If you want to learn the best way to start your own seeds indoors, in this post I will go over our indoor seed starting setup and a complete guide on how you can start seeds indoors to save money growing your own food.
Why Should You Start Your Own Seeds Indoors?
There are a few reasons why I would suggest starting your seeds indoors.
- Save money – When you buy young plants from the nursery you are generally paying a higher price than if you were to buy a seed packet of the same plant. For one plant at your local nursery, you could get up to 100 seeds for the same price. You are paying for the work that is involved to care for and nurture that plant in the nursery, as well as some profit. If you are willing to put in the time and effort to grow your own seedlings, building your indoor seed starting setup is a good idea.
- Control fertilizer – If you want to grow your own food from organic seed, starting your own seeds gives you the opportunity to control the entire process of the growth of the plants. You can control what organic matter is used, what fertilizer, and the environment. Some garden centers offer organic plants, but you will be paying a higher price.
- It is fun for the whole family! – There is something about growing your own food from seed as a family compared to buying it from the nursery or even the grocery store. It is so rewarding to watch something grow and thrive that you started with your own two hands. It teaches our kids where the food we eat comes from and the hard work that goes into it.
- Extend your growing season – We are located in zone 4b which means we have a short growing season. Starting seeds indoors helps us extend our growing season by providing our seedlings with a head start. If you are unsure of what zone you are located in, I have sourced these articles for you if you are in the USA, and Canada.
What You Need To Start Seeds Indoors
Every indoor seed starting setup can look different. You don’t need to spend a fortune to get the best results from your seed starting journey. You can start your seeds indoors with or without grow lights, and you don’t need all of the bells and whistles. We started our seeds indoors on our windowsill and expanded as the years went on. As our garden grew, our indoor seed starting setup needed to grow too.
To start seeds indoors successfully you need to focus on 3 things:
- Growing medium and container
- Temperature (warm)
- A good light source (natural light or artificial light)
What Containers to Use To Start Seeds Indoors
Recycled Vessels – You can get creative with the containers you use for starting your seeds indoors. I’ve seen successful gardeners use vessels such as newspaper pots, and toilet paper rolls. and even egg cartons. I personally have even used the plastic clamshell containers from berries, with the lid they act as a wonderful greenhouse for seed germination. The key is to ensure that the container you are using has good drainage holes so the water can escape.
Seed-Starting Trays – If you are looking to buy seedling trays, I have purchased these cell packs, and they work wonderfully as they come with a vented humidity dome. Once the seeds have sprouted, you can remove the dome to ensure proper air circulation to avoid fungal diseases.
Soil Blocks– Soil blocking is also very popular to start seeds. I have yet to try soil blocking, but as my garden continues to grow, I know I will upgrade to this soil-blocking press. Instead of using plastic pots or cell trays, you use a device that presses the soil mix into blocks that are placed on flat plastic trays.
Seed Starting Kit
The perfect all-in-one seed starting cells and humidity dome kit!
Proper Seed Starting Growing Medium
Did you know you can start seeds WITHOUT soil?! All you need is organic matter that will keep the seeds from drying out. You can use a seed starting mix that contains peat moss. Seed starting mix is different than regular potting soil. It is a mix of peat moss, vermiculite, perlite, compost, worm castings, and fertilizer. You will notice it is much lighter than a regular soil mix as this allows the seedling to easily spread their roots and grow into healthy seedlings.
Note: If your young seedlings have grown from their current cells you can transfer them to larger pots and use a regular soil mix after transplanting. You can sprinkle vermiculite on the soil surface to help the soil retain moisture.
Indoor Seed Starting Setup – Temperature
Most seeds need a warm and moist environment to start germinating. An easy way to create the ideal environment for successful germination is by creating a greenhouse effect for the plants. This can be accomplished by using clear plastic wrap over the containers or plastic domes.
I purchased these heating mats that sit under my cell flats to provide a sufficient heat source to maintain my soil temperatures. Seedling heat mats aren’t a necessity but it speeds up the germination process and it a great way to increase your germination rate.
Increase your seed’s germination rate with this budget-friendly heat mat kit!
Starting Seeds Indoors With Grow Lights
We have tried a wide range of grow lights in the past. We just recently purchased these LED shop lights for this year’s indoor seed starting setup and they are our favorite yet! They fit perfectly on our shelving unit and connect together instead of having a mess of a million cords.
Avoid marketing tactics – LED lights or fluorescent lights for garages or shops are just as efficient as the expensive grow lights you see in the big box stores. They are the best choice since they aren’t marketed as a grow light so the price is a lot more affordable.
Supplement the sun – Grow lights are a popular choice for indoor seed starting sets ups since they give off enough light for what the seedlings need from the natural sun. Generally, most seedlings need a minimum of 12-14 hours of light. In the late winter, most areas only have 9-10 hours of natural sunlight.
Proper light fixture distance – You will want to hang your light fixtures a few inches away from your seed trays, 4-5 inches is a good start. Once your seedlings start to grow their second set of leaves it is a good time to raise the lighting another 3-4 inches. If you find the tops of the seedlings are reaching the 2-inch mark towards the lights, it’s the right time to raise them.
Starting Seeds Indoors Without Grow Lights
If you don’t want to invest in artificial lighting, you can still be successful in starting seeds indoors, your indoor seed starting setup might just look a little different. In this case, you will want to rely on the natural sunlight outside. Find a sunny window in your home, a south-facing window is a good choice, and set up your seed trays there. Be sure that each tray is getting plenty of light to avoid leggy plants.
This method will work for smaller gardens. If you have a larger garden and your window isn’t big enough, or you don’t have enough windows, you may want to consider purchasing grow lights.
Seed Starting Grow Lights
My favorite grow lights for seed starting! They are easy to set up and work well for budget gardeners!
Tips on Growing Healthy Plants in Your Indoor Seed Starting Setup
Ok, so you’ve got your indoor seed starting setup ready, now how do you nurture these seeds into healthy plants? I have a few tips for you to help you along the way.
Water – Be sure to check the water of your seedlings daily, preferably in the morning. You will want the soil of your seedling to be moist to the touch but not wet, so try to avoid giving them too much water. To avoid any fungal diseases and stress on the tiny seedlings I suggest watering from the bottom.
Air circulation – I like to use a small fan on the lowest setting to provide our own plants with good air circulation. This helps avoid any fungal diseases and it helps the seedlings grow stronger steams.
Transplanting – Depending on when you started your seeds, you may find your seedlings outgrowing their seed tray home. You can usually tell if the roots are starting to come out from the bottom. In this case, all you have to do is re-pot them in a larger pot. Simply, add some soil to a bigger pot, carefully remove the seedling from the tray and plant it in its new home. I like to save my bigger pots from the nursery to use for transplanting.
Fertilize weekly – After your seedling has grown their second set of leaves I begin fertilizing them with organic fish fertilizer once a week. Just like we need food, so do our seedlings. By this point, most of the fertilizer from the seed starting mix has been absorbed by the seedlings.
Seed Starting Indoors Schedule
Our last frost date is near the end of May. So I look at the back of my seed packet to see how many weeks I should plant before our last frost date. I then count backward from that frost date and note it in my seed starting schedule.
You can grab a copy of my seed starting planner to help you organize your own seed starting schedule.