Updated: Mar 30, 2020
Indoor seed starting is not difficult. A few simple 'tools' are all that are needed.
When I first began starting seeds indoors almost 30 years ago, there was no internet, just the information printed on the back of the seed package. In hindsight, I wonder if there had been an internet all those years ago, would I be starting 20,000+ seedlings a year today?
The internet with its wealth of information is truly a marvelous thing. But when you're clueless about a topic and trying to learn, TOO much (often conflicting) information causes stress and so many more questions that you simply just stop before you even get started. So why did I tell you about my beginnings? To make my point. I didn't know diddly-squat about starting seeds. I had the desire, so I bought some seeds, I read the package (or not) and then I JUST DID IT. No complicated directions. No fancy terminology. Nothing. I just put the seed in the soil and waited. And this is what I want you to do.
NECESSARY TOOLS / EQUIPMENT
Below is a list of the absolute minimum 'tools' you will need to begin starting any type of seed. Are there other items that can be added to this list? Yes, of course. But again, my aim is to keep this as simple as possible, and yet ensure you success. I will go through each of the listed items, and why they are necessary.
LIGHT(S) / TIMER
I'm an organic gardener. No, I am a purist. That said, I do not seek out 'organic' certified seed. There, I said it. I won't go into details about why I don't here, but in large part it has to do with my belief that the USDA's organic certification program is a crock of schitt. Did you know that under this program, growers are legally allowed to apply hundred's of known carcinogens and really nasty chemicals/pesticides? They are allowed to apply chemicals and pesticides that carry the same universally recognized MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) symbol as Ty-D-Bowl® toilet cleaner - the skull and cross bones. Take a minute to let this soak in...
Ok, now that my rant is over, let me tell you that in a nutshell, it is HOW WE GROW OUR FOOD THAT COUNTS. Simply don't use chemicals and don't use pesticides and you've already won.
NOTE: This is a list of 'Karen approved' seed companies. PS - if you know of one that I left off, add a comment and I'll get them added.
Technically, soil-LESS. Commercial seed-starting/potting soils/container soils actually have no soil in them at all but are usually a mix of sphagnum peat moss, perlite and /or vermiculite and some type of wetting agent. There are a lot of brands to choose from and they are all readily available. Which you choose, it up to you. What you DO NOT want to use is your garden soil. Below are some pictures just for reference. Again, which you choose is up to you. Don't get hung up on which is 'best'.
3. CONTAINERS (what you'll grow your seeds in)
Technically, anything which holds soil is applicable. Commercial seed starting trays are readily available and re-usable for many seasons. I myself have re-purposed all sorts of plastic containers over the years to start seeds in. When choosing, remember that seedlings do not require much depth, so keep this is mind. My favorites have included 'to-go' salad containers, aluminum trays with the clear lids (think lasagna), clam shell containers from berries or cherry tomatoes... you get the idea. Pictures for reference.
NOTE: Observe that all of the containers I have pictured also have clear domes. The domes are incredibly convenient, but not mandatory as you can use plastic wrap, if necessary. The purpose of the domes is to retain humidity - a necessary component for germination.
4. LIGHTS / TIMER
Lighting is crucial. The TYPE of lighting is NOT. For decades I used standard 4 ft. fluorescent shop lights. Today, I still use the 4 ft fixtures, but I have opted for the LED T8 bulbs. Why? Because I *like* the bright whiteness. Do they work better? I don't know (probably).
Hand in hand with the lights you will want to get a timer. Is having a timer a deal breaker? No. If you have the fastidiousness to remember to turn them on and off, then you go! I don't. LIGHTS MUST BE ON FOR 16 HOURS per day and off for 8 hours. (You're adding a timer to your list, aren't you?) Picture is for reference.
5. HEAT SOURCE
Seedlings, like babies, need to be warm. If your house, like mine, is not between 75-80 degrees F then you will need a heat source. Heat mats provide gentle bottom heat, which is crucial for starting some vegetables , notably peppers.
Commercial seedling mats are readily available (and not too costly) but I have used a regular old household heating pad with great success, too. When I was really wild and crazy, I also used a second hand electric blanket from the thrift store with great success. Note: if you do decide to use a household heating pad, or electric blanket, be sure to put a thick layer of plastic between the bottom of your seedling tray(s) and the heating element to avoid electrical shock (Think garbage bag). Pictures are for reference.
Believe it or not, a small personal size fan is a very essential 'tool'. Have you ever started seedlings and they come up fine, but then you realize that they were starting to look tall and leggy and maybe began falling over?
This happens for two reasons: Insufficient lighting and lack of air movement! Keeping a small fan directed at the seedlings, 24/7, simulates outdoor conditions. Where you place the fan is key. The plants should ever so slightly sway. Do not replicate a hurricane!
Seedlings are genetically inclined to grow upwards (towards the sun). The constant air movement, provided by a fan (oscillating type is ideal) stimulates them to grow stronger thicker stems to avoid toppling over. Pictures for reference.
These are the tools you will need to successfully begin to start seeds (of all types) indoors. The next post will walk you through the whole procedure, step by step.