that may float away if you water from above.

 If you don’t want to spend the money on or can’t find the seed and drip tray, all you need are a few plastic pots or even plastic cups.

You’ll also need soilless mix.  It’s different than potting soil. It’s finer and has no nutrients in it.  It’s the only thing you should use to start seeds.


1. Soak the soil with water.

2. Grab a handful and squeeze out the water.

3. Fill your seed tray or pot with soilless mix.

4. Put 2 or 3 seeds in each cell. You can weed out the runts once they grow, leaving the healthiest plant.

5. Cover your seeds with a sprinkling of soil. A good rule of thumb is to cover your seeds with the same depth of soil as the size of the seed. (a 1 mm seed is covered with 1 mm of soil)

6. Put your plastic dome on your seed tray.  If you’re using cups, just cover with plastic wrap.

7. The dome helps create heat and the necessary humidity for the seeds to germinate.  As soon as your seeds sprout, remove the lid.

8. Place your plants under fluorescent lights. One “cool” bulb and one “warm bulb” is best but really, any fluorescent lights will work.  Your plant tops should always be close to the light source.  5″ or so, and even closer for seeds that have just sprouted.  Any further away and your plants will be stretching for the light and get spindly instead of compact and bushy.

9. Once the plants are established and you can see they’ve developed a good root system, repot them into individual pots. 

10. Of course you have to water these things.  But I’m fairly certain if you can read most of the words in this post, you’re smart enough to realize you have to water plants.

And that’s really all there is to starting your own plants from seed.  There are a few other tips and tricks ( some seeds have a really tough outer shell and nicking them with a file and soaking them overnight before you plant them is a good way to jump start their germination) but this should be enough to get you started. 

$5 goes to the first person who grows a vegetable large enough to use in the Superbowl.

Read more from Karen Bertelsen on her website The Art of Doing Stuff

Need Help? Call 1-800-234-3368