The Basics of Seed Starting

The Basics of Seed Starting

The Basics of Seed Starting 814 610 Eco Garden Systems

Seed Starting Basics: Get a Head Start on Vegetable Gardening Season

Are you licking your lips thinking of the juicy tomatoes, crisp beans, and fresh cucumbers that will be growing in your vegetable garden this year? Maybe you can nosh on them a little sooner if you try starting your own seeds indoors this year.

Our team decided to try starting seeds indoors for the first time. We have several seed starting projects in process: our Backyard Garden prototype, a downtown condo deck garden, our partners at 300 Clifton, a bed and breakfast in Minneapolis, and Concordia University in St. Paul, are starting seeds for their Eco Gardens. Our Beginner Gardener, Jessica (#BeginnerGardener), is also starting a few seeds this year. Follow our seed starting and gardening adventures on our weekly video series Thursdays With Motherto find out how our plants are growing so far.

Best seeds to start indoors:

  • Herbs
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant
  • Lettuce
  • Swiss chard
  • Cauliflower
  • Brussels sprouts

We decided to grow heirloom seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. Planning is important when starting seeds. Consult a resource, like the Farmer’s Almanac, for last frost dates so you can determine when to start seeds. Check out our seed starting planning chart below to see how we are approaching this new project—we are starting many varieties of vegetables and hoping to plant them all on May 2nd.

Seed Starting planning grid


A good potting mix or seed starting mix will work to start seeds indoors. We used some extra potting soil we had as well as soil directly from mother’s garden—it was a little frozen, but we made it work! Coffee grounds add nitrogen to the soil, so we put a tiny scoop into each cell as we planted the seeds. See our soil mixing process.


You can use anything from egg cartons to yogurt cups to toilet paper rolls to start your seeds in. If you use homemade methods, don’t forget to add holes to the bottom of the container for drainage. We used seed trays that you can purchase at any garden center. Make sure you plant a few seeds in each cell just in case some of them fail to grow; you can thin them out later.

After you plant the seeds, cover them with plastic wrap or anything that will retain moisture in the soil—many seed trays and growing kits come with a plastic cover. Once the seeds germinate (you see a sprout of green come up from the dirt) you can uncover them.


Your seeds will need a lot of light to turn into healthy plants indoors. If you have a sunny, south-facing window, that will help, but may not be enough. Try a grow light—there are many options, including inexpensive tabletop LED lights that clip onto anything. We tried an under-the-cupboard version and an LED light we clipped to the edge of a small table.

Keep the grow light 3-4” above the seedlings, and make sure you can adjust the light as the seedlings get taller. If you don’t keep the light close enough to the seedlings, they will stretch out and get leggy as they seek the light source. This makes the stem weak, and they will topple over. See what we did with our cabbage when it got too leggy.

Seed Starting in cups

Continued Care

Water: Keep the soil moist like a sponge, not saturated. You can also mist the seedlings to keep them moist.

Air: Give the seedlings good air flow. Even running a small fan near them will keep air circulating and mimic the outdoors. In our research, we found that this can help prevent them from getting leggy.

Temperature: Seedlings grow best in cooler temps, like 60s to low 70s. If it gets too warm the seedlings may get leggy.

Thinning: Remember when we told you to plant multiple seeds per cell to ensure germination? If more than one seed germinated per cell, you need to thin them out. Only one seed can grow in a cell so they don’t compete for nutrients. Once you see the second set of leaves on your seedlings, choose the healthiest seedling to keep and snip the rest. Cut them at soil level and discard. Yes, it can be tough to decide which one to let go of! But don’t try to transplant each one into separate cells; they are too delicate, and you may end up destroying all of them in the process.

Repotting: The seedlings may outgrow their containers before they are ready to be transplanted into the garden. You will know this when the roots are taking over and the foliage is taking over its neighbor. Repot in a container twice the size of the original.

Hardening off: This is an important step before transplanting the seedlings into your garden. This process helps acclimate your seedlings to outdoor life without shocking them. Place them outdoors for a few hours each day and then bring them back in. Here’s a great guide to ensure the process is gradual and doesn’t kill your seedlings.

Now get your seeds and start growing! This should be a fun and experimental process, not to mention a great activity for kids. Hopefully we all have seed starting success and a longer growing period—keep an eye out for new Thursdays With Mother episodes to get our latest seed starting tips and updates.

Tell us: Are you starting seeds indoors this year? How’s it going?

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