Starting Vegetable Seeds Indoors : Tips & Advice to Growing Healthy Seedlings

Starting Vegetable Seeds Indoors : Tips & Advice to Growing Healthy Seedlings

You want to start your own garden, but don't know where to start. It can be tricky to get started sowing your own seeds. You don't want to make any mistakes that could jeopardize your entire crop. Bucktown Seed Company is here to help. We offer an easy guide in this post on how to get started, with tips on what plants do well when started indoors. Plus, we have a wide variety of heirloom and organic seeds available so you can find the perfect fit for your garden.

Starting Seed Indoors : Cell Tray and Soil

Growing your own seedlings provides the opportunity to a larger selection of seed varieties then if you were to buy the plants from your local garden center.

Some of the types that require a longer growing season and need a head start include: tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, eggplant, cauliflower, onions, melons, and winter squash. Of course, your growing zone will determine what is best to start indoors. For example, folks in Texas will have a much longer growing season than those who live in Maine and may be able to direct sow some varieties that colder climates can not. If you don't know your growing zone and first & last average frost dates, be sure to check to out the hardiness zone map here.

Starting Seed Indoors

Sowing Seeds in Containers : Best Practices

A loose moist soil mixture that is disease free and specifically made for starting plants. It is best to use a growing soil that is sterilized, soilless or pasteurized, rather than ordinary garden soil or potting soil, as seedlings can be susceptible to soil-borne diseases.

Starting Seed Indoors : Cell Tray and Soil

Use seed-starting containers with good drainage. There are so many choices of seed starting containers. Trays, plastic pots, soil blocks, CowPots and more. The good news is that all work well to starting healthy seedlings. The most important thing to look for is containers with drainage holes in the bottom.

A complete low-analysis fertilizer. The seed starting mixture will likely contain fertilizer or compost, which will give your seedlings a great start for the first few weeks. A low-analysis fertilizer is defined as a fertilizer that contains a low percentage of nutrients, usually 30% or less. Once your seedlings develop their first true leaves, we like to use fish emulsion liquid fertilizer at 1/2 strength once per week. Avoid adding fertilizer before seedling emergence, as any salts in the liquid can diminish the seed's ability to absorb water.

Starting Seed Indoors : Alaska Fish Fertilizer

The best germination temperature. Some seeds don't mind cold and even thrive in it. And, there are those that prefer a warmer soil temperature for quicker and successful germination. It's best to refer to the back of your seed packet or on the variety's description on our vegetables collection pages. A heat mat is a great way to keep a steady, warm soil for the seeds that need a little more help sprouting. The temperature for newly germinated seedlings is usually less than what is required prior to germination.

Watering. Keeping the seeds consistently moist, but not overly saturated, is very important. Water gently with a hand mister. My preferred method is through bottom-watering. Simply fill the bottom of the leak-proof tray with about 1/4-1/2" of water. The water will be absorbed through the hole in the bottom of your container keeping them just moist at all times.

Creating a mini greenhouse. I like to use a plastic humidity dome over the trays but there are many other options to use. Plastic cling wrap, a sheet of glass or an inverted tray all will work great. This mini greenhouse will serve two purposes. Raise and maintain temperatures as well as keeping moisture levels consistent. The cover should be removed shortly after the seedlings develop their true leaves.

Starting Seed Indoors : Cell Tray wiith Dome

Light. After seed germination, seedlings will do their best with 12 to 16 hours of light a day. Move your seedlings to a sunny window and protect them from cold drafts at night time. If you don't have a good space for your seedlings, rig up a fluorescent shop light about 3" inches above the tops of your plants. This has been my preferred method where I keep the light on a analog timer.

Bumping up your seedlings. After the tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, broccoli have a few sets of true leaves, transplant into a 4" pot. The stems, leaves and roots of the plants grow super quick. Giving them more space, prevents the roots from becoming squeezed and will produce thicker sturdier stems. Seedlings have two types of leaves. Cotyledons and true leaves. Cotyledons are the first to appear and we call these seed leaves. After this, the first true leaves appear and develop above the cotyledons. Never handle a seedling by the stem. It's best to cradle the root ball in your hand and steady by holding a leaf when transplanting.

Lets get down to the step by step process. You can do this!

1. Mix your seed-starting soil with warm water in an empty container and completely fill your cells with soil.

Starting Seed Indoors : Filling containers with soil

2. Press gently but firmly in each container to ensure that soil is filled to the bottom.

Starting Seed Indoors : Pressing in soil with fingers

3. Sow 2-3 seeds in each cell and cover lightly with soil.

Starting Seed Indoors : Covering seeds with soil

4. Mist the soil with a hand sprayer. If you're bottom-watering, fill the bottom of your watertight tray with about 1/2" of water. Make sure to never let the mix dry out.

5. Label the different varieties with craft sticks.

Starting Seed Indoors : Craft stick seed labeling

5. Cover with the container with a plastic dome, plastic wrap or other covering to create a mini greenhouse. Place atop a radiator, refrigerator, or better yet a heat mat. A soil thermometer can help monitor soil temperatures, but isn't necessary for success.

Starting Seed Indoors : Cell Tray with Dome

6. Once seedlings have germinated they will do best with 12-16 hours of light. Remove your dome and move to a sunny window or place your setup under a fluorescent shop light.

7. Fertilize once a week at 1/2 strength with an organic fertilizer.

8. Move any seedlings to a 4" pot that will benefit from the extra space. Read the note above labeled "Bumping your Seedlings" for more info.

9. Transplant to the outside when the conditions are right. Check the specification for each variety. Generally, you'll be looking at 1-3 weeks after your average last frost date.

Be sure to check out all of our Vegetable seeds here. We wish you a bountiful harvest this year!


Terry Williams
Terry Williams

Your tips on starting a veggie garden was easy to follow and very informative


Thank you for the tips! I have always had plants but this is my first attempted ‘garden’.

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