how to start seeds indoors

It’s not as complicated as you might think. You’ll need some seeds (then plans as to where your going to eventually plant them), peat pots (I often use cardboard egg boxes), starter mix (how to make your own), water, a tray with an edge (to keep pots on and help with any water run-off), plastic wrap or a plastic ‘dome’, a warm place and an area (relatively warm) which gets indirect sunlight throughout the day. And most importantly, patience.

I don’t have any gadgets or anything fancy from ‘specialty’ garden shops – I just use what I have.

I buy the seed starter mix from a local gardening shop (the bigger bag usually lasts me two seasons). I typically (though not for these photos) re -use egg cartons (cardboard) and pierce small holes in the bottoms of each holder for drainage.

egg cartons


A large sheet pan (picked up at the dump) comes in handy for storing all the pots while the seedlings are emerging – it also makes moving them around very easy…I picked up a spray bottle for $1 and use it just for watering the seedlings (year after year) and while I did re-use a plastic dome for years, it finally gave way and now plastic wrap is what I use (and re-use). I know, plastic wrap? I haven’t been able to find a suitable (and earth friendly) substitute…any ideas?

So that’s what you’ll need and here’s what you’ll need to do;

1. Place pots on a large tray (with sides preferably, but not necessary). I fill each ‘set’ of pots on a smaller tray, first, then move onto the bigger tray once complete.

pots filled

2. Fill each pot (peat pots, seed trays, or pierced egg cartons) with the seed starting mix . I use an old metal measuring cup to scoop and fill…be sure to fill each to the top, the mix will settle once moistened.


2. Water thoroughly.* This will take a bit of time…I water the mix and then let it rest awhile before planting. The water may rest on top for awhile before finally settling, fully into the pot. Do be sure the entire pot is moist before planting and then be sure to keep it moist once the seeds are planted.

*I sometimes use a watering can with a very narrow spout for this. It allows more water, quicker, than the spray bottle. Though, if you try this method, do go slowly as the water will quickly accumulate on top and spill over the edges if done to rapidly…seed starter is made to absorb and hold onto water, it’s different than soil, thus absorbs it differently – at least at first…

making holes

3. Take a pencil or pen and use its’ bottom to create holes (at the recommended depth) in each pot of soil, for each seed to be planted in. No gadgets necessary…

read your seed packet

4. Read the planting instructions for each seed type (some like to be deep, others do not) and plant accordingly.

seed in

I typically place two to three seeds in each pot to ensure one will sprout…I then usually end up with three seedlings, though I simply ‘thin’ once big enough and keep the strongest looking one. If I have the space, I’ll even re-plant the ones I’ve ‘pulled’…it’s hard ‘throwing’ those little ones away…above is a coriander seed I had saved from last year…

cover gently

5. Cover with soil, gently (if necessary – some seeds need to sit right on top).

spray seed

6. Water thoroughly with a fine spray mist.

cover with plastic

7.Cover the pots or trays with a clear plastic bag, plastic wrap or dome and be sure to label each set of pots with the date and seed type. It can get confusing after awhile…

8. Place in a warm location with indirect sunlight. I keep mine next to the wood stove at night and then once morning arrives, I move them onto an ottoman in the dining room

covered on tray

and once the sun comes ’round to the sunroom (which we can now start to use!!) I move them again, onto the ottoman in there. Yes, I am busy with these seedlings, but it’s worth it. If your lucky enough to have a spot which receives indirect sunlight all day, all the better.

If you don’t have a warm spot to overnight them, consider using an electric blanket (do be cautious and mindful about possible fire hazards!) or making your own. Check out what Kate over at The Museum of Forgotten Pickles has done to make her own heating mat.

9. Lift plastic daily and check moisture levels. I check them first thing in the morning and then just before I go to bed. You want to be sure to keep the seedlings properly moistened. Try not to let the ‘soil’ dry out or the seeds won’t be able to grow. Using your spray bottle, moisten daily (if needed).

emerged seedlings

10. Remove plastic when seedlings emerge. Oftentimes a few will emerge, though others haven’t yet. This is where the plastic wrap comes in handy, because I can pull back the area where the seedlings have emerged and leave the others covered…sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. These are baby tomatoes…

11. Keep seedlings moist until they are big enough to transplant. Want to learn how to transplant?  Read here.

12. ‘Thin’ seedlings to one plant per pot, once big enough… Meaning gently remove all but one plant; best to do after watering, as the water will help keep the seedling you want to keep in its’ place.

13. Keep growing the seedlings in these beginning pots until each grows the first set of true leaves. Once they have this set of leaves they are able to be transplanted into bigger pots before going outside.

14. Keep in mind, plants which have started off this way will need a time for ‘hardening off’ before being able to be planted outdoors.

Hardening off simply means allowing the little tender plants time to get used to be outdoors  while still in their transplant containers, before they make the ‘big jump’ outdoors…

Starting seeds is not a complicated process. It usually takes anywhere from a week to a few weeks to see the first seedlings sprout (my tomatoes above popped up after only five days!) and when they do, it’s so exciting!

You’ll not only be proud of the fact that you’ve started your plants from seed, but you’ll also know what’s in them. If possible, avoid any Monsanto tainted seeds and go for organic or locally procured seeds…there’s enough GM seeds out there, let’s not add to them!

Have you started any seeds lately?


starting seeds indoors

So, I now have a few window sills full of sprouting seedlings and more beginning near the woodstove…my tomatoes are ready to move into their ‘big’ pots as are the basil sprouts.  They each have grown their second set of leaves, the ‘true’ leaves – the signal that it is safe to transplant them into the next size pot and into potting soil.

My flowers have also taken off – I’ve started marigolds, zinnias and teddy bear sunflowers – tomorrow I start poppies. Beautiful poppies – absolutely stunning red/orange blossoms with black centers and soft greens – gorgeous!  While marigolds are fairly mediocre (in my opinion) they are great to plant alongside tomato plants to ward off tomato worms, which I had a problem with last year – I regrettably didn’t do any companion planting, why, I do not know? Companion planting is a method of planting vegetables, herbs and flowers to compliment and help each other thrive – without the use of pesticides or chemicals. One plant helps the other…

Instead of buying marigolds, I thought I’d simply start them – less cost.  I’ve never started marigolds, but I’m always up for trying out new plants, fingers crossed. Marigold seeds are an interesting looking seed, very similar to a porcupine quill – long, thin, pointy on both ends with dual colors – much more interesting than the plant itself – apologies to all marigold lovers…hopefully they ward off those nasty tomato worms. 

Last year was the first year I planted zinnias – and I was so pleased that I did! I had what seemed like an endless supply of cut flowers to place around my house – they just keep flowering. The colors are brilliant, the blooms are varied in texture and size and they last a long time in arrangements…mix them with a variety of greens and you’ll have fresh flowers in your home all summer long – and they are easy to grow. No need to start indoors, simply plant outdoors when the weather warms, water and wait…I wanted to see blooms super early, so I’ve started a few seedlings indoors…oh, and they last well into the fall – which means cut flowers for months! Definitely worth the investment. 

The teddy bear sunflowers are so cute. I couldn’t resist. I always grow sunflowers and I always start them indoors (again, I like to see blooms earlier – we do have a very short growing season in Maine). I save seeds each year, so the following year they grow taller and stronger than the last. My sunflowers last season were incredible – some were over 12 feet tall – they were perfect for the south side of my garden…though, I’ve never grown teddy bears, so I thought I’d give them a try this year.  They are a much shorter variety, but super cute. They are ‘fuzzy’ looking without the classic seed center – and also a good cut flower. I love cut flowers. Mae West said, “I’d rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my fingers”. Nothing says beauty more than freshly cut flowers from your garden – or anyone’s garden…place them around your house for an instant ‘lift’ (for very little cost).

The poppies I’m going to start are perennials. While annuals are fun, perennials are better. You plant them once and year after year they continue to grow and thrive…I look forward to owing my own property and tending my perennial gardens. Until then, I will continue to plant and enjoy my gardens here and hope that they will continue on, be enjoyed and appreciated well after I’ve left…What’s not to appreciate about a beautiful flower?

Plant, water and wait. Enjoy for months…