Starting seeds is about the easiest thing in gardening, but it can be confusing too. We started our seeds at our house a few weeks ago, and I thought I would share what we do for our garden because we’ve been getting lots of questions from friends and family. Be sure to share your tips and tricks in the comments – we’re by no means experts!
First of all, check out these great resources to determine what to start indoors, what should be planted directly outside – and when – based on your garden plans:
- Purdue Extension’s Planting Calendar packet
- Johnny’s seed calendar (our frost-free date around central Indiana is usually May 5-10ish)
Here’s what you’ll need to do/get:
- Draw out a plan of what you want to plant and where
- Determine what you’re going to start indoors, what you’re going to start outside and what days you’ll do what. I usually transplant everything that I’ve started on Mother’s Day weekend to be safe.
- Go buy seeds accordingly
- Also buy organic compost and a starter planter (I like these kind of things, and I just reuse it from year-to-year).
- Optional – I also like to use a heating pad and a light socket with a greenhouse bulb (just ask someone at Lowe’s to help you) because 1) our house is cold and 2) we don’t have any south-facing windows, which are the best for starting seed.
Now on plant starting day…
- Label your “bins” for each plant, so that you don’t get mixed up after you’re already started. I usually make a chart on a piece of paper of what’s what.
- Fill each “bin” about three-quarters full of dirt.
- For every one plant that I want, I usually start at least three seeds of that plant. Depending on the type of plant, I’ll put a few seeds in each little starter “bin.” For tomatoes and peppers, I’ll do 2-3 seeds. For cucumbers and squashes, I’ll do just 1-2.
- For smaller seeds, just push the seeds lightly into the dirt and sprinkle with a little bit more dirt on top. For bigger seeds, cover completely with dirt.
- Water with a spray can of some sort, so as not to soak the seeds completely.
- You want your seeds to get about 10-12 hours of light a day, so I use my greenhouse light bulb on a timer to make sure it gets a solid 12 hours of light a day. I put my bins on old cookie sheets and set the cookie sheets on the heating pads.
- Keep the seeds covered with some sort of plastic if possible in that first week. Those Jiffy containers come with plastic dome “greenhouses,” which actually work really well.
- Once the seedlings get about three inches high, you’ll want to transfer them to a bigger container. I like to use old red solo cups and old sour cream/yogurt containers with holes poked in the bottoms (I just save them from year-to-year, so I get several uses out of them). We’ll save those directions for next time…
Plotting out our starts and refilling our little Jiffy trays from last year. My friend, Jenny, came over and we made a day of planning and starting, which I highly recommend! We bought all of our seeds this year from Nature’s Crossroads, a seed company based in Bloomington (and also affiliated with our CSA, LIFE Farm). Not only do we enjoy supporting a local seed company, but it’s better for our garden’s productivity to be growing seeds that are already adapted to our region’s weather and soil conditions.
We don’t have any south-facing windows, which are best for starting seeds. So we jerry-rigged this setup (yes, that’s a steamer that was a wedding gift that we use more for our seed starting setup than we do for actually steaming clothes…embarrassing, I know) underneath an east-facing window in our guest room. We needed somewhere with a door, so that we could keep the dog and crazy 20-month-old out.