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The Who, What, Where, When, and Why of Indoor Seed Starting

by Fern on January 10, 2011

in How To,Indoor Gardening

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You’ve probably heard of starting seeds indoors, but you may have some questions, like what the heck is the point? Or when should I start my seeds? You can totally geek out on seed starting if that’s your thing, but it doesn’t have to be difficult if you don’t want it to be.

WHAT: Starting seeds indoors means exactly that. You sow seeds in small pots or special seed starting trays, and keep the containers inside until the plants have sprouted and grown a bit.

To get started you need a very bright window or a supplemental light. In most cases a standard issue CFL bulb will work fine if you are only starting a few plants inside. I use a shop light fixture and florescent tube lights, so that I start about 90 seedlings indoors. As far as seed starting trays go, you don’t need anything fancy to get started, you can turn empty yogurt cups into seed starting pots by poking a hole in the bottom. I do recommend using special seed starting potting soil though, I’ve had much better success with seed starting mix than I have with regular potting soil.

WHY: If you live in an area with a very short growing season or are on a serious budget, you should definitely consider starting seeds indoors. By sowing your seeds indoors while it is still winter, you effectively extend your growing season by starting with plants that are already several weeks old. A packet of seeds will create numerous plants for a buck or two. And you can trade your extra seeds with friends to get even more seeds for no money at all.

WHO: You don’t need a college degree (or even an elementary school education) to sow seeds, but it does require someone who is meticulous about checking on the seedlings to make sure the light is at the right height and the soil is evenly moist. So if you often kill plants because you forget to water them for weeks on end, it might be better to start with transplants from the nursery.

WHEN: There is no hard and fast answer to the question, “when should I start my seeds.” The first thing you need to do is find out the last frost date for your area. This last day of winter/early spring on which you can expect to have temperatures at a below freezing. Each seed packet will tell you how many weeks before your last frost you should start those particular seeds. So if your packet says to start the seeds 6 weeks before your last frost, count back six weeks from that day and you have the indoor seed starting day for your seeds. Some plants will need to be started earlier than others, but you can expect most of your seeds to need between 4-8 weeks of indoor growing.

WHERE: I started my first seeds in the windowsill above my kitchen sink, though I now keep my seed trays on a shelf in my garage. You can start seeds anywhere that is warm and has bright light. You could even use a closet if there is a plug nearby for your grow light.

Photo by Melanie O.

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