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10 Essential Steps To Starting Seeds Indoors

10 Essential Steps To Starting Seeds Indoors

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One of best reasons for starting your own seedlings indoors is the cost-savings. When young plants are in their prime at nurseries and garden centers they also have a premium price. If you’re planting an ambitious garden, it can get expensive.

Maybe the best reason is the feeling of accomplishment, especially if you do it with the kids. This will give them a good lesson in plant germination, growth and the care and feeding of vegetables once they’re planted in the garden. They also may find them to be more interesting at the dinner table if they feel like they planted them themselves.

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Here are 10 steps to get started:

1. Decide want to plant. Hardware stores, nurseries and garden centers all have stocks of seeds you can choose from, but before you buy the rack, take a look at your garden space. Or, you can get a catalog.

2. Decide where to plant. All gardens come in a certain size. Some are large, and some are small. You need to think about how much space a mature vegetable needs and plan accordingly. Plants that are too tightly cluttered together will compete with each other for water, nutrients and sunlight. High-density planting also can create an environment for fungal growth that can wipe out an entire garden in a matter of days.

3. Know your plants. Some vegetables do better in the shade — cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale and broccoli. Other plants get along well when they’re planted next to each other. A classic combination for companion planting are onion sets planted between rows of tomatoes. The two plants seem to thrive next to each other; this allows you to squeeze a little more space out of your garden. Other vegetables enjoy sun and a lot of space. All varieties of squash fall into this category, especially zucchini, tomatoes and peppers.

4. Choose a pot. Or, start saving those egg cartons. But there’s a certain kind of egg carton you need to buy and save. They’re the egg cartons made from a pressed cardboard. These cartons allow water to soak up into the soil through the carton when placed into a pan of water. The styrofoam egg cartons are water proof and can’t perform the same function.

5. Learn a potting soil recipe. You can buy your own potting soil at a garden center. In fact, some are specifically designed for sprouting. You could also make you own by blending 1/3-part dirt, 1/3-part peat moss and 1/3-part sand. This will create a moist environment for the seeds, and the sand will help with drainage, so the soil doesn’t become water logged.

6. Consider a self-watering system. This is actually quite simple.  You place your egg cartons into a pan filled with about a half inch of water. You then stretch plastic wrap over the top of the egg carton and move the pan with the egg cartons to a sunny spot in your house. What you’ve essentially created is a greenhouse environment. The plastic wrap keeps the soil from drying out in the sun. But check your water level daily to make sure everything is moist.

7. Tend to the first spouts. As your vegetables sprout, you’ll want to “tent” the plastic wrap. This is easy to do with sticks stuck into the egg cartons to keep the wrap above the tender leaves. You’ll eventually remove this tent as more leaves emerge and the plants grow.

8. Harden off your sprouts. You don’t want to plant your sprouts directly into the garden. You’ll want to harden them off to acclimate them to the outdoors. This is as simple as placing the plants outdoors during the day. If you have a picnic table or other raised surface, put the plants on top to keep the pesky rabbits and rodents away. Also, keep an eye on the temperature to avoid an early morning or late evening frost. After about a week of hardening-off, you’re ready to plant in the garden. Keep an eye on your spacing so you don’t over-crowd.

9. Don’t start just anything indoors. The best plants for sprouting indoors are plants that bear fruit or vegetables on the vine or stalk. This includes tomatoes, peppers and squash in all varieties — in addition to broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbages. Herbs also take well to sprouting. Vegetables that don’t tolerate sprouting include many root vegetables. Root vegetables also tend to be fast to germinate and grow. We’ve all probably admired radishes popping up so soon in the garden. One root vegetable exception are onions. The small, grass-like sprouts are easily planted and are surprisingly resilient.

10. Get the timing right. The timing for sprouting various vegetables varies. Here’s a general cheat sheet that gives you some average dates for sprouting certain vegetables. This could vary depending on what part of the country you live in, but this chart makes for a fairly accurate average assuming a general planting date in the garden of May 15-30. However, some cruciferous vegetables in the brassica family such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, broccoli and others have a high tolerance for cold weather and can be transplanted earlier. When transplanting is defined by a range of dates in the chart below, that means you should evaluate your local conditions and frost forecasts.


Vegetable Start Indoors Transplant Outdoors
Basil April 15th May 30th
Tomatoes April 15th May 15th to May 30th
Broccoli March 15th May 1st
Cauliflower March 15th May 1st
Peppers May 1st June 15th
Parsley March 15th May 15th
Cabbage March 15th May 1st
Pumpkin May 1st May 15th to May 30th
Kale March 15th April 30th
Celery March 20th April 15th
Cucumber May 1st June 15th
Onions March 30th May 1st
Lettuce March 30th May 1st
Melon April 15th June 1st
Brussels Sprouts March 30th May 1st
Peas March 30 May 15th
Corn April 15th May 15th


Hopefully this year, you will enjoy a longer growing season thanks to something as simple as egg cartons and a little pre-planning.

What planting tips would you add? Share your advice in the section below:

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