Start your garden from seed indoors using a few basic materials and some time. Not only does it increase the variety of plants to choose from, but it also allows you to grow strong and healthy plants.
I grew up surrounded by women who, come spring, had their hands in the dirt planting… Planting the vegetable garden, flowers, fruit plants, and the crop fields along with the men. So since I was little I’ve been right there too, dropping seeds in the furrow and weeding the same rows all summer. However, never in my life had I actually started my own seeds besides the ones you direct sow outside. I’d never actually started seeds indoors. So when it came time for me to have my own garden as an adult, I cringed at dropping $3.00-$4.00 at the local greenhouse for just one plant! I inherited a rich frugality from my father with still a sense to spend money where it matters…
So… there I was with solo cups left over from our wedding the year before, a ton of seeds I ordered online from various heirloom companies, a few black trays, some potting soil, a few grow lights and clamp light fixtures, and a heat mat…. Basically, I tried to make everything but the seeds and dirt re-usable for the next year… frugality at its finest.
I had previously scoured the web for the best ways to start seeds… Jiffy peat pellets and the fancy black containers might have filled the page, but I came across a few examples using solo cups… What I liked best about using the solo cups was the ability to better manage water content of the soil and reduce the possibility of mold.
Next – soil… What was I going to do for soil…? Menards had a very large bag of All Purpose ProMix Potting Soil that said it was good for starting seeds… Check! I was more than prepared to start some seeds and maybe even fill a couple of pots for plants. (Update: after starting the seeds and watching them, I feel this potting soil has been a huge part of my success. The plants look great and the soil holds water well.)
Last – heat & light… I needed something besides my best south facing window for consistent heat and light. I snagged a heat mat, some easy clamp lights, and some StonePoint LED grow bulbs… Menards was my new best friend. Could I have just bought fluorescent shop lights? Yes… but I’m a HUGE fan of LED and the ones we picked up were reasonably priced. Also, the clamp lights could be multipurpose on the farm – a perfect fit!
1. Decide your desired number of solo cups to fit in your black tray (or other tray). In mine, I could fit 15 fairly comfortably. The key part is to create holes in the bottom of the cup to allow for water absorption from the bottom. A good tip is to take a drill and drill bit, stack the cups up in 10’s, and drill one or two holes in the bottom of each cup.
2. Then, label your plants! I labeled each cup with painters’ tape as to what plant was going to be in each. Why painters tape? It’s easily removeable!
3. Next, you want to fill the cups with your choice in potting soil. Make sure that you apply some pressure to the soil so there aren’t a ton of air pockets.
4. The soil should be moist. To fulfill this requirement, I brought the tray filled with cups over to my sink, took the spray nozzle and sprayed warm water into each cup until the water started draining from the bottom. The warm water will be beneficial and is often required for seed germination.
5. Time to plant! I placed two to three seeds in each cup based on each packet’s recommended planting depth and instructions. Then followed that up by placing plastic wrap over the solo cups to create a greenhouse effect. Why two to three seeds? Well, they were essentially “back up” in case some didn’t sprout. You can always discard extra plants if needed!
6. Final step! Place the tray on the heat mat and under a grow light. I left it on the heat mat at all times until all the seeds had sprouted after which I just removed the mat. Also make sure they receive enough time with light. I turned the grow light on for around 12 hours a day directly above the seeds and sprouts. After the sprouts were all up, I removed the plastic wrap.
Some other helpful tips
- If you’re forgetful (like me), a timer for your grow lights so they turn on and off at the same time each day without you even thinking about it might be a good idea.
- Try to keep the grow light as close to the plants as you can. This helps reduce the possibility of having leggy plants which tend to not do very well…
- Make sure to keep your plants watered. By having the solo cups have holes in the bottom and all on the same mat, the plants are then watered from the bottom and you only have to add water to one container. Talk about easy! Keep the soil very moist until your plants have sprouted gained their first set of true leaves, then you can back off on watering so much! Only water them after the soil begins to get dry, but not bone dry.
- After your plants are up and sprouted, “feed” them about once every two weeks using a simple liquid fertilizer at half of the house plant rate. So, if you were supposed to use a teaspoon of fertilizer granules to one gallon of water for house plants, you would use a half teaspoon of granules to one gallon of water for seedlings. If you don’t feed your seedlings, they can get yellow leaves and become limp. However, if you feed them too much, you can “burn” them.
- To help your plants create strength and to avoid leggy-ness, run a fan directed towards them for a few minutes a day. This mimics a breeze like there would be outside!
- If you don’t want to discard your extra plants that germinated as your “back up” plants, you can transplant those sprouts into their own solo cups. Just make sure to carefully tease the roots apart. I found transplanting them just after they have their second set of leaves allows the plants to develop a root system, but not allow the roots to get extremely tangled. If you want, you can give those extra plants to friends and family!
Have you ever started your own seeds before? It has definitely helped me save money… to not only have a garden and flowers, but also with food preservation. I think its fun to see the new growth and get my hands in the dirt!