Starting seeds indoors can give you a lot of benefits. It’s very practical – it can save you money, it extends your growing season  and it provides you a wider variety of plants to choose from. You can start your flowers or vegetables from seeds indoors in the early spring and transplant them outdoors when the weather is right for them to thrive. With the right conditions, you can even start your seeds a few weeks before the last frost to give you a good head start. Sowing seeds on your own is an enjoyable and rewarding activity for any gardener.

What You Need For Starting Seeds Indoors

There are three basic things you need in starting your own seeds. You need seeds, of course, containers to hold your seedlings, rich and well-draining potting mix and light to simulate the perfect growing conditions for your plants.

Seeds

Seeds can be bought from your local garden store, mail order catalogs or online. Some suppliers sell the newest hybrids which of course cost a bit more, as do certified organic seeds. Rare and exotic plants are more expensive too.

Planting and caring information are usually shown at the back of seed packets as well as information on how many days before the last frost you should start the seeds. If you have leftover seeds, you can save them for next year as long as you store them in air-tight containers in a cool, dry place. A packet of silica gel in the container can reduce humidity inside it.

Containers

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You must be wondering where to put the seeds when planting indoors. You can actually use any container but it would be easier to use a biodegradable one so that once the plant is ready you can just plop the thing directly into the ground. No need to worry about damaging the seedlings during the transplant.

You can buy peat pots (pots that are made entirely out of peat) in gardening stores for this but if you want to be economical, you take some newspaper (or any other paper you have lying around in your house) and fold it into a pot. Even yogurt caps, milk cartons, egg cartons or the eggshell itself can be used as planters. Use your imagination!

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If you don’t bother transplanting, you can also buy flats or large rectangular containers that hold many seedlings. Individual containers can be bought too, plus they dry faster. You can also make your own containers. The bottom part of plastic bottles will do.

Potting Mixes

Basic potting mix

 

Since you’re growing plants in pots , you need to have a good soil mix to keep your plants healthy. Regular garden soil is not enough in these artificial growing conditions and will only inhibit healthy root growth. It might also attract insects and plant diseases.

A good seed-starter potting mix possesses following qualities:

  1. It can retain moisture. You can save money if you don’t have to water too often.
  2. It is well-drained. Too much water can kill a plant too so it has to retain just the right amount of water in the soil.
  3.  It allows air to flow. A good mix is light and fluffy to allow oxygen to flow so that microorganisms in the roots can thrive and help the plant grow.
  4.  It provides support and allows roots to penetrate downward as the seedlings to grow upward.
  5.  It contains the right amount of nutrients and microbes to help the seeds grow.

A good-quality potting mix is a perfect combination of the above qualities. If the mix is too wet or too dense, the growth of the roots might get stunted or worse, the plant may die.

A basic seed starter mix is a combination of:

4 parts sphagnum peat moss (or coconut coir)
1 part perlite
1 part vermiculite

You could simplify the mixture with relatively the same results

Both perlite and vermiculite are great at retaining water, but vermiculite retains much more water and since it offers only a little less aeration than perlite you could simplify it to:

2 parts sphagnum peat moss (or coconut coir)
1 part vermiculite

For an enriched mixture

You can change it to 4 parts sphagnum peat moss and 2 parts vermicompost or compost. Combine these ingredients into a container, say a bucket, and moisten the mixture.

Light Source

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Your indoor garden setup should be put where light is readily accessible. However, light coming from most windows is usually not enough for the plants to grow especially if you’re starting during the cold season. Even in greenhouses, fluorescent lights are the more reliable source than natural light. A supplemental lighting system will work better in these conditions. The setup doesn’t have to be expensive, you can even make your own. A good light setup can make your garden more fun and interesting as it can give you a wider range of vegetable varieties to choose from.

Hang your grow lights from adjustable chains so you can raise them as your plants start to grow. The lights should be at most 4 inches above the tip of the seedlings but not less than 2 inches. Plants that don’t get enough light tend to have skinny stems. They need up to 16 hours of light everyday but they also need some dark period every night so that they can grow properly. You can add a simple timer to your light setup to help keep track of the time.

Moving seedlings outdoors

Before permanently moving your seedlings outdoors, you should first gradually accustom them to the outside environment. This process is known as “hardening off”. Indoor seedlings that have not been exposed to wind, full sun or fluctuating temperatures outside may wilt or die if suddenly transplanted outdoors.

So, about two weeks before you move the seedlings outdoors, start the hardening them off by moving them outside for a brief amount of time while gradually increasing the time interval each day. You can start by placing them under the shade in the afternoon for a few hours. Little by little, expose them to more sunshine. After two weeks, the seedlings can stay outside under full sun until you are ready to permanently move them into the garden. One easy way to do the hardening off process is by placing the seedlings in “cold frames”. These are temporary miniature greenhouses that protect the plants from harsh weather conditions.

If you planted your seedlings in peat pots, paper pots or other biodegradable containers, cut off the upper portion of the pots down to soil level. This is to allow water to reach the roots. And since these containers don’t usually break down completely in the soil, carefully cut holes in the bottom part of the pots to allow the roots to penetrate the garden soil.


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  • Dates to start seeds inside
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