One of the best ways to beat the winter time blues is to start your own garden seedlings indoors. Nothing screams spring like watching your garden plants germinate and grow! Starting seedlings indoors is not hard and does not need to be expensive, but there are some necessary equipment purchases you need to make to ensure success. This post follows the USU Extension fact sheet “Grow your Own Transplants at Home”. Here are a few key seed starting ‘must-haves’ to put on your gardening wish-list:
- You will need some sort of light table, light stand, or light system – you can purchase a kit or you can construct your own. A light table consists of a frame which holds up lights that can be raised or lowered (usually via a chain). If you want to construct your own (usually this is the less expensive option), here is a nice step-by-step fact sheet from University of Maryland Extension with DYI construction instructions and estimated material and operation costs.
Or, if you prefer to watch a video, Kansas State Extension has one.
- You may want to purchase one or more heat mats or germination mats to ensure even germination of your seeds. Some gardeners opt instead to place cell flats on a warm surface (like the top of the refrigerator). Heating from below will encourage seed germination and may help prevent ‘damping off’ (University of Minnesota Extension fact sheet ‘Starting Seed Indoors’).
- You will want to purchase seed starting containers, or cell flats, and a good quality seed starting mix (usually a soil-less potting mix). The seed starting mix should be labeled for use in containers or specifically for seed starting. You can find these materials at your local nursery or garden center or online under ‘seed starting equipment’. Do not forget to also purchase a tray to place under your cell flats so water from the transplant containers does not leak down onto the surface below.
- I find it really helpful to use a timer – like the one people use for Christmas tree lights. Seedlings grown indoors require 12 to 14 hours of light daily. Perhaps you are much more disciplined than me, but I find it difficult to remember to turn-on and turn-off lights for seedlings on a daily basis. A timer can be programmed to ensure that seedlings are getting the light requirements they need. Here is a warning though, make sure to check your seedlings often. Light bulbs cannot water your seedlings or raise lights so seedlings do not directly touch bulbs so do not get carried away with efficiency – check your seedlings daily!
- Lastly, I put these together because chronologically they go together, you will want some sort of a plastic dome and fertilizer. After you initially plant your seeds and water them in, you will want to place some sort of a plastic covering over them to maintain a moist environment. You can purchase or fabricate a plastic dome or put your cell flats in a plastic bag. After your seedlings have emerged, take off the plastic covering. Once they have started growing true leaves, you will want to fertilize them with a balanced fertilizer, for example, 10-10-10 or 15-15-15. If you plan to fertilize every time you water, make sure you dilute down the fertilizer so you do not add too much to your seedlings overtime. You will also, of course, need a watering can to keep the soil moisture wet, but not overly saturated. I recommend one that pours SLOWLY to avoid spills and force you to SLOW DOWN and spend the extra time, so you water your seedlings correctly.