By Matt Gibson
The best equipment and tools for starting seeds indoors have been carefully gathered together and presented here to keep you busy during the long winter ahead. For gardeners in many regions of the world, winters are a very dormant season, in terms of garden tasks, due to extended freezes and unforgiving storms, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t continue to flex your green thumb indoors. Sowing your sweet spring seedlings inside the castle walls is the perfect winter exercise to keep a focus on your garden during the downtime.
Starting seeds indoors is a simple, meaningful, and inexpensive way to grow and germinate your own seedlings to transplant outside in early to mid-spring after the threat of frost has passed. The annual tradition of starting your own plants from seed will save you a hit to your budget each spring as well, when it’s time to spruce up the garden with new plant life.
Though growing plants from seed has a lower success rate than paying for transplants from the nursery, it is rewarding for any gardener, seasoned or novice, to be involved in the creation process, and not just the care, maintenance, and harvesting or flowering stages to come. The practice of planting a seed into the soil is intimate, symbolic of motherhood, and the story of creation. Instead of spending your dollar on costly transplants of already established plants, why not create your own? The act of cultivating plants from seed is near magic, literally bringing new life into existence, a few seeds at a time.
Though seed starting is not an incredibly expensive undertaking, it does require a bit of equipment to get started. The best materials to use are readily available. It’s time to make a shopping list. Here’s everything you need to start seeds indoors:
Light for Seed Starting
A good light source is a must-have for an indoor seed starting setup. A light table, light stand, or any quality grow light system is essential to the seed germination process. If you are hesitant to invest in commercial grow lights, you could build your own indoor grow light setup and save yourself a few bucks. Check out the YouTube link at the bottom of the page to view a DIY tutorial on how to build your own light table.
Heat Mats for Seed Starting
There is a reason why you may have noticed seed starter trays sitting atop of a refrigerator at some point in your life. A good heat source applied evenly on a flat surface to the bottom of your seed-starting containers, or cell flats, will go a long way towards increasing the chance of success when seed starting. Heat mats, or germination mats can be obtained at a gardening supply store or nursery in your neighborhood. These easy to use mats provide a steady and balanced heat source to keep your seed trays warm and cosy even when your air conditioning system is fighting your cause.
Water/Watering Can to Keep Seedlings Damp
The most important and fundamental material needed for successful seed starting is water. Both humidity and moisture retention are required to turn seeds into seedlings. Slowly and carefully water your seed starting trays or flats using a watering can or watering hose attachment setting that is gentle enough to provide ample moisture without disrupting the soil or damaging the fragile seedlings.
To help create a humid environment that encourages germination and discourages pests, cover your starter trays with a plastic covering. The best material to use for this purpose is simple plastic wrap, but any relatively air tight lid or cover placed over new seed trays will help keep humidity contained.
Seed Starting Containers and Trays
There’s no reason to go out and spend any significant money on seed starting kits and fancy seed starting containers. The simple black plastic trays used commonly in greenhouses and nurseries are pretty much perfectly suited to the task. These simple flats can be procured (used trays can usually be acquired for free if you ask nicely) easily at most nurseries and gardening supply stores. There are also plenty of ways to make your own seed trays at home simply by repurposing household items, such as egg cartons. For more ideas, check out the videos linked at the end of this article.
Don’t Forget Labels, or You Won’t Know Which Seedlings are Which
Labels can be purchased cheaply or made from scratch paper and tape. It’s all about your desired style and presentation. Trust us, label everything. You will not remember what tomato variety you planted in each cell.
Though growers can have plenty of success with seed starting without the assistance of a timer, the benefits of working with a simple, inexpensive kitchen timer can be a very helpful tool. Seedlings need 12 to 14 hours of light exposure per day. A timer is an easy way to help you keep track of that time without falling prey to human error and the unreliable internal clock that so many of us need to have checked out. A simple cell phone alarm would also do the trick.
Seed Starter Mix
Seed starter mixes can be purchased commercially, or you can just mix the materials yourself and save a little money. There is a wide array of differing opinions available about the perfect seed starter soil, but the simple mixture of equal parts peat moss and vermiculite is what greenhouse seed-starting experts recommend.
Peat moss and vermiculite are the perfect pair because they are cheap, lightweight, and easy to mix together in a 50/50 mix. Seed germination requires a combination of direct sunlight or artificial light exposure and heat. That combo, when paired with a soil mix that has a bunch of organic content, is a recipe for mold, and other bacterial issues, but without the organic content, the two materials work flawlessly. Peat moss helps to keep your soil aerated which improves drainage. Vermiculite improves water retention by absorbing moisture and helps to keep the moisture level evenly balanced in the soil mix.
Most mixes that are recommended by gardening sites also contain organic matter, such as compost in the seed starting soil recipes. This can cause some problems with bacteria and mold that you can avoid by leaving out the organics. Instead, feed the soil by adding some heavily diluted balanced liquid fertilizer (an organic fertilizer made from fish and kelp is recommended to help provide plenty of nutrients to the soil) to the water supply before watering your plants.
Seeds are naturally equipped with a layer of starch which will work to nourish them through the early stages of development. After that, most plants benefit from food (fertilizer) boosts around twice per month.
You can purchase seeds in a store or online, get them as gifts, or save preserve heirloom or hybrid seeds from the previous year’s plants. Saving seeds for germination is a pretty simple process once you know what you are doing. Just add a little water to dampen a paper towel and sprinkle some seeds over it. Then fold the paper towel into quarters and place in a plastic baggie. Put the baggie on a windowsill that gets afternoon sun and allow 7-10 days for the seeds to begin pre-germination. Some seeds need extended germination periods and others can just be sown directly into the soil. Collect seeds throughout the year to prepare for the coming winter.
Fertilizer Want to Learn More About Starting Seeds Indoors?
This insightful video brings to light 5 innovative ideas to make your indoor growing setup more professional:
Check out this cheap and easy DIY tutorial for making your own indoor grow light system that is perfect for seed starting:
This in-depth and comprehensive guide to seed starting indoor basics from YouTube user Epic Gardening, is really helpful to anyone getting started at growing plants from seed:
This lengthy but valuable video provides a full indoor seed starting setup guide that is cheap and easy to put together at home by yourself:
Click the following link to learn 10 ideas for making your own seed starting trays out of household items: