It’s getting to be that time of year again…. Seed starting time! It’s the beginning of January as I write this. I am in zone 6a. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, I won’t start any seeds indoors until the end of February.
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Although that seems a long way off, I still have plenty to do to get ready for starting seeds. I want to have the best germination rate I can so I can grow as many vegetables as possible to feed my family.
Should You Start Seeds Indoors?
You may be wondering whether you should even bother starting your own seeds. Isn’t it easier to just go buy some seedlings when you’re ready to plant? Yes, it is easier. And that is one option if you don’t have any time (or patience) to start your own seeds.
However, there are so many benefits to starting your own seedlings. I think once you see the benefits and how simple the process is, you are going to be starting most of your seeds at home. If you are on board and want to get started, take a look at my Beginner's Guide to Starting Seeds.
Is starting seeds indoors right for you? Answer these questions to find out if starting seeds is for you.
Do you have a space you can dedicate to starting seeds?
Even something as simple as a windowsill or the top of your refrigerator will do. Make sure it’s somewhere that the seeds won’t be disturbed by pets. If you have room in your basement or a heated garage, that’s fine too. You will have to purchase grow lights if there isn’t enough natural light in the space. These are not expensive and can be used year after year.
Another option if you don’t have space inside the house is to use a greenhouse. You can build something permanent. If you want to start small, you can also buy something that can be put up early in the spring and taken down when the plants are ready to transplant. This is the type of greenhouse I used before we had a permanent structure built. There are smaller options like this one or this one depending on how many plants you are planning on starting.
The greenhouse worked really well for keeping seedlings warm. Since it was outside, enough light was able to reach the seedlings. The only problem was when we had 80 mile per hour winds. The greenhouse along with all the seeds were scattered throughout the property. This type of wind generally doesn't happen too often in our area. I ended up buying the same type of greenhouse again because I liked it so much.
Do you have a couple hours a week you can dedicate to caring for your seeds?
It doesn’t take much time to care for seedlings. Once they are planted, the only thing you will need to do is make sure they have water, appropriate temperature and appropriate light.
As far as watering, some people like to spritz the delicate seedlings with a water bottle to keep them moist. Others like to bottom feed them. That simply means that the water is put into the bottom of the tray to be wicked up through the soil. This keeps the seedlings from getting bent or broken.
Do you have a little bit of patience?
Starting seeds takes a little patience. Every year, when I plant my seeds, I still have a fear that nothing will come up. A couple of days after planting the little guys, I start worrying about them. If I don’t see growth immediately, I think all is lost. However, this is NEVER the case. After a few more days of patiently waiting, the seedlings start to pop up. As long as you take good care of them, they will not disappoint.
Do you like variety?
My favorite reason to start my own seedlings is variety. I can start anything I want. There are a few things that I haven’t yet been successful in starting from seed and some things I would recommend buying from the nursery. For the majority of seeds, though, you can pick and choose straight from the seed catalog. The options are endless. Even if you pick a seed that doesn't do well in your area or isn't the best fit for your garden, a packet of seeds is a small investment.
Have you planned ahead?
Generally, you are going to want to plant your seedlings around six to eight weeks before the last frost date. You can take a look at the back of the seed package to get the exact timing and requirements. You can check your estimated last frost date on the Farmer's Almanac website for free.
My last frost date is around April 23rd. I don’t start transplanting summer crops outdoors until May, just to be safe. Spring crops can be transplanted much earlier, so I have to plan around that as well. As you can see, with all of the different dates and time frames, it can become overwhelming if you don’t put a system in place to keep track of what needs to be planted and transplanted when. You can use my free garden planner and journal to help you out with the planning.
Do you want to have complete control over your seedlings?
When you start your own seeds, you have complete control over how they are raised from the very beginning. You get to choose the seeds, including if you want to plant organic or heirloom varieties. Learn more about the differences between these here.
You also get to choose the planting medium. You can choose organic starter. You don’t have to use any fertilizer at all if you don’t want to. When you finally transplant your seedlings, they can be completely organic. I know for me, that’s important. I like to be able to decide how I raise my plants from the very beginning.
Do you want to save money?
Seeds are not usually expensive. Seeds usually run a couple of dollars for a packet. You will have to buy other supplies as well, but a lot of the supplies can be used year after year. Some of the things that you will need to buy to get your seeds started include:
Heating pad (if you have your seeds a cool place in the house)
I’ve seen all kinds of ideas for starting seeds in things such as toilet paper rolls, egg cartons and newspapers. If you are on a tight budget, you may want to find one of these alternatives to buying supplies. Here's my post on DIY seed starting containers.
I will say that buying seed starting supplies is an investment. Once you have the supplies, you can use them year after year. And think about how much money you will be saving from not having to buy as many vegetables at the grocery store. Having the right equipment can make things more convenient and more successful in the long run.
If this is your first time starting plants from seeds, you may want to keep it simple. I start almost everything from seed, but I didn’t always do it this way. You can pick a few plants to try out. Once you have some confidence in getting seeds going, you can always plant additional types of seeds next year.
Try something new.
I was under the impression that tomatoes were way too difficult to start from seed, so I always bought mine at the nursery. When I wanted to expand tomato production, I decided to try planting from seed to save money. To make sure that I had enough plants, I over-planted just to be safe. EVERY single tomato seed came up. I had loads of tomatoes that year.
Think about the big picture.
Think about the health benefits. Think about how you are lessening your footprint on the earth. You should be proud of yourself for taking the initiative to provide yourself and your family with fresh produce.
Don't give up.
This is an experiment. Seed starting can entail some disappointment, as with everything else in gardening. You just never know one hundred percent what outcome you will get.
However, if you are prepared and follow the above advice, you will be successful. Start your seeds in the correct medium at the correct time. Feed them with water and light. That’s it!
With that being said, there might be things outside of your control. You could get 80 mile per hour winds that blow your greenhouse away or have a frost later than expected. But just know that whatever happens, it is a learning experience. The beauty of starting your own seeds is that you can try again. There will be more seeds in that packet. All it takes from you is a little time and patience.
As you can see, I’m a big proponent of starting your own seeds. Why not give it a try? I think you will be happy with the results. Have you tried starting seeds indoors? What has your experience been?