Seed Starting for Beginners

Cold weather getting you down? We have an indoor project that will make you excited for spring! It’s time to start your seeds for this year’s vegetable garden!

Don’t know where to begin? No problem! This post will go over all the basics.

When should I start?

All seeds are different, so check your specific seed packets to see when planting is suggested. A general rule is to start seeds about six to eight weeks before the last frost of the year. If you’re not sure when the last frost will be in your area, you can use this helpful tool from The Farmer’s Almanac.

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What do I need?

The first thing you’ll need to do is choose the types of plants you want to grow. You can then start buying your seed packets. In addition to seeds, you’ll need cell trays or small peat pots, seed starting soil, and a sunny window or grow light. You can also use a heat mat to speed up seed germination.

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How do I choose what types of seeds to buy?

When buying seeds for your garden, choose vegetables, fruits, and herbs that you like to eat and know how to cook. Need inspiration? You can look back at our past blog posts for recipe ideas.

If it’s your first year growing a garden, start small. You’ll get more knowledgeable and confident over time, and each year you’ll be able to add a couple new varieties.

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Research your hardiness zone and pick plants that will do well where you live. You can  use this website to find your hardiness zone using your zip code.

There are many types of seeds, which can be confusing. Most seed suppliers offer organic and non-GMO seeds. You’ll often see hybrids, which means that you can’t take the seeds from the harvest and use them for another year. If you plant heirloom seeds, you can. These haven’t been mixed with any other varieties, so you know exactly what you’ll get.

I have everything I need. Now what?

If you’re using cell trays from last year, be sure to clean them thoroughly to get rid of any fungus, bacteria, mold, or insect eggs that may be inside the cells.

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Fill the seed cell trays with a fine seed starting soil. Tap the tray to settle (but not compact) the soil, and fill with additional soil until full.

This photo shows the difference between seed starting soil and regular potting soil. As you can see, the seed starting soil has finer particles so that seeds can germinate better. The potting soil has larger particles, which helps with drainage.

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Make a small hole in the soil of each cell with a stick or a garden dibbler.  Each seed packet will list the suggested seed depth – usually between 1/4″ and 1″ deep.

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This is a garden dibbler that Scott made. The different notches are at 1/4-inch, 1/2-inch, 3/4-inch, 1-inch, 1.5-inch, and 2-inch.

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Place three seeds in each hole. Lightly cover with soil – don’t pack down. Mist with water.

If using a grow light, place the cell trays under and set the timer for 12 to 16 hours of light per day. You can also place in a sunny, south-facing window. Spray with water or add water to the tray to keep soil moist.

When the seeds germinate, usually between 7 and 14 days, thin to 1 seedling per cell.

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When should I move the seedlings outside?

You can usually begin to harden off your seedlings between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day. “Hardening off” means that you are helping your seedlings acclimate to outdoor conditions (direct sunlight, chilly temperatures, etc.) before planting them outside.

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To harden off, place the cell trays outside on a sunny day for about an hour, then bring them back inside. The next day, leave them outside for 2 hours. You can put them out for 4 hours the next day, and 6 hours the day after. By the 5th day, they should be ready to be outside full-time. The hardening off process helps to keep the plants from going into shock.

How do I remember which seedlings are which?

After you plant your seeds, you may forget where you put each variety. Even when they sprout, it can be difficult to tell the seedlings apart. I created a page with empty boxes that Scott prints out each year to fill in with the names of the seeds he plants in each cell. I made one with 72 cells and one with 200 cells, since he has different size cell trays.

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Where should I plant my seedlings?

It’s smart to plant your vegetable garden in raised garden beds, since you know the type of soil that the plants are growing in. Scott builds custom raised beds and fills them with a special blend of soil that our customers rave about. Are you interested in having raised beds built? Contact us today!

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Happy growing!


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