Materials for Starting Seeds Indoors
Why Start Seeds Indoors?
To grow your own plants, you need to have the proper materials for starting seeds indoors, but should you really try to germinate plants from seed in the first place? Here are a few quick reasons the answer is a resounding "Yes!".
Save money by skipping the nursery and doing it yourself. A single packet of seeds can be as little as $1 or less, where a 6-pack of flower or vegetables can easily run $5 or more.
Improve interest by adding new varieties to your garden that you will never find locally. This is especially awesome if you want to try new flowers or grow specific heirloom tomatoes.
Add a hobby just when you need it as winter starts to run long. By sowing seeds indoors in late winter you get to start gardening well before the frost has lifted outdoors.
Where To Get Seeds
The first thing you need is seeds, and the first place most gardeners think of when it's time to purchase a new supply of seeds is the local nursery or retail store. For some seeds, such as traditional and popular vegetables like green beans or peas, this is a great option. However, to really open up the world of seeds to you, check out the possibilities available when you shop the finest catalogs and seed websites. Here are my favorites, all of which I have personally used to satisfaction.
This reputable company has been making seeds for eons, and they have a nice mix of everything. This is a great place to look for vegetable seeds, where you will find all of your favorite and a nice mix of new creations.
I love Jung's catalog for it's well-balanced mix between vegetable and flower seeds. Here you will find unique selections and quality seed at a great price. This is one of my favorite catalogs to flip through and an order is an annual event.
Park's catalog is dense and thick, and simply loaded with seeds and information. They package many of their own seeds and have a fabulous flower seed inventory.
If you are a fan of tomatoes, the TomatoFest website is going to demand a bookmark. Here you have a massive selection of seeds including dozens of heirloom tomato seed varieties. I've love to try a few new heirloom tomatoes every year from TomatoFest, and the seeds germinate beautifully.
This is another great place to shop for tomatoes, but I have always really liked to shop for interesting bell pepper seeds in this catalog. Either way, you will find lots of options.
There are so many more great places to look online, but these are all proven winners. Others to check out that I have personally ordered from and can vouch for include johnnyseeds, territorial, and seedsavers.
If you get stir crazy during the long winter, the arrival of new seed catalogs in the middle of winter will lift your spirits.
How To Create a Seed Starting Station
Now that you have seeds, it's time to set up a spot to grow them. A seed starting station can be as simple as a window ledge in a sunny spot, but a dedicated spot away from the window is better for a few reason. First, the extreme heat and cold nights that the windowsill may offer is not ideal for many young seedlings. Second, the light is indirect and will cause most seedlings to wander and grow crooked. Finally, there isn't much room and your water may stain the woodwork.
To set up a dedicated spot to germinate seeds, consider these important additions:
Table or Stand
A sturdy surface is an important first step. A card table or any other surface will do. I have built a simple 2-level structure using 2x4 construction that is wonderful, since it holds grow lights from hooks on both levels, is sturdy and strong, and I don't care if a bit of water or dirt gets on it. I even installed wheels to the bottom so I can roll it around my basement. If you're in a pinch, a quiet spot on the floor will also do.
Instead of the natural sunlight that may negatively impact how your seedlings grow, there are two easy ways to offer the plants enough light. One is to use an ordinary shop light that hangs above the plants with standard T8 bulbs. I use this setup on the lower shelf of my stand and it works beautifully, and was inexpensive. The other options is to get a grow light system that can simply sit on a table top. I personally use this system on my top shelf and love it for the easy of the chain adjustments and sharp appearance. Again, this is using standard T8 bulbs.
When it comes to growing lights, don't feel that special expensive grow lights are needed. The everyday shop lights and inexpensive fluorescent bulbs will do just fine. The key is to keep the light source very close to the top of the growing plants. Do this and the plants will grow straight and stocky - just how you want them.
A nice plastic tray is what you will want on your table to hold your individual pots or planting trays. This should be a large plastic tray that is completely water tight so that no standing water can leak onto the table. This will allow you to add water to the tray so that your seedlings can drink from the bottom - a must to prevent soil-borne diseases.
Pots or Seedling Trays
When it's time to actually sow seed, I have come to really appreciate 2 1/4-inch pots as my preferred planter. This is because they are cheap and just the right size to get my plants through to planting time. I find that I only need to transplant my tomatoes into larger pots before the last frost date has arrived, and individual pots allow me to toss any seedlings that didn't make it. Seed trays with individual cells are another option that works well, but think twice about investing in any more expensive tray systems. I have tried many, and a simple and cheap plastic pot has been the most successful for me over the years.
If you are growing things like warm-season vegetables, a heat mat will speed up germination by half. Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant are especially fond of some added heat in the early stages of life. My tomatoes germination in only a few days with heat and a humidity dome. That means less time for things to go wrong before the little plants are shooting up.
Soil-less Planting Mix
Never use normal potting soil or garden soil to start seeds. Instead, use a seed starting mix that contains no actual soil, or buy individual ingredients like peat moss and vermiculite to make your own seed starting soil recipe from scratch. This special growing medium is light, yet retains water well, to optimize the health of your seedlings.
I'm a huge fan of bottom heat for tomatoes and peppers. You will be too once you see the difference it makes!
Now that you have the supplies that you need in mind, here are a few tips to insure success.
- Know your last frost date and sow seeds at the right time so that you can plant them once the frost is gone.
- Keep air moving around young plants with a small fan.
- Use your hand to lightly brush over seedlings every day to make them grow strong.
- Only water from the bottom by setting pots in a bath, and when fertilizer is needed simply add it to the water.
- If you transplant tomatoes into larger pots, plant half of the plant under the new soil surface to trigger new roots.
- Harden the plants off for several days before planting outdoors.
Starting seeds indoors is a super hobby and a great way to fight the winter blues. If you have the proper supplies, the task is not only fun, but simple too!