Starting seeds yourself can be more economical than buying lots of plants at the nursery, especially if you need a lot of one variety. And the diversity of plants available as seeds is huge compared to the number of varieties you can buy as transplants.
You don’t need a lot of expensive tools to start your own seeds. Use our equipment checklist to make sure you’re ready for seed starting!
Baby transplants require 16 hours of light each day. In central Indiana, we just don’t get enough mid-winter sunlight to make starting seeds in windows practical. Instead, set up seed-starting lights.
While you can purchase excellent plant lights for seed starting, they’re quite expensive. Our budget solution is to use basic 4′-long shop lights available at the hardware store. Hang the lights above your seed-starting shelf on chains, so that you can raise them to keep them about 4″ above the tops of the plants.
For each shop light, use one cool-white fluorescent tube and one warm white fluorescent tube. Together, they’ll mimic the full spectrum of daylight.
An inexpensive timer makes it easy to make sure your plants get their RDA of light. We program ours to come on early in the morning and turn off 16 hours later.
You can use anything from a specialty growing tray, to old nursery pots, to old yogurt cups and cut off-milk cartons (free!). Make sure your container has holes for drainage on the bottom.
For plastic containers, stick to those labeled types #2, 4, and 5 in the recycling logo on the bottom to avoid toxicity. If you’re using old containers, wash them first in a 10% bleach solution.
If your container doesn’t have a dome, you’ll want some plastic wrap to place over the container until the seeds germinate.
Seed Starting Mix
Be sure to buy a product labeled “seed-starting” mix or medium. For more information, check out our post Choosing the Right Organic Seed-Starting Mix.
Organic Liquid Fertilizer
Most seed-starting mixes do not contain anything that will nurture your seedlings. So get a gentle, liquid, organic fertilizer you can use to feed your seedlings. Fish emulsion or kelp fertilizer can be fed to your seedlings at about half the strength recommended on the container once or twice a week. Or try a worm compost tea.
Only plants that need a head start to mature during the growing season need to be started inside. For more info about choosing seeds, check out How to Choose Seeds for the Organic Vegetable Garden and 5 Steps to a Realistic Garden Seed List.
Plant Tags or Labels
Telling seedling varieties apart is nearly impossible, even for long-time gardeners. Be sure to label your seed containers.
With these supplies assembled, you’re ready to start planting up those seeds!