How To Start Seeds for Beginners
There’s not much more rewarding than learning to produce your own food by starting seeds and growing them into nutritious and delicious fruits and vegetables. While a little help and inspiration, even the most notorious plant killers can learn to successfully start their own seeds and grow some, if not all, of the food they need. Not only will you be able to feel proud of your accomplishments, but you’ll also be able to save some money on your groceries!
We’ve been experiencing a lot of rain here in Western NC the past few weeks and finally had a moment of dry, warm weather to inspire me to get started on my seeds for this year.
While it might be a bit early for some growing seasons, starting your seeds indoors can add an extra few weeks to what you’re able to grow. All you need is some pots, soil, seeds, water, and sunlight!
Before we get into how to start your seeds, let’s talk about why you should.
Reasons to Start Seeds for Growing Food
- Food: Duh. Who doesn’t like the idea of being able to grow your own food? You’ll have easy access to delicious fruits and veggies that are cleaner, fresher, and more flavorful than their grocery store counterparts. Not only that, but you’ll also be able to decide what goes into growing them which can affect their sustainability and nutrient content.
- Be closer to nature: Starting seeds is the first step to getting outside and being in a garden. No one wants to send a lot of time in a bare spot of dirt in their yard. Having beautiful flowers and plants to care for sounds like a much better time for me. You’ll be able to recognize and learn about where you live through its weather patterns and what positively or negatively affects your plants.
- Being self-sufficient: There’s a certain sense of pride and satisfaction knowing that you don’t need to depend on outside sources for your produce and survivability. You can decide what you want and when you want it (within reason, of course). There’s no longer the worry of whether or not it will be in stock or extremely expensive.
- More environmentally friendly: By bringing your food production close to home, you’re reducing the amount of travel that produce has to go through before reaching you. You can also help support your local ecosystem better than traditional monoculture and pesticide-dependent systems that many commercial operations rely on. You’ll also be supporting the environment by eating more seasonally.
- Save money: I try not to focus on money in my life and try to decide what I do without it being a factor. Unfortunately, it is a big factor in today’s society and there’s not much I can do about that. And I do think it’s worth noting that growing your own food can drastically reduce your grocery bill each week.
Have I inspired you yet?
Yeah? Good! There’s a lot of other reasons to start your own seeds and grow your own food, but we’ll save all of that for another time. Let’s get into the good stuff now- how to start your own seeds, even if you’ve never done it before.
As with any project, the first step is to gather your materials. For this you’ll need:
- Containers: This can be anything from other yogurt tubs to fancy flats you built yourself. Just something that is easy to move and can hold soil. Make sure that you have enough drainage at the bottom for watering and preventing root rot.
- Soil: Again, this can be any growing medium from soil from your backyard to premixed packages of potting soil. You can even make your own! Just make sure that there isn’t too much clay (normally red. Can hold too much, inaccessible water and get too compacted easily) or sand (can’t hold enough water). Whether or not you use fertilizer is up to you. If you don’t intend to keep your seeds in the same container for its whole life (or more than 8-10 weeks), you don’t really need it.
- The Right Amount of Water: This might be a given, but it’s important to keep in mind. We’ll go over how to tell how much water a plant needs and what can influence this. If you can, try to use filtered or pure water. This is more of a problem when keeping them in pots to prevent the build-up of salts in the soil.
- Sunlight: Not all plants need the same amount and not all sunlight is created equal. A sunny, south-facing window should do the trick if you don’t have too many, but if you overcrowd the window each plant might not get enough. Another option is to use grow lights. I’ve had mild success with these, but I also only have bulbs you put in a desk lamp.
- Seeds: Can’t start seeds without seeds. I would suggest starting small and choosing one or two types to start with. Some good beginner options are most herbs, peppers, and tomatoes. Try to find good quality seeds that have been tested recently.
- A Notebook (Optional): Keeping a garden book can help when trying to figure out what went wrong and what went well. You can record when you planted something, what you gave it, where it went, etc. Keeping records can allow for better success later.
That’s it. Most of these you can get for free or for very little. Since we’re just starting out, I’d suggest not spending a fortune on materials. Once you get the hang out it, feel free to get the fanciest, best materials out there.
Starting Seeds as a Beginner
Step 1: Do your research
Before you even start your seeds you should know as much about them as you can. Find out how much space they need, what nutrients and soil, how much water, and how much sunlight. Also, look into how well they grow with your other plants. Some will give off certain chemicals that can hurt other plants. It’s best not to go into seed starting blind and you’ll get better results
Step 2: Prep your materials
Get everything together. Make sure you have enough containers, soil, and seeds for what you want to grow. The worst thing is to get really excited about starting seeds and then realizing you didn’t get enough soil. Definitely a big mood killer.
Make sure to check your packets as well. Some seeds require being soaked in water for a few hours beforehand or even placed in a refrigerator for a few months!
Step 3: Fill your containers
After you get everything together you’ll want to fill your containers with your soil. Make sure not to fill it all the way to the top so you don’t accidentally overflow the container (this can happen easily when water is added). But also don’t fill it too little that the seedlings are shaded by the edge once they sprout.
Step 4: Wet your soil
A lot of seed packets will tell you to pre-soak your soil before adding your seeds. Unless it specifically tells you not to do this, I suggest doing it. It makes sure that when you add water you don’t accidentally bury the seeds too deeply when the water moves the dry soil around before being absorbed.
Step 5: Add your seeds
Please don’t just dump a bunch of seeds into the soil. It’s a good way to waste your seeds and end up with no viable seedlings. They’ll all compete for the little nutrients and water in the container and make them all unhealthy and weak.
When adding seeds, make sure you don’t add more than can reasonably fit in the container. Your seed packet should tell you this. If your seeds haven’t been tested in a while then you can add an extra one or two seeds. If your seeds are brand new and never opened, sticking to the suggested amount is your best bet.
Your packet will also tell you how deep the seeds need to be and how much to cover them, if at all. Many times you can gently press your finger into the soil to make a small indent that can work well for a lot of seeds. Simply push the displaced soil back on top of the seed and it’s all good.
Step 6: Provide heat for your seeds.
Before your seeds sprout, the important aspect of sunlight for the plants is the warmth. Many seeds will not sprout without warm enough soil temperatures. If you need, you can wrap fabric around the plant and place the container on a heat source such as a heating pad or heater.
You can also cover your containers with clear plastic to help hold in heat and water and keep the soil warm. Just make sure not to let them get too hot or you could kill them.
Step 7: Care for your seeds
Make sure you’re watering them when the soil is completely dry unless the seed packet tells you otherwise. Many plants benefit from letting their soil dry completely before watering again, but some do not. Make sure you know how much they need before planting. When watering, seeds and seedlings benefit from soaking water from their drainage holes rather than from the top. It will help prevent compaction of soil and overwatering.
Keep giving them enough light and warmth while they grow and once they reach a certain height (this should also be on the packet), transplant them to a bigger container or outside.
See, not so hard.
The important part of this is being prepared and learning as much as you can about each type of seed you want to start before, well, starting. Keeping yourself informed can make all the difference between healthy, strong seedlings and leggy, sad seedlings.
Have you tried starting seeds before? How did it go? Or is this your first time?
Let me know!
Be well and happy planting,