Starting Seeds Indoors Without A Grow Light
Have you ever compared the price of a lone tomato plant from the nursery with a packet of tomato seeds?
The difference is a bit shocking. Or maybe I should say the LACK of difference is shocking. Especially if you want organic or heirloom tomato plants! An entire pack of seeds usually runs about the same as a decent size tomato plant, which is actually fairly understandable since it does take a bit of time and energy to grow seedlings.
This is true for most types of plants, not just tomatoes.
So, because I grow such a large amount of vegetables, I prefer to sprout my own seeds indoors, instead of buying pre-sprouted seedlings.
I also start seeds indoors because I save most of my seeds myself instead of buying new packets each year.
A lot of online posts and tutorials on starting seeds indoors are full of grow light diagrams and the best distances from the light for different types of seeds.
While those methods that involve using grow lights can be very effective, they tend to make seed starting sound overwhelming.
Growing seedlings with a grow light can also be a bit pricey when you are getting started.
Personally, I prefer a more simplistic and old fashioned method of starting seeds indoors.
You will need:
- Seed starting soil mix.
- Your desired seed varieties.
- Container to hold the soil and the seeds. There are many different types of containers you can use for this. From old egg cartons and toilet paper holders, to old flats from nursery grown plants. I personally have saved up a collection of flats, and I re-use them every spring.
- Spray bottle for watering.
- *Optional tray to set the flats on to water from below. (I usually don’t do this, but I have heard that others have great success with watering this way)
- A few sunny window sills or a large sunny window or door.
- Old table that you don’t mind getting water and dirt all over.
There are a few basic steps to get started.
- Select your seeds you want to start indoors, and find the planting time-frame. You can usually find this information on the back of your seed packets. It will tell you how many weeks they need to grow indoors before planting them outside. For example- Cabbage and Broccoli are supposed to be started 6-8 weeks before you want to plant them outside. In my zone 7, I plant broccoli and cabbage in mid March, so I start the seedlings in mid-late January.
- Once you have calculated the dates for each type of seeds you want to start indoors, gather your supplies and be prepared to plant when each start date rolls around. I like to keep a little chart that I made for my zone, and use it to make sure I don’t forget to get things started at the right time.
- Fill your seed containers about 3/4 of the way with damp seed starting mixture, and plant your seeds! The general guidelines for starting seeds indoors are to plant them about 2 times as deep in the soil as the size of the seed. Most seeds you start indoors are pretty tiny, so drop the seeds onto the soil, then sprinkle a small amount of soil over top of them.
- A key to successfully starting seeds indoors is to not overcrowd the seedlings together. One way to help avoid over crowding is to carefully calculate how many plants you want to end up with, and plant only a little more seeds than the amount you want to end up with. This will help you avoid the common mistake of simply sprinkling a bunch of broccoli seeds in a flat, and ending up with a bunch of sickly sets. It is better to have 5 healthy seedlings, than 30 unhealthy and crowded ones! If you are using divided containers or flats, it is pretty easy to just plant one seed per section, and avoid crowding that way. However, with a large open container, you will have to pay a bit more attention, and not sow the seeds too closely together.
- Give your newly planted seeds a good gentle misting with a water bottle. If you want, you can cover your seed trays or flats with plastic wrap, or some sort of covering to retain moisture until they sprout.
- Once the seeds have sprouted, remove the covering, and place in front of a sunny window or glass door. I use an old card table in front of my sliding glass door.
- Keep an eye on the seedlings, and make sure they stay nice and moist. You can do this by simply misting with a spray bottle, or by misting and watering with a tray underneath the seedlings. Either way works just fine!
- Occasionally turn the seedlings so that they are exposed to the sunlight on all sides, and don’t only grow leaning in one direction.
- A week and a half before you want to plant the seedlings outside, you will need to harden them off. Hardening off is a gardening term for getting the seedlings acclimated to the elements. Begin by placing the seedlings outside in the shade for a couple of hours each day. After a couple days, increase the amount of time they are outdoors by a few hours, but make sure you bring them back inside at night. After two days of being out in the shade almost all day, introduce a couple hours of morning sunlight. Keep increasing the amount of sun for the next few days until the plants can tolerate a whole day of sun, and your planting date has arrived.
- Plant your seedlings in your garden!
I love growing my seeds indoors without the use of electricity!
*Note- If you choose to start your seedlings a good bit in advance of their outside planting date, you may need to transfer them to a larger pot mid-way through their indoor growth. I sometimes do this with my tomato plants, but not always.