The Nuts and Bolts of Starting Seeds Indoors

Get a head start on the gardening season by starting seeds indoors.
January/February 2013
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Starting seeds indoors is easy!


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Starting Seeds Indoors

1. Seed-starting flats, composed of multiple individual cells, are available at most garden centers. You can also use recycled materials such as yogurt containers, but be sure to poke drainage holes in the bottom.

2. You can make your own planting medium if you know what you’re doing, but for beginners, it’s easiest to purchase a sterile, soil-less planting mix that drains well. Avoid those that contain chemical fertilizers, and instead use a weakened organic fertilizer once the seedlings are established.

3. Label each seed section carefully. If you don’t do it at the time of planting, it is almost guaranteed that you will forget!

4. Plant seeds according to the directions on the seed packet. Different types of seeds prefer different depths and amounts of water.

5. Seedlings need light. If you don’t have a strong source of light from a window or greenhouse (some people use a car’s back window!), seed-starting lights are a good investment. Inexpensive fluorescent light fixtures fitted with cool, daylight tubes work just as well as fancy “grow lights.” Be sure your lights are always about an inch above the tops of the plants.

6. Keep seeds in a warm, draft-free spot. If you can’t find a spot at least 70 degrees (above the refrigerator works for some people), consider purchasing a warming mat from a garden center.

7. Be sure to “harden off” your seedlings before it’s time to transplant them into the garden. Just expose them to the harsher outdoor conditions for a few hours every day over the course of a week.


William Woys Weaver is an internationally known food historian and the author of 16 books. He is also the director of the Keystone Center for the Study of Regional Foods and Food Tourism in Pennsylvania. His book, Culinary Ephemera, and his CD-ROM, “Heirloom Vegetable Gardening,” are available at the Mother Earth Living store. His forthcoming book, As American as Shoofly Pie, will be published in March 2013.

For more on starting seeds and preparing for the gardening season, read the original article, Starting Seeds: A Spring Planting Primer.