Photo by Carrie Williams Howe
Planting seeds inside is a valuable strategy for home gardeners. It allows you to get your garden started earlier, and saves you money over buying seedlings at a garden store. We’ve been planting seeds inside for 10 years now, and after many lessons learned, have our seed starting strategy down to a pretty solid plan. We add variation each year, but for the most part we know what we are going to do even before we get started.
Over those 10 years, we have learned a few valuable lessons about indoor seed starting that I share with you here today.
Choosing to Start Seeds or Buy Starts
Not all seeds should be started inside. It goes without saying that some seed varieties simply do better being directly planted in your garden (think greens, root veggies, or green beans). But there are other things to consider when it comes to your garden as well. Depending on how much you want to grow of a specific vegetable, or what varieties you are looking for, you may make individual decisions in your seed starting adventure.
If you only need a few eggplants, for example, you might decide not to buy a whole packet of seeds only to use one or two of them. Leave that one to the garden center to grow, and save space for things that you want a lot of (like, say, plum tomatoes), especially if your space is limited. You’ll get more bang for your buck from the packet of tomatoes when it turns into 15 or 20 plants for your garden!
On the other hand, if you are looking to try a really unique variety of a certain veggie, you might need to buy a packet because you won’t find that unusual variety at a garden store. Read more about seed starting choices here, and remember: Your garden is your unique plan — that’s the beauty of having your own!
Grow light stand. Photo by Carrie Williams Howe
Grow lights and heat mats are worth the investment. We bought our first grow light 10 years ago and it is still up and running and serving us well. Grow lights truly do make a difference and, in my opinion, are practically essential for indoor seed starting. Likewise, when we added heat mats to our operation a few years ago, the warmth they provided to our seedlings sped up germination impressively.
The trick to making this sort of long-term investment is not spending too much on it. You can do this by getting creative about your set-up. We were able to build a tiered grow-light system using pieced together parts and supplies for half the price of a pre-packaged version.
Planning Pays Off
As any glimpse at the back of a package would show you, not all seeds should be planted at the same time. A little pre-planning goes a long way when it comes to your seed starting strategy – you need to know not only when to plant each veggie, but that you will have the necessary supplies when it comes time to do so.
Seed packets. Photo by Carrie Williams Howe
A seed starting schedule can be helpful in your planning, and can be tailored to the veggies that you want to plant. We also group all of our seeds into plastic bags that we label by the planting date to make it easy to grab all of the seeds we need any given weekend.
Likewise, it can help to count out your containers and estimate how much soil you will need right from the beginning. This way, you won’t be running to the store for more supplies every weekend or running out of supplies half-way through a planting.
Newspaper seed pots. Photo by Carrie Williams Howe
Don’t Spend Tons of Money on Pots
While it can be tempting to pick up a ton of those ready-to-go seed trays and pots at the garden center, you don’t have to spend money to provide a great growing spot for your plants. You can use recycled pots from previously purchased seedlings, or ask friends to collect them from you. We have also had great success with newspaper seed starting pots – click here for a quick tutorial on making newspaper pots.
If you take good care of your pots and trays you can use them year after year and will soon have all the supply you need. But this leads us to our last hint.
Photo by Unsplash/Francesco Gallarotti
Wash your Seed Starting Pots and Trays. It is great to use recycled and re-usable plastic pots for seed starting, but if you don’t clean them you might notice that your seeds wilt shortly after germinating. This is called “damping off” and it happens when old soil or mold in a pot, combined with your lovingly-provided water and warmth, provides a nice place for pathogens to grow. Pots and trays can be simply cleaned with soap and water, plus an added step for sanitization (either with a bleach solution or the sun).
As simple as it sounds to place a seed into a pot of soil and watch it grow, these tips will help you to experience more moments of joy than frustration when starting seeds inside. Happy Gardening!
Carrie Williams Howe is a blogger at The Happy Hive Homestead. She is the Executive Director of an educational nonprofit by day, and parent and aspiring homesteader by night and on weekends. She lives in Williston, Vt., with her husband, two young children, and a rambunctious border collie. Carrie has a PhD in educational leadership and is passionate about learning collaboratively. Connect with Carrie on The Happy Hive Facebook page. Read all of Carrie’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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