Get a Head Start by Starting Seeds Indoors

The great advantage to starting seeds indoors for your backyard vegetable garden is the wonderful variety of vegetables you can grow.

I have found the vegetable plants you can buy in nurseries and at home and garden stores are limited to the popular varieties or the varieties they want to promote.

Some years I find the most wonderful vegetable varieties and then the next year I am unable to find the same variety.

So it is well worth the effort to learn how to start seeds at home. It is not hard, just takes a little practice.

Starting seeds indoors is a fun winter activity. Onions seeds can be started in November and December, while peppers and tomatoes can be started early in the spring like February and March.

If you live far north or don’t have a nice south facing window, you’ll want to set up some indoor lights to help keep your vegetable plants from getting spindly. I use standard 4 foot shop lights. Read my Indoor Grow Lights page for more information.

You’ll want to pour over your seed catalogs or if you’re lucky enough to have a local nursery that carries seeds year round check out the varieties of vegetable seeds you want to plant in the spring. There are plenty of online seed companies to choose from as well.

The catalogs will let you know the maturity dates for the different varieties. This helps you to choose vegetables that will grow well in your area. I have about 120 days of frost free weather in my part of the country which is about 4 months of good growing season depending on the year.

Starting Soil

After you have your seeds you’ll need soil. I don’t recommend using your outside soil. It is too heavy and it contains weeds and diseases. You want a sterile clean light soil for starting seeds indoors.

I like to use potting mix, it doesn’t have to be expensive and you will find a large price difference between brands. I use the least expensive. It needs to have a good mix of peat moss and soil.

Most potting mixes work great. You don’t need the mix with added fertilizer for starting seeds but it won’t hurt the seedling if you do.

Plant Containers

There are a wide variety of containers on the market now that make starting seeds indoors easy and they are pretty cost effective.

    Peat Pots are made of peat moss and come is various sizes. The pots can be planted in the ground with the plants so you have less root disturbance. I recommend breaking the bottoms open before planting.

    Jiffy Pots are similar to peat pots but come in compressed disks that puff up when added to water. You plant our seeds in the center of them after you re-hydrate them. They have a mesh that holds them in shape. The pots can be planted in the ground with the vegetable plant. I like to take the mesh off before planting although you don’t have to.

    Plastic Trays these are the ones the nurseries use to transplant young vegetables in. They come in various sizes, singles, fours and sixes. They even have tiny plug sizes. The trays hook together and can be taken apart and become pony packs. They fit into a plastic flat. You can buy the flats with or without holes for drainage.

    Paper and Plastic cups are great and come in various sizes. I like the small 5 oz size. I poke holes in the bottoms for drainage. They are easy to write on with a magic marker.

I like to use new pots each year to keep it simple. If you choose to reuse your containers from year to year, I recommend washing the containers in a water bleach solution to kill any organisms picked up the year before.

The best vegetables for starting seeds indoors are;

    Peppers, Hot and Sweet
    Brussels sprouts
    Lettuce (transplant to outside when small about 4 leaves)

Vegetables with larger seeds like, corn, beans, squash, cucumbers, and peas do best if planted right in the garden. The young plants don’t like their roots disturbed and the seeds germinate quickly in warm soils and mature within 60 to 90 days. Root vegetables like carrots and beets do not transplant well and like to grow where they are planted.

Plan on starting seeds indoors about 6-8 weeks before planting in the garden. Check the frost date for your area to get started. I usually start vegetables in the cabbage family in late February or early March. The rest, tomatoes and peppers I like to start in late March or early April.

1. Put your potting mix into a bowl and moisten with water until completely hydrated. The potting soils usually come very dry.

2. Fill your containers with potting soil with in about ¾ inch from the top.

3. Sprinkle a few seeds in each container.

4. Cover seeds about 1 ½ the width of the seed. For small seeds you may need to just press them into the soil to cover. Label containers with a marker or plastic marker stuck in the soil.

5. Lightly water the seeds in the containers. Place the containers in a lighted window or under your grow lights.

Depending on the seeds you can expect germination in about 7 to14 days. Peppers can take as much as 21 days to germinate. Temperatures affect seed germination.

Most seeds germinate best with temperatures between 60-75 degrees F. unless your room is really cold, you should not have a problem with your room temperature.

As your seeds begin to grow make sure they have enough light. I keep my shop lights about 4 to 6 inches from the top of my plants. Raise the lights as your plants grow.

When your plants get about 4 leaves trim out the ones you don’t want. Keep the strongest plant. If you’re planting all your seeds in one cup, transplant to individual containers when the plants are about 2 inches tall and have 4 leaves.

Starting seeds indoors takes a little time, but is worth the effort. It’s nice to see your plants growing and helps ease spring fever.

› Starting Seeds Indoors