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It’s not difficult to learn how to start seeds indoors, and it can really give you a big head start on the growing and preserving season!
Over the years, depending upon what type of set-up I had, I’ve started seeds different ways. If you have a south-facing window, you will have the easiest time. If you have nothing but a dark basement or corner, we can work with that as well. I’ve done all of it and I’ll explain how to start seeds indoors, no matter what you have to work with!
You will need:
* A tall movable shelf, preferably metal and with wheels (but use whatever you can get your hands on!
* Seed trays (I re-use my trays year after year, until they fall apart) with covers
*Potting soil (I prefer organic)
*Good quality seeds (I buy some but save seeds as well)
*Plastic garden markers or Popsicle sticks
I like to take my trays outside and pour the potting soil over the tray, smoothing the soil with my hands. Make sure if you’re using last years trays, that you wash them well with soap and hot water to kill any lingering bacteria. Then take the seed trays to your work area. I brought mine into the kitchen to make my mess!
The most fun part of this process is choosing which seeds to use this year! This might be a good time to take a peek at your pantry. Don’t grow more than you can eat and/or preserve in a year. So, if in the Spring you still have 50 quarts of green beans left, you probably don’t need to plant many of those this year.
But we won’t be starting green beans inside, that’s not necessary. We’ll be starting seeds that have a long growing cycle or that are just too delicate to start outside, plants like tomatoes and peppers. There are herbs that are too delicate to start outside, chamomile is one that I’m starting inside.
Deciding exactly when to start your seeds inside is determined by your last frost date, and that can be found here. My last frost date is April 22, but to be honest, I’ve seen it snow many times around that time. So, I won’t put much of anything out before the week before Mother’s Day.
Whatever date you feel as though it’s safe to plant outside in your area (yes, it’s ok to decide for yourself based on your experiences) then determine the date you want to begin your seedlings indoors by counting backwards. In other words, when you read the instructions on the back of your tomato seeds, it might say “start indoors 4-6 weeks before last frost date”. If your last frost date is April 22 like mine is, then you would want to begin your seeds indoors by March 11.
There is no harm in beginning seeds indoors earlier than that, but just understand that your plants may get really big! I’m totally ok with that.
I love to use this little seed dispenser! It really helps with those tiny seeds. Put one or two seeds in each seed pod and then do what the directions instruct. That might be to press then down 1/4 inch or to leave them on top. Just be sure to read the pack of your seed packets to have the best chance of germination.
Plant as many seeds as you want, keeping within the rows of your seed tray. Then you’ll want to label the rows so you can remember what you planted. I’ve used everything over the years, but I kind of like just using cheap popsicle sticks. I write the seed name and the date.
It’s important to keep your seeds moist, but not wet. Having a nice spray bottle makes this so much easier! You’ll want to keep your bottle of water full, so that you can spray your seeds daily.
Your little seeds need a greenhouse effect, which will be accomplished with the plastic lids that come with the trays. Don’t forget or neglect this step! They need the cover!
Set your trays on your shelf and watch them grow! I spray my seedlings every morning, don’t let the soil get too dry. Spraying water is much better than pouring water, you don’t want to drown the seeds.
Now, let’s address the issue of using supplemental lighting for your seeds. To do this, simply go to Lowe’s or Home Depot and buy some shop lights that are the same width as your shelving. You do not need special bulbs, simple fluorescent will work just fine.
You can either hang the lights above your seeds trays (best way) or just be super lazy and lay them on top of the shelf above the seeds. This is why having a metal shelf is so helpful!
The optimal way to use lighting for seedlings is to dangle the light just above the plastic cover of the seed tray. If you are able to do this, wonderful, my father always recommended it and it does keep the plants from getting too tall too fast.
However, having the light lay on the shelf above is fine, I mean, I’m doing it.
Finally, if you really want to get your seedlings rockin’, you can invest in these heat mats. I have them and I love them. They trick the seeds into thinking it’s warm outside by heating the soil slightly. You will truly see a difference in results with the heat pads and the lights, and I completely recommend them if you don’t have a south-facing window and/or consistent sun to put your plants.