Seed Starting Basics

Know the seed starting basics: starting your seed sprouting inside will go a long ways towards giving your garden an early start.

| December 2005/January 2006

After the warmth of holiday gatherings and festivities, planning for spring comforts us in the cold, short days of winter. Apart from the satisfying process of nurturing little green seedlings under your roof, practical reasons exist to start some of your seeds indoors. First, well-established young plants will produce earlier, thus giving you a longer picking season. In Northern states, such as Pennsylvania, where I live, we start heat-loving, long-season crops such as okra and eggplant indoors if we are to expect anything from them before Labor Day.

Second, many of us routinely start garden plants indoors — rather than buying seedlings from a nursery — to take advantage of special varieties available only from seed companies. Whatever your requirements — tomatoes for drying, storage or exceptional flavor; white eggplants; seedless watermelons; long-keeping cabbage; hot peppers; slow-bolting lettuces — these and many more vegetables with special qualities can be yours if you grow the plants from seed.

Unless you have a greenhouse or a large bank of fluorescent lights, you’ll want to be selective about the varieties of vegetables, herbs and flowers you start at home. Pick ones that will benefit the most from an early start. Given space for only a few, I’d choose tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and cabbage; basil and parsley; and snapdragons and dahlias.

Several others, including beets, Brussels sprouts and Chinese cabbage, don’t necessarily need a head start indoors, but I have done so on occasion. Beets need to be thinned, and they are sensitive to toxins in the soil. Brussels sprouts reach their best flavor in fall from spring planting. If you start Chinese cabbage early, sow it in individual pots because transplanting sometimes can make it bolt to seed prematurely.

The following vegetables are not usually recommended for indoor seed sowing: asparagus, snap beans, lima beans, carrots, corn, endive (best in fall from spring outdoor sowing), parsnips (best eaten in fall), radishes, spinach (seeds germinate well in cool soil), soybeans, Swiss chard and turnips. Herbs that fit in this category include dill, cilantro and summer savor.

How to Begin

Your seed orders have arrived and you’re ready to plant. First, gather your containers. These can be special seed-starting flats, cubes or other systems ordered from a catalog; flats made from scrap wood; or a cobbled-together assortment of cut-down milk cartons, used aluminum pans, chipped pots, cottage cheese tubs, etc.

3/20/2015 11:41:41 AM

I would have thought that ANY article on seed starting would have included how long before planting the seeds should be started!!! Guess the author did not feel this was important enough to include!

3/31/2014 6:29:37 AM

Hey thank you for this post. You must be aware of all the basis things related to seeds before planting it. Many of my doubts got cleared after reading this. If you require some finest quality seeds then you may visit

8/17/2013 7:25:16 AM

Nacy says to prop mirrors to reflect more light to seedlings. Do NOT use mirrors They do NOT reflect light at all. Boards with flat white paint is the best reflective materiel. Mirrors absorb light.

mother earth news fair 2018 schedule


Next: September 14-16, 2018
Seven Springs, PA

Whether you want to learn how to grow and raise your own food, build your own root cellar, or create a green dream home, come out and learn everything you need to know — and then some!


Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

Money-Saving Tips in Every Issue!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard