Growing a gorgeous garden each year is every homesteader’s dream! Being able to grow an abundant variety of fresh vegetables and fruits to carry yourself and family through the winter is the goal for every growing season.
How do you get the most out of each plant during their growing season? The answer is to start your seeds indoors.
Here are a few tips to make that task a little easier:
1. Research When to Start Each Variety of Seed
Some seeds need to be started sooner than others.
Knowing when to start your seeds is a major component to successfully starting seeds.
So maybe you aren’t quite sure when to start your seeds. No worries! There are many helpful resources available to you at no cost.
By knowing in which zone you live, will give you an indication of your perfect seed starting times. Also, you can always reference The Farmer’s Almanac, and make use of our gardening size calculator to know how many seeds to start.
There are also many other sites available that offer an actual seed calculator. Check this one out.
2. Skip the Expensive Grow Lights
Stores are making a small fortune off of selling their customers grow lights. If you plan on starting many seeds with them, their cost will add up in a hurry.
However, plants do need adequate sunlight to grow properly.
So what do you do? Invest in shop lights.
We decided to choose shop lights for ourselves this year. I am happy to report that they have worked wonderfully. Shop lights cost around half of what a grow light cost and the bulbs last for quite a while too.
We grow a large garden, and I couldn’t imagine investing the kind of money we would have had to in grow lights, in order to start our garden.
This is a great money saving alternative I highly recommend!
You can check out this video to see other’s success with shop lights (or compact fluorescent lighting, as the video calls it.)
If you still prefer purchasing instead of DIY-ing, read our recommendation for the best LED grow lights.
3. Start your Seeds with Organic Seed Starting Mix
I usually try to make as much of my own materials as possible. This is one I do not make on my own. However, if you decide that you would like to give it a try, here is a recipe that will help you get started.
I don’t make my own just because I don’t have a lot of the needed materials on hand. Therefore, it is easier just to go to my local general merchandising store and pick up a bag.
If you choose to purchase the seed starter mix from the store, as I do, it should be located in the gardening section.
It is not exceptionally cheap but isn’t earth shattering expensive either. As I said, we grow a large garden and do not go through more than two bags of the seed starter mix in a season.
It is still much cheaper than investing in plants from the nursery.
4. Figure out What to Grow your Seeds in
When starting seeds, you have many options as to what you choose to start them in.
Don’t get sucked into the expensive seed starter kits. If you choose to go that route, they’ll work just fine but do realize that there are less expensive options. Plus, be sure to save your seed starter trays so you can reuse them year after year.
Your first option for starting your seeds are the seed starter trays. You can buy them in the kits (as mentioned) or you can buy the trays alone.
A lot of times people will buy the kits because they come with the lid (to offer the greenhouse effect), the seed starter trays, and the watering trays underneath. This is a convenient option but one that gets rather costly if you plan on growing a large garden.
Understand that the trays are reusable, so it should be a one-time investment if you choose to take this route. Take care to sterilize them after use by washing them with organic soap and scalding water, just to ensure no bugs or pathogens are carried over to the next year's seedlings.
The second option for starting your seeds is to bargain hunt for your materials.
At the end of the growing season, all nurseries (including the big name ones) are looking to get rid of items very cheaply. A lot of times they’ll have whole carts full of plants that need to go that you can buy for as little as $10.
We take advantage of these deals!
Not so much for the plants (though I have purchased some near death perennials that I was able to bring back to life and enjoy year after year) but for the containers they sell the plants in.
You can take the plants home, toss them to your chickens, save the dirt to put to use next year, and save the containers to plant in the following season.
It truly is a great money saving option that works wonderfully!
The third and final option for what to start your seeds in are the foil lasagna pans. They are very inexpensive and usually come with lids. When starting plants in the lasagna pans, it is called making a “cake.” We usually start our onions in these pans, so we make “onion cakes.”
It works wonderfully. Since we use our version of grow lights, we don’t need the lids for the greenhouse effect.
Instead, we put the lids under them to catch and retain water. This is another great money saving option that you can reuse year after year to grow your seeds.
Lastly, egg cartons are an extremely budget-friendly option. They do start to sag from water after a while, but can really cost you next to nothing and make planting easy, as you can just tear off each portion and replant your seeds intact, as the carton is biodegradable.
5. Water your Seeds From the Bottom
Seeds are very finicky. If you don’t water them enough, they die. If you water them too much, they die.
This is what scares so many off from starting their own seeds. It doesn’t have to anymore. When watering your seeds, water them from the bottom.
No matter what option you choose for growing your seeds, you will always need some type of pan under the trays to catch water. Well, instead of using them to catch water, use them as the route to watering your plants.
Place 1-2 cups of water in those trays every so many days. You’ll need to add more water once the plants have sucked all of the water up.
Don’t water the trays again until it is empty or almost empty. This will keep the plants from being over or under watered. If you want to water the tops of the plants to keep the soil moist, be sure to use a spray bottle to gently mist them.
Never water seedlings heavily with water.
6. Watch Over or Under Heating your Seeds
As mentioned above, seeds are very finicky. Always grow them out of the way of a draft to keep them from getting too cold.
If you do not grow your seeds under grow lights, it is good to place them on top of your refrigerator so they can get the heat from that to help them germinate.
It is also important to make sure your seeds don’t get too hot as well.
This is a lesson I just learned myself this very growing season.
We grow our seeds indoors under grow lights in our living room. The same living room that houses our woodstove. If you heat with wood, you know a woodstove can keep your house around 75 degrees Fahrenheit with very little effort.
It gets even warmer in the room that houses the woodstove. If you are not careful, it can even scorch your plants.
This is how we lost our first batch of parsley.
Just be sure to watch your plants closely.
If they begin to wilt there is a chance they have had too much of something. It could be anything from cold, heat, or water. You’ll know by making small adjustments and watching their response.
They also will lose color in their leaves as they are sprouting if they are getting too much or too little of something.
Plants will definitely let you know if there is something wrong, so keep an eye on them.
7. Fertilize your Seedlings
Fertilizing your seedlings is a different ballgame from fertilizing plants in your garden. You can’t go outside and grab feces from your rabbits or chickens and plop it on them. This will actually burn your plants up.
They are much too small and tender for that.
Liquid fertilizers are what work best for seedlings. Once they get their first set of true leaves (not the first little sprouts that shine through), you should begin fertilizing your plant.
You should feed your seedlings about once a week until you place them in the garden.
8. Harden Your Seedlings off Before Transplanting Them
Hardening off a seedling is just a fancy term for getting them adjusted.
It is a very easy process but it does require patience. When you are about 2-3 weeks from transplanting your seedlings, you’ll need to begin setting them outside for a little while at a time. Start with 30 minutes and build up to hours.
This will help the plants not go into shock and die when transplanted.
A word of advice while completing this process, watch for a few things. We lost a lot of our seedlings last year by simply not paying attention.
On windy days, be sure to set the tray of seedlings where the wind cannot blow them off. It sounds like common sense, but it cost us a lot of tomato plants last year.
Also, don’t rush your plants. Be sure to watch them on days you decide to increase their time outside. If they start to wilt, bring them in and try it again the next day.
Impatience will kill your plants faster than anything!
9. Sprinkle Cinnamon on Your Plants
When growing seedlings, you will notice after they begin to sprout that your precious plants might develop a slight film. It is actually a fungus that seedlings get when they first start out.
It is something that you’d like to avoid as this is the beginning of your plants gaining diseases which is something all gardeners fight.
Diseased plants become sickly, die, and if they live they don’t yield as much fruit as they could have without the disease. This basically equates to time wasted for you.
So how do you beat this “film?”
After planting your seedlings in their containers, sprinkle a dusting of cinnamon across the trays. This stops the film from developing on your plants. It is that simple.
So as you are at the store purchasing your seeds, seed trays and seed starter mix be sure to run by the spice aisle and pick up a bottle of cinnamon too. You’ll be so glad you did!
Starting seeds can be a delicate process. Do have any other tips that could help other homesteaders find great success in starting their seeds?