I’ve really been enjoying gardening. Each year I try to get a little better and so this year I thought I’d concentrate on starting seeds. The plan is that when our last frost finally hits, I’ll have plenty of plants ready to go. I also figure that it’s the least expensive way to fill a garden- each seed packet is a few dollars! And there’s so many more seed varieties that I can find than grown plants at my local nursery. So here’s how to start seeds.
how to start seeds
Let’s start with the video tutorial on how to start seeds so you get an overview on what I did. Then, I’ll dive in with more details below:
If the video doesn’t work here, you can watch it on YouTube here. I’d be over the moon happy if you subscribed to my YouTube channel! Videos are actually released on YouTube first (usually the night before they’re published on the blog). Thank you!
- Seed packets
- Seed Starting Potting Soil
- Cell Tray Kit (this kit comes with a clear lid, tray for bottom watering, labels, and cell tray)
- Heat Mats
- Container for mixing potting soil (I use a galvanized tin made for drinks. It works great!)
- Pencil to put holes in the soil for seeds
- Vermiculate to cover seeds (easier for sprouts to poke through)
- Watering Can
- Shop Lights
- Oscillating Fan
- Timer for Grow Lights
Price breakdown- Seed packets $26, Potting soil $17, Cell tray kit $19, Heat mats $24, Vermiculate $12, Grow lights $26, and Fan $18.
My total cost for starting seeds- $142
Note, this price is more expensive the first year. The cell trays, heat mats, grow lights, and fan can all be re-used. I also have enough vermiculate for a few years. So next year it’ll be just potting soil and seed packets I’ll need to buy which will be less than $50.
step 1- prep
Start by buying seed packets. I went to my local nursery for mine. Hardware stores also carry a good variety of seeds. You can also buy them online-
where to find seed packets online
- Burpee (this is the brand I usually buy in the store. Their site has tons of information for successfully planting each type of seed they sell)
- Floreat (they sell out fast here! Buy them during their seed sale in January. I just got an email this morning that they’ve restocked some of their seeds)
- Johnny Seeds (they have varieties you can’t find many places that are really beautiful)
- Park Seed (their company started in 1886 and they sell lots of varieties- all GMO free)
- Terrain (the seed packets are gorgeous)
To choose my seeds, I made a list of flowers I wanted to grow and vegetables my family will actually eat.
Next, figure out the last freeze date is in your area. You can easily Google it or ask the nursery when picking up seeds. Mine is May 2nd so I’m basing my planting dates off of that.
Now all you need to do is to read the back of the seed packet. It will say how soon you can sow seeds. Open a calendar, note the last freeze date, and then work count the weeks from then with the number on the packet. So if it can be started 8 weeks earlier, you count 8 weeks on the calendar and then you know when that seed packet can be started.
I made a note in my calendar and put a sticky note on each seed packet with the date to start them. Then I can easily grab the seed packets each week that can be started together.
step 2- soil for the seeds
Next, when it’s time to start the first set of seeds in early spring, begin by prepping the soil for seeds. To do this, put the potting soil in a container. Once the soil is in the container, add soil and mix well until all the soil is nice and moist.
Make sure to use potting soil specifically for starting seeds to give them the best chance to survive.
Now that the soil is prepped, fill the seed trays with it. Don’t push the soil into the trays or it’ll be packed too tight for the seeds to root in. Tap the tray so the soil condensed and then keep filling until it’s full.
Side note, for my seeds I’m using a kit that came with a cell tray to plant seeds. There’s holes in the bottom for drainage and bottom watering. There’s a clear dome lid for humidity during germination. The tray goes that goes below the cell tray is for bottom watering. And it comes with plastic tags for labeling the plants.
step 3- plant seeds
And now, for the fun part! Let’s plant the seeds! Begin by writing a tag for the first type of seed to be planting. I’m using a plastic tag and writing the name of the seed on the front of the seed and the planting date on the back.
Next, open the packet of seeds so you know how big they are.
Once the hole is made, put 1-2 seeds in each space. Go slow- one seed is ideal but with tiny seeds it can tricky to only get one in. Note, it’s best to only put one type of seed into each tray since they will sprout at different times and have different needs.
When the seed is in the hole, cover it up with vermiculate. You can also use more of the soil to cover the seed, but vermiculate is nice because it’s lighter so it’s easier for the plant to push through. Also, it’s a different color so it’s easier to see when the seed has been covered.
Now the seed is sewn! Make sure to put the label in the soil so it’s easy to identify the plant as it grows.
step 4- germination station
If the soil was moistened, the seeds are ready to have the clear lid put on them. The lid keeps humidity in to help the seeds sprout. If the soil wasn’t moistened, put the planted seeds onto a tray and add water to the tray to bottom water them.
Once the seeds are watered and have the lid on them, put them onto on a heat mat. This will help them germinate. Note, once the seeds are sprouted, a heat mat is no longer needed for the rest of the growing process. Plug the heat mat in and set the seed trays on top of them.
Check on the seeds daily. If the soil is dry, add 1/2″ of water to the bottom tray so the seeds can bottom water. Watering the top of the seed is harsher on it and can wash the seeds away.
Note, If the soil was correctly moistened before planting the seeds, it shouldn’t need to be watered during the germination process.
Each seed will sprout at different times- some in as soon as 4-5 days! My broccoli first sprouted 5 days after planting. When 50-75% of the seeds have sprouted, take off the clear lid, remove them from the heat mat, and move them over to lights.
I let my broccoli stay in the germination station a little long, I should’ve moved them to lights a few days earlier, but I didn’t have them set up yet.
Here’s my snapdragon sprouts on day 6. This is when I moved them to the lights. Can you see all the precipitation in the cell? That was the goal with the clear dome lid! Lots of humidity. These tiny sprouts (that are hard to see) in 75% of the tray are the perfect time to move them.
step 5- lights
To grow the germinated seeds, they now need light! Either a green house or shop lights indoors will work. Putting seeds in a window sill will result in leggy plants that aren’t strong. Thus, they’ll be much less likely to survive in the garden.
For most people, lights are the most economical option (a green house is pricey!). The lights need to be 2-3″ above the plants. As the plants grow, the lights will need to be raised or the plants will need to be lowered to keep the same spacing.
The baby seedlings need 14-16 hours of light per day. I turn mine on when I wake up and turn them off right before I go to bed.
To install our lights my husband drilled a hole in the studs of the ceiling in the basement. Then he twisted in a hook for the chain into the stud (the chain and hook came with the shop lights I bought). Next he used pliers to open the chain so he could hook it into the hole in the top. Last we just plugged it in and turned it on with the switch on the cord.
Note, plants need to be in 60-70 degrees to be happy. Since they’re off the heat mat, the air needs to be warm enough to facilitate growth. My seedlings are in my basement which is pretty warm (I’d guess 70 degrees).
Keep the plants watered. Bottom water them with 1/2″ of water and check the water daily. Having the plants sit in water isn’t good, the goal is for the soil to be kept moist. Once the seedlings are more mature, they can be watered on top of the soil if needed.
Use an oscillating fan on low on the plants. Have it run during the same time the lights are on. Why? This mimics the effect wind will later have on them and helps prep for garden condition. The fan also helps them grow stronger stems to. Air circulation helps dry out the plant which can prevent disease and mold.
It’s also helpful to use a timer for the grow lights. That way you don’t always have to remember to turn them on in the morning and off at night. After a few weeks it’s easy to forget. The timer is programmable so that can be left on during day time hours.
Note, sorry about my messy basement. We’re redoing a room in our house so all the extra stuff is down here and it’s a mess.
step 6- transition seeds
The last step for the seeds should begin the week before the last freeze to prep the seedlings for being in the harsher garden environment.
Begin by leaving the plants outside for a hew hours a day. Make sure it won’t freeze while they’re outside or they will die.
I haven’t gotten to that point- that’ll be in May for me. But I can’t wait for my plant babies to grow into actual flowers and vegetables! I hope this tutorial on how to start seeds was helpful. I’m so excited for the long days of summer. Seeing these grow has been really fun and leads to the anticipation. Do you have questions? Let me know in the comments.
A picture from my garden last year with our DIY garden beds.
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