Starting vegetable seeds indoors can be a really great way to help jump start your growing season.
Growing by seed can seem like a daunting task, but its not super complicatied once you break it down into easier steps.
The key to making things easy is to know what type of supplies to have on hand to get started. I mention using jiffy pots in the list below. But there are lots of other options out there. You can also use newspapers, which is a really great way of reducing waste. You can buy tools specifically for making little seed pots out of paper, but you can also use a plastic cup just as effectively.
You just need to roll the paper around a cup folding in the paper around the bottom. It helps if you can pinch a ridge into this form once you remove the cup, to help it from unraveling. But once you fill it with soil, and it gets watered its not going to be an issue.
You can also use toilet paper or paper towel rolls cut to 2-1/2″ sections. You can line the tube with a few small layers of newspaper to help form the bottom.
Starting Vegetable Seeds Indoors
Starting vegetables by seed is a great way to get a jump start on your growing season. Almost every plant can be stsrted by seeds, but some are much more difficult to seed than others. Vegetables are pretty straight forward to start from seed, so that's what we'll focus on here. If you are interested in learning more about how to start other plants by seed, check out these other helpful guides.
- seed starter pots
- Seed tray with lid, or clear plastic bag to fit over tray and an elastic to tie
- Sterilized potting soil (will be labelled on the bag)
- Seeds of your choice
- unused popsicle sticks or plastic marking sticks
- a fine tip permanent marker
Start by making sure you have a clean working area, and that all your containers are clean. You can lay out newspapers underneath to make for easy clean up.
- In your seed tray, lay out enough cardboard compostable seed starter pots to fill the tray. This will let you know how many seeds you can start in each tray.
- Fill each pot with potting soil from your bag of presterilized potting soil.
- tamp down each pot with your fingers, or the bottom of an unused pot to slightly pack the soil into place.
- Select the seeds you wish to start, and begin to place 2-3 seeds on top of each pot you wish to start. Follow directions on the back of each packet for plant specific needs.
- Push each seed 1/2" into the soil with your finger, carefiully covering the seed with surrounding soil (follow package for more precise details about depth).
- Label a popsicle or marking stick with a permentant marker and place it in the seed pot letting you know which variety is planted there. This will come in handy later when the seedlings look very similar for different varieties of the same species.
- After all your pots are seeded, you will need to water the tray. Fill a jug with room temperature, or slightly warm water, and pour water into the bottom of the tray about 1-1/2" deep.
- Wait, and allow the pots to soak up the water from the bottom up.
- Once you see the surface of the pots dampen, and all the water is absorbed, cover with a clear plastic lid, or plastic bag that can be sealed with a twisty tie or elastic.
Place seed tray in a warm place until plants break surface, then keep them in an area that has full light. You will likely need to supplement with a grow light to prevent plants from becoming "Leggy"
Once plants grow 2-4 true sets of leaves, you can thin them out if you have too many in each pot crowding each other out.
Allow to grow until ready to Harden off for planting outside.
This is when you water a tray from the bottom up. Filling the tray with water instead of watering each individual pot will allow water to soak up, and over time will encourage roots to grow down to find the water source.
True leaves are the leaves that come up AFTER the initial soil breaking set of leaves. You will notice most seedling slook alike until their second set of leaves begin to show different size and shape to other species. When thining, you want to wait for plants to reach a few sets of true leaves before deciding which plants to thin out.
Before being planted outside, they will need to go through a phase called Hardening off, which gets them ready to withstand the growing conditions outdoors.
I am not an affiliate for anyone, but I use, and really like jiffy pots. They have worked really well for me over the years.
Once your seedlings break soil they will need to take in a lot of light to help prevent “legginess”. Leggy growth happens when your seedlings do not get enough light early in their growth. To prevent this you can use grow lights to help supplement the amount of light they get. Make sure to place seedlings roughly 4″ from the grow lights for optimal lighting.
Once they have grown out of their pot size, you can either size them up, or if the weather is consistently above 60F start hardening them off to transplant outside.
Hardening off is the process of making your plants tough enough for the outside environment. It involves taking your seedlings outside during the day over the period of 1-2 weeks.
It is best to start out with a bit of a shaded, sheltered location. Over the course of the week bring them to the location where they will be planted. This will help expose them to temperature shifts, sun, and wind. Leave them outside each day, making sure to bring them back inside when temperatures begin to cool for the night.
Ready to grow outside
Once your plants have hardened off, you are ready to transplant them outside. If you have used jiffy pots or newspaper pots, you can plant them right into the soil without removing them from the pots. If you used plastic, carefully dump them out, or lift the plants by their leaves (not their fragile stems). Place into a hole where you want them, and fill in soil around them. Give them a drink, and watch them grow.
If you have any fun tips for starting by seed share them int he comments below. I’d also love to see your starters. Tag me on instagram with pics of your plants @veggie_homestead