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Grow Your Own: Indoor Seed Starting

Save money and grow your own vegetable starts! If you are purchasing starts from your local nursery, you know the cost can add up fast! There are many benefits to starting your seeds indoors and it's a fun way to get the gardening season started in the cold months of winter.

Top Benefits to Starting Seeds Indoors

1.) Save Money

One seed packet at $4.50 gets you several years worth of plants. Seeds can last for years if stored in closed bin a cool location. Adding a few desiccant packs can help make sure your seeds stay dry.

2) More Varieties & Selection

There are so many varieties and things you've never heard of before available to purchase as seed. This is especially true with unique medicinal herbs.

3) Choose Where You Purchase Your Seed From

You can choose whether you buy local seeds, organic, biodynamic, or heirloom seeds. In this way you can support local seed companies and organic practices. Plus, local seeds are grown in your climate so have been acclimated to your growing conditions!

Some vegetable crops need to be started indoors ahead of our PNW gardening season to get them up to size and fruiting before we run out of summer!

4) Get a Head Start

Some crops need to be started indoors (or purchased as starts) in order for them to have enough to time to get up to size and fruiting before the end of the gardening season. These include the heat loving crops like tomatoes and peppers. However, there are many crops that can benefit from a head start indoors. Check out this post to learn more about what crops to start indoors versus directly seeding in the garden!

Indoor Seed Starting

Starting seeds indoors can be as easy as putting some seeds in soil. However, in order for your plants to grow strong and healthy and grow to produce abundantly, you will need to consider the following:


Good lighting is crucial to the success of your indoor seed starting. If you've struggled with wimpy and leggy seedlings, you likely need to get some grow lights. But not all grow lights are good for growing vegetables. You will need to purchase a grow light that is specific to what you want to grow.

  • For vegetables I prefer to use T5 fluorescent lights

  • If you're just starting out and only want to start a couple of things, you can start with a simple table top set up like this one.

  • Generally it is best to get a light that covers your entire tray of plants, so at least two lights wide if you are using a standard 10x20 tray.

  • Adjust the light or your seedlings to be 4" below the light and adjust as the plants grow, this ensures they will not get leggy reaching for the light.

Seed Starting Mix:

Not all "soil" is the same either! For germinating seeds you want to use a sterile seed starting mix. This means a mix without any compost or "real" soil in it. This is important to control damping off of your seedlings due to excess moisture retention. Seed starting mixes are generally a mix of coco coir or peat moss plus pearlite or vermiculite and maybe a wetting agent. No fertilizer is necessary at this stage of growth - the seed has everything it needs to germinate and grow it's first set of true leaves.

There are a few exceptions though (isn't there always!): When I start bigger seeds like squash, artichokes, nasturtiums, and sunflowers I start them in 4" pots using a standard potting soil. That is because these plants will grow quickly and need fertility right away. I also start them in an outdoor greenhouse versus in the house under lights.

Seeds are natures perfect life packet! Inside every seed is everything they need to germinate and grow their first true leaf! Fertilizer is not necessary until after the plants have developed.

Timing - Make a Plan!

Be sure to make a plan before you start your first seeds! Starting seeds too soon results in leggy, unhappy plants that you can't put outside yet. Or that you put outside too soon and they don't make it.

  • Research your seeds and make a spreadsheet of what needs to be started when. Most seed packets will tell you how and when to start the seeds, such as "start indoors 6-8 weeks before last frost." If your seed packet or seed catalog does not say this look it up online.

  • Look up your average last frost date. Here is one source that lets you search by zip code.

  • Make a note of the temperature needed for germination. Do you need to use a heat mat or will your indoor air temperatures suffice?

Take a Class & Learn More!

A seed starting class will give you all the necessary tips and tricks of indoor seed starting, including proper watering, how to pot up your seedlings, hardening them off, and transplanting. Check out my upcoming classes. Seed starting classes are generally offered beginning in February.

Want one-on one learning? I also offer in-person garden consultations and coaching that can give you hands-on instruction and guidance in your own home and garden.

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