Starting Seeds 101

If you want to plan your garden really, really well, you should do exactly as I do, which is to say that the minute the seed catalogs arrive in December you should proceed to buy every seed package that catches your eye, regardless of how you’ll fit it in your garden space or manage it.

Or maybe not.  Ahem.

A lot of people find seed starting to be a little intimidating, but I promise it’s very simple.  You don’t need expensive equipment, heat lamps (they help, but not necessary) or lots of things like peat pots.   As a matter of fact, I have the most success when I go low tech.  If this is your first go, start slow.  You can iterate each year as you learn more about what grows well, what you eat, and what windows work best.  Some people go fancy, but I’ve learned over the years that this is what works here.

So grab a few seed packets of things you like to eat, and give it a try.

You will need:

  • Potting soil
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Plastic wrap
  • Tinfoil loaf pans
  • A Sharpie marker
  • Sunny window
  • Surface
  • Water

That’s it.

I’m less good at figuring out how much of anything we’ll eat, but I’m getting better.  So, I plant too much, but that’s ok.  As my older sister says, they are plants, not friends.

You start, as with all things, with what you like to eat.   Also, unlike me, if this is your first time around, maybe not too much.  A couple kinds of tomatoes.  A few cucumbers.  Some lettuce, which is mostly spring and fall planting, but you can also keep some growing in a sunny window all winter. You make it manageable.

Spending about $40 on the supply list above, maybe a little less, will get you a garden that gives you approximately a salad a week.  Want more?  Plant more.  Not sure what you like?  Try new varieties.   If you have some really hot areas, plant some things like basil, that will give you a supply of homemade pesto.  Basil loves heat.  Herbs, which can be expensive at the grocery store, are super cheap and often easy to grow, even in pots on a balcony or windowsill.

So decide what you want to try.  And then you start to plant.

First, label the containers.  Know what you planted and the date you planted it.  This will help you keep track of what the things are and when you can expect to eat them.  For the tinfoil planters, write directly on the side.  If you have other types, use the popsicle sticks – on one side, the variety, on the other, the date.  At the top, of course.

Then, fill the containers about 2/3 of the way to the top with potting soil.  Add seeds, and then cover with more soil.

Add water to soak, cover with plastic wrap and set in the sun.

When the seedlings start to come up, remove the plastic wrap and keep them well watered.

I try to start about 6-10 things every week until planting season and then I try to pick something every week until November.  This works imprecisely for sure, but it’s the goal.

When the seedlings start to get big, move them to separate pots.  Prop tomatoes with those popsicle sticks and some twist ties if they start to droop.

Before you plant, you must harden off after danger of frost is past.  This means for a week or two you bring them out, and then bring them in for increasingly long periods.  It gets them used to the vagaries of outdoor temperatures.  First for a couple hours, and then lengthen until they have moved permanently outside.

And then you plant.

It’s a little work, and by the end of the hardening period I’m mostly cranky about the endless in and out effort, but really, it’s not much work at all.  And when you are eating your own zucchini or onions or tomatoes, there’s a pleasure in knowing that you started them from scratch.

It’s also it’s own kind of magic.  The seeds go down in the soil.  The plant comes up, and eventually becomes food, with water and sunlight. It’s the magic of the every day.

Which is the best kind of magic there is.  Happy Eating!





2 thoughts on “Starting Seeds 101”

  1. I just realized it’s time to start seeds. Living in our new home with its massive shade, north-facing back yard, and herb-chewing cats that inhabit the sunny windowsills, I haven’t figured out yet how to make it work. I’m considering a little greenhouse on the upstairs balcony to the girls’ room…I’ll let you know the results. Happy planting! PS—nothing wrong in getting every darn seed packet. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One of those little greenhouse shelf things might work. They are pretty reasonable price-wise too. I want to hear what you decide and how it goes. And thank you for validating me. I have a hard time editing seeds out.


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