Seed Starting

Seed starting indoors has been an important part of life for almost as long as I can remember. Great Grampa John had a greenhouse on the side of his garage. Mum and Dad built one on the side of their garage then later replaced it a beautiful stand alone octagon. It wasn’t the best use of space but it was lovely. We spent days starting seeds indoors. Our garden was small, maybe 50′ x 100′. Most of our food was grown at Grampa John’s in Lincoln. That garden was up to two acres at a time. We grew everything. Oh how I hated the garden. I sneaked away when nobody was looking and disappeared into the house to read Great Grammy Rita’s magazines. I learned to appreciate starting seeds indoors when it became a yearly ritual I was no longer part of. I had a small garden that Mum generously filled with seedlings.


Filling my own one to two-acre market garden plus more seedlings to sell from my commercial greenhouse kept me busy for months in late winter and early spring. I waited for opening day of the greenhouse like a kid waits for Santa. My greenhouse (not the high tunnels) is 12′ x 24′. It’s been sitting idle for years because I don’t need that much space anymore. Seed starting indoors isn’t the same. I miss the scent of damp soil and warm wood from benches heated by the sun. The greenhouse was a place to escape to. It doesn’t matter if seed starting medium spills on the floor of the greenhouse, and it’s alright to leave containers filled with medium and seed packets scattered. I do miss the greenhouse. It’s expensive to heat to keep hundreds rather than thousands of seedlings warm enough. Starting seeds indoors works best for me now.

These tips will help you avoid most of the mess. For seed starting indoors you’ll need:

  • Containers, preferably with holes in the bottom. Yogurt and sour cream containers are free and work well. Poke small drainage holes with a steak knife. Six packs, Kord packs and 1020 trays work well. Seeds aren’t very fussy as long as they have the right moisture and medium.
  • Seed starting medium
  • Water
  • Labels and waterproof marker. I use Popsicle sticks and paper labels.
  • Seeds, of course

Optional but recommended:

  • heat mat
  • grow lights. Placing seedlings in windows will most likely cause them to become “leggy.” They’ll be tall and spindly and unable to support themselves. You want short, heavy stemmed seedlings.
  • shelves

Follow these steps.

  1. Fill clean containers with seed starting medium. Wet with warm water and let set for 10 minutes. The fiber will absorb the water. Imagine a sponge that has been soaked and wrung out. You want the medium to feel like a wrung out sponge, damp but not soaked.
  2. While you wait for the coir or moss or whatever ingredient your medium has to absorb the water, write out your labels. Do it now. You might think you’ll remember that the green coffee cup with the birds and flowers on it is oregano but you probably won’t if you’re starting more than a few varieties of seeds.
  3. I label the container I’m working with, plant those seeds, then move on. Plant the seeds by either poking a small hole in the seed starting medium or placing the seeds on top then covering them with more medium. A general rule of thumb is to plant the seeds two times the size of the seed. Read the seed packet for instructions. Some seeds need light to germinate. You might need to stratify seeds.
  4. Using the sprayer on your kitchen sink, gently water the medium. This will tuck your seeds in by settling the medium around them.
  5. If you’re planting warm weather plants they’ll benefit from bottom heat to keep them warm. Cool weather plants don’t need bottom heat. 65* to 75* works well. Peppers appreciate 80* but it’s not necessary. A few degrees difference won’t change the number of days it takes your seed to germinate by much. If you don’t have heat mats you can place the containers in the sun to add some heat. If your refrigerator is older it might be warm on the top. If not, the air might still be warmer than the rest of the house.
  6. Check your containers daily. Cool weather plants might germinate in a few days. Keep the medium damp but not soaked. When 50% of the seeds have germinated you should move your warm weather plants off the heat and place them under the light.
  7. Hang the grow light one to two inches above the tallest seedling. Check the height daily and adjust as necessary. Moving the light too high will cause your seedlings to be leggy. Keeping it too low will make them lean over.

There you go. That’s it. That’s all there is to seed starting indoors. I’m happy to answer any questions you have. Leave them in the comments and I’ll come back to answer.