Indoor Seed Starting

Wendy S. Delmater
By Wendy S. Delmater on Fri, Feb 8, 2013 - 3:49pm

Now that you've either saved your seeds from last year, bought them through a catalog, or gotten early seeds at the garden center, you can do some very early spring gardening. Seed starting indoors--or in a greenhouse--is a great way to get a jump on the growing season and early results in your garden.

Once you know  the right amount of time in advance your planting date it's time to start some seeds indoors.

  • First you need some soil. If you have compost, that's a good starter soil, but like to I add in a little peat moss, too. Vermiculite is optional, in my experience.
  • Please remember to be ready to label your seedlings. Do not make any part of the labels out of paper as they will get wet and fade, rot, or otherwise fall apart. You can cut up a plastic drink cups into long, 1/2-inch wide slivers and write on the strips in marker. I write on crafts ice cream sticks. I save the labeled sticks for next year, too.
  • Then, you need seed-starting pots.

You can make biodegradable ones out of newspaper, or use bathroom Dixie cups, or even styrofoam egg cartons (never paper egg cartons: they will disintigrate before you plant them and, yes, I found this out the hard way.)

Or you can do what I am doing this year and use a seed tray dome kit; if you're careful removing plants you can reuse one of these for many years. I bought mine last year after the growing season was over, for 90% off. Love that clearance aisle!

The dome is optional but acts as a greenhouse in that it keeps your plants warmer and moister. One year I made my own "dome" by putting plastic wrap loosely over my seed-starting tray; in this case it was yogurt cups (holes in the bottom of each) with those ice cream stick labels on a cookie tray. Be careful not to overwater inside a dome since it really holds in moisture. Plants can drown.

Note One big issue I've discovered is that tomatoes need lots and lots of sunlight. If you do not have a south, east, or southeast facing unobstructed window,for your seedlings, you're better of sowing the tomatoes directly into your garden.

I start green bell and jalapeno peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, squash and cukes indoors. How about you?

 

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18 Comments

Woodman's picture
Woodman
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tomato seedlings

I struggled for a long time with thin spindly tomatoe seedlings.  I figured out finally to get the thick strong stems like store-bought at garden centers, I needed to get those seedling out in the bright sun as much as possible and in the breeze to stress and strengthen the stems.  

maceves's picture
maceves
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Then transplant them into

 

Then transplant them into bigger pots, burying them well up the stem, leaving about a third up above the soil. You can transplant several times before they find their final position.  They should be in bigger pots before they go on their field trips outdoors in the spring.  Even after they are planted outdoors you can pile more dirt around the stem.....later in the season when they get spindly, you can pull a branch down and cover part of that with dirt and get some secondary rooting.  Those little hairs on the stems can become roots.

snow's picture
snow
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Tomato seedlings

Thanks for the tip!

 

snow's picture
snow
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indoor seed starting

I have brussel sprouts starting indoors in addition to your list of veggies Wendy.

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LesPhelps
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Indoor seed starting

Ewe, brussel sprouts?!  I'll add okra instead.

I don't have a window with enough light.  Last year i used a single buld grow light.  It wasn't adequate, even for the few seeds I started.  This year, being retired, I will start more.  I put a light together last week.  Each tubes height can be individually set to be about an inch above the plants.  I did the math.  It will cost me about $6 to run this 10 hours a day for 2 months.

I tried to include a picture. but I don't see it showing up after save.  The light is a structure made out of 3/4" PVC with four 24" grow light tubes suspended using 550 paracord.

Les

 

westcoastjan's picture
westcoastjan
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home made indoor growing set up

At this time of year I use the very small spare room I have as my seed starter area. The rest of the year it is a small work/projects space. I am a renter but my electricity bill is paid by the landlord so I do not worry about leaving a grow light on from a cost perspective. That being said, I do not think this set up increases the bill by much.

I replace the two 4 foot fluorescent bulbs in the rooms ceiling fixture with 4 foot grow bulbs (found at Home Depot). I then made a 4 foot wood platform to suspend below the grow bulbs via 1 foot pieces of chain on each corner, suspended from hooks in the ceiling. The chain allows me to adjust the distance from the light. I start with the planted seeds as close to the light as possible, and then lower the platform as the seedlings grow. I found the key to reducing spindly seedlings is to have them as close as possible to the light in the beginning. I leave the light on 24/7 for the first month. This system allowed me to start all kinds of veggies early, getting a good, cost-efficient jump start on the growing season.

My garden is small but I plant intensively. Last year, among other things, I grew from seed 4 different varieties of cherry tomatoes, total 6 plants. I prefer those as my climate does not get too hot, and larger tomatoe varieties don't do as well. The cherry tomatoes were very prolific; I still have left 2 large ziplock baggies full of them in the freezer (great for bruschetta and sauces) - I suppose that is my best frual accomplishment - a total of 7 large baggies of tomatoes for the cost of the seeds and basic inputs. Nice!

Looking forward to doing it again!

Jan

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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can you post pictures?

Love the sound of your indoor seed starting setup, Jan. Can you post pictures? And how much were the grow light bulbs at Home Depot? Congrats on the cherry tomatoes. Were they the vining type? Those are great for limited spaces.

westcoastjan's picture
westcoastjan
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more info for you

Hi Wendy,

Yes, the cherry tomatoes were the vining type, and we perfect for my small space. FYI I grow my cukes and some winter squash vertically using trellies and that is a great space saver too. If the squashes need support you can use a piece of old panty hose wrapped around them and tied to the trellis - still allows them to grow and takes some weight off of the stems.

The bulbs were ~ $ 8.00 Cndn each at Home Depot so likely somewhat less for you in the states.

I cannot figure out how to upload a pic so I will send it via email to Amanda and ask her if she can post it for us. Stay tuned...

Jan

westcoastjan's picture
westcoastjan
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Posts: 561
another good tip

Those plastic clamshells that some lettuce mixes come in at the store make great little terraiums for seed starting. Poke holes in the lid for ventilation, smaller holes in the bottom for drainage. Line the bottom with a few paper towels, add two inches of starter soil and plant your seeds. The lid allow light in while helping to keep the seedling warm.

Jan

MarkM's picture
MarkM
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seed rack and tomatoes

I will be seeting up my seed starting rack later today. If there are no pics up by then, I will take some of my rack.

I used Charles Wilber's techniques with my tomatoes last year and was very pleased.

I purchased his book but here is a video that will introduce you to the techniques. He does not plant the seedling deep to cover the stem with dirt. I had always done that in the past myself.

thebrewer's picture
thebrewer
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Seed rack video

Thanks for sharing that video Mark. I look forward to incorporating some of Mr Wilbur's tips this spring. I love tomatoes but have found myself lucky to get 3-4lbs per plant each year...hardly worth the space in my garden.

maceves's picture
maceves
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strawberry mulch?

What's strawberry mulch?  Is it better than pine straw?

Grover's picture
Grover
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Seed bed heater

I use the jiffy pots seed starters that Wendy showed in the article. If you are going to reuse them, wash them and soak them in a mild bleach solution to kill last year's bugs/fungi. Then, rinse, fill, and reuse.

I was looking for a seed bed heating mat and was shocked at the price. These look like waterbed mattress heaters and gently warm whatever is placed above them a few degrees. They generally are rated in the 40 watt zone. As I was walking around the Home Depot looking for alternatives, I wandered down the lighting aisle and saw exterior rope lights on sale (Christmas decorations.) A 12' section uses 36 watts. I bought a 4' X 4' piece of CDX plywood (exterior grade glue and 3/4" thick) and sawed it in half. That gave me a 2' X 4' base. I strung the 12' rope light on the board and tacked it down using poultry staples. I needed to attach sides to the seed heater to keep heat contained and could have cut plywood into 4" strips or used cedar fencing planks, or whatever I had available. I had some left over Solexx greenhouse skin, so I used that. (You don't want a bathtub. Make sure any spilled water can drain out!) Finally, I poured dry perlite in the base and put the 72 cell Jiffy pots (2 of them fit with room to spare all around) in there.

This is my third season using these boards. They work great and heat the seeds so they sprout rather than mold. To provide lighting, I use 4 - 4' fluorescent T8 bulbs (32 watts each) in a reflective unit. These are on a timer 15 hrs on, 9 hrs off. Rather than use "grow" lights, I use the cheaper 6500K bulbs. http://www.homedepot.com/buy/philips-32-watt-4-ft-t8-daylight-deluxe-6500k-alto-linear-fluorescent-light-bulb-10-pack--422949.html Young plants generally need blue light for vegetative growth. They need the reds and oranges for fruiting. Plants reflect green light - they would starve under pure green light.

The 6500K refers to the light spectrum produced. The "K" is for kelvin temperature and is calculated by adding 273 to the temperature in celsius. As an example, 68°F = 20°C = 293K. As a body becomes warmer, the radiation it gives off has shorter wavelengths. Low "temperature" bulbs are redder and higher "temperature" bulbs are bluer. Think of a broad bell curve centered at 6500K emitting light. The plants get plenty of light they need and grow wonderfully.

These parts are cheap and easy to assemble. I use about 2.8 KWhrs per day for each board/heater/light setup (2 - 72 cell jiffy pot planters.) After about a month to 6 weeks, temps in the greenhouse are warm enough and there is enough natural light that I don't need these. Then, the units get stored for next season.

Grover

westcoastjan's picture
westcoastjan
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Joined: Jun 4 2012
Posts: 561
pic of my seed starter set up

Mots's picture
Mots
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Posts: 187
heat and light for seed starting

Grover
This is great detailed information.  Thanks. I have thousands of solar electric watts extra energy in the winter/spring that I can use for this purpose without even buying grid power.  Good match, especially the ideas of low cost seed heater.  Many seeds (edamame for example) really need the higher temperatures to get started.  best wishes Marvin

Woodman's picture
Woodman
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Posts: 1028
seed starting chart

I made an Excel spreadsheet, based on my last frost date, to help me plan when to start seeds indoors, transplant, or direct seed outdoors.  Knowing the preferred soil temperature for each vegetable is helpful too.  take notes.  When I first got started I didn't even know which veggies grew in cool weather and which need warm summer temps; experience now saves me a lot of time.

jasonw's picture
jasonw
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Joined: Sep 17 2011
Posts: 1018
DIY Indoor seed growing station

A new article in the WSID section was recently posted and I wanted to give everyone a heads. 

http://www.peakprosperity.com/wsidblog/80892/diy-indoor-seed-starting-station

This discussion here is really great and I love seeing how many people are starting seeds.  This year we are starting seeds for not only ourselves but for 4 different friends.  I hope to be able to exchange seed starts with a number of folks and also make a little money on the side selling some seedlings on craigslist.  So far things are looking good.

 

 

maceves's picture
maceves
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Joined: Aug 23 2010
Posts: 281
top of the fridge

Check on top of the refridgerator--it may be warm enough to germinate seeds.  Mine is.  I use some type of plastic dome over the top until they are up out of the ground; then I move them.  I have a window facing south where  I sometimes start some plants after germination.  Sometimes I use those little paper Dixie cups if I haven't bought something else; by the time you are ready to transplant them the paper is beginning to fall apart.

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