Seed Starting Indoors: Five Rules — Homegrown Horticulture (2024)

Why on earth would you want to start your seeds!? you can just go buy them from the greenhouse! that is so much easier…. isn’t it?

There are many reasons to start your seedlings for transplant into your garden. I think the most important reason that comes to mind is that you can guarantee the inputs and be in full control over how that seedling is produced - ie you know exactly how you fertilized and controlled pests/diseases/fungi. You know exactly your impact on the environment and your own health, especially if you are growing your own food.

Seed starting I find sometimes incredibly frustrating. I can never seem to make up my mind on what to grow. Then when I do make up my mind, and start planting, I am incredibly impatient to see my results. I am annoyed at watering, and inevitably I water too much in angst of wanting to see results (that tiny little fleck of green breaking through the surface of the soil. That being said, the rewards outweigh the costs (and annoyances). It is so rewarding watching the seeds that you planted grow.

If you're new to indoor seed starting, don't worry! I'm here to help you get started with five essential rules that will make the process easy and enjoyable.

  1. Space

    • Deciding on the space you are going to utilize to start your seeds is essential for success. Other than providing some sort of protection from the outdoor elements and having enough room for your seed-starting needs/wants, it is a pretty simple place to start. So how do you decide where to put your seedlings?

      • First of all your seedlings should be in a place where you will be often. For most people, this usually means a spot in your residence or garage unit. If seedlings are too far out of reach of convenience… trust me, this is a recipe for disaster.

      • The area you choose should be free of clutter so you can easily move around your seedlings (depending on how many you have) and also have a relatively temperate microclimate*. Anywhere between 10C and 20C is usually a workable range. Ideally the closer to 20C the better. Placing seedling trays on shelving units helps save space and decrease clutter.

      • The space you choose should have good ventilation and/or airflow. This prevents fungus and disease. If you are strapped for a space that can provide this, placing a fan in the area will work as well.

      • This guideline emphasizes the importance of selecting a space that works well for you, enabling you to achieve the best possible results. As individuals, we naturally prioritize convenience over inconvenience, so it's essential to choose a space that is easily accessible and that you can utilize regularly. By doing so, you can create a productive environment that supports your goals and helps you achieve success in growing your seedlings.

  2. Organization

    Being organized in seed starting is also huge in success. Things like making sure your flats and cells are labeled with the seed used will make your life that much easier when it comes time for transplanting. This is especially important if you are planning on starting a number of different plants at once. Another useful organization tool is the seed starting calendar. West Coast Seeds provides a very good calendar to reference through your seed-starting journey and can be found here. Just make sure you select the correct calendar for the region you are located!

    Once you have had some practice in seed starting, you may want to increase the volume of which you are producing. Some people get real fancy and start keeping data spreadsheets on the date planted, germination dates, notes on seeds such as if they had good germination rates, or not, etc. This information can be helpful if you are scaling up your garden, to prevent you from spending money the next year on poor seed, or reiterate good and reliable quality seed and you may want to purchase again in the future. Being somewhat organized in your seed-starting journey can be helpful on many fronts and is actually a money and time saver in the long run!

  3. Light

    Contrary to popular belief… you don’t need big fancy grow lights to make your indoor seed starting successful. If you live in a bright sunny house, a windowsill will probably work just fine. Grow lights, for these purposes, are for getting the seed to the transplant stage, and therefore a cheapy Amazon buy will be just fine. You can spend as much money or as little money as you want. The takeaway here is that plants need light to grow, and some won’t even germinate without it.

    Some essential rules about lighting will ensure your success:

    1. make sure the light source is not too far away from the seedlings. The light source needs to be only a few inches above the plants at a time.

    2. The light source needs to be moveable to accommodate the growth of the seedlings. If the light source is too far away your plants will try to “reach” towards the light. This is known as “leggy”. Your plants will grow too tall for the strength of the stem and will topple over.

  4. Heat

    Depending on the seeds you plan on starting, some seeds benefit from a process called “cold stratification”. Others will do just fine being stuck in some soil and put under some light. However, there are a few seeds out there that like a consistently warm environment above 20-25C. How do you do that?

    My friend the answer is heating mats! Amazon sells heating mats! All you have to do is plug your mat in, place your tray on the mat (use a humidity dome to try and keep the soil damp as the heat will dry the soil out more quickly), and be patient:) Examples of seeds that like heat are peppers, tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, and squash.

  5. Water

    Seedlings ideally, should be kept consistently damp, not wet. Overwatering can lead to fungus growth and disease. Watering seedlings from the bottom is more ideal than watering them from above. Watering from above makes leaves wet and increases the chance of disease and fungus as well. It is almost better to let your trays dry out a bit rather than over water!

    If you have a water softening system in your household, Sodium Chloride will eventually kill plants - however, it takes quite some time for the salt to build up in the plants. Ideally, if you must use softened water, consider outfitting a sink with a reverse osmosis filter, or switch to a potassium chloride softener.

    Furthermore, if you are in well water, sometimes there are dissolved solids that can be harmful to plants. Consider the reverse osmosis system for these circ*mstances.

    Water that has been treated with chlorine (such as city water) is fine for watering plants.

Starting your own seedlings is just the next challenging step you need to take as a gardener. Not only is it rewarding and will save you money on plant starts…. but its also highly addicting!

Good luck!

*a temperate microclimate means that it isn’t too hot or cold. For example it would not be ideal to have seedlings against an uninsulated wall in Alberta winters or directly in front of a heat register.

Seed Starting Indoors: Five Rules  — Homegrown Horticulture (2024)


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