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Looking to start a garden this spring? Don't wait for the weather to warm up before starting your seeds! Start planting seeds inside now to get ahead of the gardening game. 

Why start planting seeds indoors?

  • Get ahead of the game and allow yourself more growing time! Regions with shorter growing periods can utilize indoor seed planting to maximize their time. 
  • Have more control over your crop! Purchasing seedlings from a nursery have potential of being lower quality, and you don't know how that baby plant was raised. Especially if you are trying to grow organically, starting a plant from its seed will allow you to have complete control as to how your plant is raised.
  • Save money! Seedlings from nurseries can also be expensive. Shop Family Farm & Home for seed packets where you really will get a bang for your buck!
  • Have more variety! Nurseries will only carry so many seedlings, while we carry a large variety of plant seeds!

Which seeds should you start indoors?

The chart below is a great starting point to see which plants can be started indoors. If you're gardening in a warmer climate, you will be able to start more crops outdoors rather than just indoors.

Start Indoors Start Outdoors Variable
Broccoli Beets Beans
Brussel Sprouts Carrots Celery
Cabbage Corn Kale
Cauliflower Garlic Spinach
Eggplant Okra
Lettuce Onions
Peppers Peas
Pumpkins Parsnips
Swiss Chard Potatoes
Tomatoes Radishes
Watermelons Squash/Zucchini
Sweet Potatoes

 Before you start your seeds:

  • Make a list of what you would like to grow. 
  • Prepare for some losses. Plant a few extra plants, just in case some seeds don't germinate or die off later.
  • Consider a grow light. New veggies need 6-8 hours of direct sun. If you start in late winter, it may be too cloudy for your seeds to get that light. A grow light will help get those plants the light they need to grow properly. 
  • Use clean containers. Also make sure your containers have small holes in the bottom to allow excess water to drain.
  • Label your containers. Don't get your plants mixed up! Be sure to label your containers to avoid the frustrating process of forgetting which plant is which. 

When to start your seeds:

  • Most annual vegetables should be sown indoors about 6 weeks before the last frost in your area.
  • Don't start your seeds too early, especially tomatoes! Wait until 6 weeks before your last frost date to start tomato seeds.

How to start your seeds:

  1. Fill clean containers with a moistened potting mix made for seedlings. Use soilless peat moss and mix in equal parts vermiculite and perlite to hold enough water and allow oxygen to flow. Don’t use regular potting soil, as it may not be fine enough for seeds to root through properly. Pre-formed seed starters (such as Jiffy pellets) work well, too.
  2. Plant your seeds according to the seed packet. Most seeds can simply be gently pressed into the mixture; you can use the eraser end of a pencil to do so. When planting seeds, plant the largest seeds in the packet to get the best germination rate.
  3. Cover containers with plastic to keep them from drying out too quickly. Poke a few holes in the plastic with a toothpick for ventilation.
  4. Water newly started seeds carefully. A pitcher may let the water out too forcefully. A mist sprayer is gentle but can take a long time. Try using a meat-basting syringe (turkey baster), which will dispense the water effectively without causing too much soil disruption.
  5. When seedlings start to appear, remove the plastic and move containers into bright light.
  6. When the seedlings get their second pair of leaves, prepare individual pots filled with a potting mix with plenty of compost. Move the seedlings carefully to the new pots and water well. Keep seedlings out of direct sun for a few days, until they’ve had a chance to establish themselves in their new pots.

Things to keep in mind:

  • You may have to soak, scratch, or chill seeds before planting, as directed on packet.
  • Seeds sprout best at temperatures of 65 to 75°F (18 to 24°C).
  • Find a place in the kitchen where there is natural bottom heat—on top of the refrigerator or near the oven are good spots. (Move the tray if the oven is on, as it may become too hot!)
  • If you keep your seedlings next to a window, remember to rotate the containers every so often to keep the seedlings growing evenly. If you’re using a grow light, remember to raise it a few inches above the tallest seedling every couple of days.

Moving seedlings outside:

Before transplanting seedlings to your garden, you’ll first need to do something called “hardening off.” This will prepare the seedlings for the harsh realities (i.e., climate) of the outside world!

  1. During their last week indoors, withhold fertilizer and add water less often.
  2. Seven to ten days before transplanting, set the seedlings outdoors in dappled shade that is protected from winds for a few hours each day, gradually increasing their exposure to full sun and windy conditions. This is the hardening-off period.
  3. Keep the soil moist at all times during this period. Dry air and spring breezes can result in rapid transpiration. If possible, transplant on overcast days or in the early morning, when the sun won’t be too harsh.

After the hardening-off period, your seedlings are ready for transplanting. Here are a few tips:

  • Set transplants into loose, well-aerated soil. Such soil will capture and retain moisture, drain well, and allow easy penetration by seedling roots.
  • Soak the soil around new seedlings immediately after transplanting.
  • Spread mulch to reduce soil moisture loss and to control weeds.
  • To ensure the availability of phosphorus in the root zone of new transplants (phosphorus promotes strong root development), mix 2 tablespoons of a 15-30-15 starter fertilizer into a gallon of water (1 tablespoon for vining crops such as melons and cucumbers), and give each seedling a cup of the solution after transplanting.

Information from this blog also received from Catherine Boeckmann's article "Starting Seeds Indoors" on The Old Farmer's Almanac.