The SIMPLEST Method to Starting Seeds Indoors
Take a look at this picture:
Believe it or not, both of these tomato seeds were started on the same day.
Why is the one on the left growing so much less?
The tomato plants on the left have been started with the seed starting supplies and method used BEFORE creating Mind & Soil.
I wish I could say the only change was using our Worm Casting Seedling Mix, but the truth is that it's the combination of a few key variables that when working together (i.e. how much light do seeds need, how much water to seeds need to germinate, etc.) create an environment for your plant babies to thrive.
And today, I am going to share with you the EXACT seed starting supplies and methods I use for starting seeds indoors and if you follow the method I guarantee you'll have more than enough plant babies for your garden this season!
Why should I start seeds indoors instead of outdoors?
The number of reasons to be starting your seeds indoors is nearly endless:
- Ideal Temperature: For seeds to germinate, they need to be in an environment that is at least 70F. Given that Spring temperatures are much cooler than this, our seeds wouldn't germinate until much later into the Spring or early Summer - shortening our gardening season.
- Controlled Conditions: Plants are most fragile in their first two months. By starting indoors, we can control the amount of light they get, ensure they are in a microbial and nutritionally rich worm casting soil, how intense of winds (from fans) they experience, and ensure they don’t get overwatered from uncontrollable rain. These factors combined give us a higher likelihood of success.
- No pests: A baby seedling can be quite the appetizing meal for birds, slugs, or four-legged garden dwellers. Once a little further along though, they lose some of their appeal. By starting indoors, we can make sure no pests get to them until they are big and strong enough to thrive in the garden.
- Save Money: With seedlings costing $3-$20 per plant (depending on its maturity), it can become very expensive to buy a whole garden worth of seedlings. However, by starting by seed you can purchase hundreds of seeds for just a few dollars and fill up the garden for a fraction of the cost.
- Succession Planting: Not only can we start from seed indoor early in the season, but we also can in the middle of season. Rather than waiting until some vegetables (i.e. garlic, broccoli, cabbage, etc.) are harvested and pulled from the garden to begin our fall crop, we can start these seeds indoors. By doing so, we are adding 1-2 months onto our growing season by getting them started before their forever home opens up in the garden.
- Deeper plant knowledge: When you see a plant grow from seed, you begin to understand it much more deeply and intimately. This will allow you to grow it more effectively through the season, enable you to differentiate between normal growth and any issues, and ultimately set it up to yield the best results.
You'll have no shortage of seedlings if you follow our method and use the suggested seed starting supplies for starting seeds indoors!
When do I start seeds indoors?
The timing to start your seeds will depend on where you live and the corresponding growing zone. It’s super easy to figure out your growing zone and what you can start. To do this, all you need to do is:
- Google the name of your city and “Growing zone” (i.e. Toronto Growing Zone). You’ll be able to quickly see from a few results the Zone (i.e. Zone 6).
- Google your Zone and “Planting Chart” (i.e. Zone 6 Planting Chart). You’ll get an a number of results. It’s advisable to take a look at a few of them just to ensure they’re consistent and that will give you a feel for what you can be starting for your specific region!
PS - If you are located in British Columbia, West Coast Seeds has put together some great Planting Charts.
Part 1: Indoor Seed Starting Supplies
Before diving into the method used for starting seeds, let's first touch on exactly what we want to have on hand in order to successfully start seeds indoors:
- Seeds: This one should be straight forward enough - in order to have seeds germinating, well, you need seeds! Since 2016 I have been only using West Coast Seeds and all the pictures and videos of ours that you see come from using West Coast Seeds - including their beloved Sun Golds!
- Seedling Mix: Your seeds need a medium to grow in - and that's where we have been hard at work creating and refining our Worm Casting Seedling Mix. The Worm Castings and Sifted Compost add all the microbes and nutrients your plant babies need to thrive from Day 1 - which you can see from all our happy customers that have been utilizing it.
- Seed Cells/Trays: You'll need something to keep your seeds and seedling mix in place and begin to grow - this is where a seed tray and seed cells come into the picture. I personally like to use 3" Seed Cells and have 18 of them sitting in a 1020 tray.
- Grow Light: Next up, one of the most critical seed starting supplies to the success of your seedlings is going to be your Grow Light. If there is one area that you make a small investment (less than $100) - this is it. The plants need sufficient light in order to grow and one of the most common seed starting problems is the seedling being left in a window sill that does not get nearly enough light for the plant to thrive.
- Thermometer: Seeds need a warm- at least 70F/21C - and moist environment in order to successfully germinate. To ensure your Seed Starting Station is always at least 70F/21C make sure that you have a thermometer on hand.
- Turkey Baster: Uhh what? Yup - you heard me. A turkey baster. How come? I've found it to be the perfect tool for watering. It limits the amount of water you can take up at once, allows you to slowly release it, and allows you to get into the nooks and crannies between your plants as they begin to grow!
If you don't want to track down all the supplies outlined above and want them all delivered right to your door, then we got you covered. Our Indoor Seed Starting Kit has everything above packaged up for you and comes with FREE shipping!
Part 2: Indoor Seed Starting Method
With your supplies on hand, follow these 5 super simple steps to guarantee that your seeds successfully germinate and begin growing into little plant babies:
Step 1: Add Worm Casting Seedling Mix to Seed Cell.
To begin, you will want to fill your seed cells up top about 1cm from the top with our worm casting seedling mix. Ultimately, this is going to serve as the bedding for the seeds to both germinate in and establish their root system within.
Step 2: Moisten Worm Casting Seedling Mix
Using your turkey baster, you are going to gently release 1 full turkey baste of water into the seedling mix. The seeds need a moist environment to germinate so doing watering in multiple rounds ensures that it is evenly distributed throughout the worm casting seedling mix, increasing the likelihood of germination.
Gently apply 1x turkey baste of water to moisten the worm casting seedling mix
Step 3: Place 5 seeds into the seed cell & moisten
My personal preference is to start 5 seeds for each seed for each desired plant (which you would have determined in your Garden Plan). The reason we don't start just 1 seed per plant is because it puts all our eggs in that one basket per-se. Rather, by starting 5 we now have 5x chances to get one of them to germinate and successfully growing into the desired plant we want.
What's most likely the case is that you will end up having 3+ seeds germinate. In this instance, you can pinch the smaller ones off while they are in their seed cell (or once transplanted into the garden), or you can split them into multiple plants. Lastly, you can also give any extras away for free and make someone's day!
With your 5 seeds sitting on the top of the seedling mix, gently release the next full 1x turkey baste to get the seeds nice and moist. This will run through the seedling mix adding further moisture to it.
Place 5 seeds into each seed cell to increase your likelihood of germinating the desired number of plants.
Step 4: Cover & Moisten
Grab about 1 handful of worm casting seedling mix, and gently sprinkle this over top of the seedling mix until it is covered by about 1cm. You can then gently tap the sides or bottom of the seed cell for the seedling mix to level out and sit evenly across the top.
To complete the preparation add one final turkey baste of water to this top layer of worm casting seedling mix. This ensure that the top layer of seedling mix is also moist and all the water is going to run through the rest of the seed cell - expect to see some moisture coming out of the seed cell at this point.
Cover the seeds with 1cm of Worm Casting Seedling Mix and moisten it with another turkey baste of water to ensure the seeds are in a nice and moist environment.
Step 5: Place in a warm environment
With the seeds covered with worm casting seedling mix, they are all set and simply need to be placed in a warm environment in order to germinate over the coming days.
Take your thermometer and find an area in your house or apartment that is at least 70F/21C. If you don't have an area that is that warm you could consider using a heating mat or create a small enclosure with an air heater (which is what I do in my seed starting station).
Once you have moved them to this area, you just need to get light on them and keep them moist and they will successfully germinate!
How much light for starting seeds?
Speaking of light, now that they are living in your Seed Starting Station you want to ensure that they get 12-13 hours of light per day. You can go a little higher than this, but a minimum of 12hours is ideal.
To make this super easy, I utilize a timer that automatically turns the grow light on at 7:30am and off at 8:30pm.
How much water for starting seeds?
Lastly, your seedling mix is going to dry up as the days go by. Therefore, you want to apply another round of 1x turkey baste per seed cell every 2-3 days.
This will vary slightly depending on the exact temperature (i.e. if it is 78F or 72F) as well as whether or not you are using a fan (this will dry it out more quickly).
To ensure your seeds are always moist during the germination process, simply place the back of your hand on the top of the seedling mix. If it is wet to the touch then the seeds just a bit lower down would still be wet. If it is dry to the touch and looks more like a milk chocolate than a dark chocolate, this is a sign that it is drying up and is ready for its next turkey baste of water!
Q: How many seeds should I start?
My personal philosophy is to start 5 seeds for each desired plant. So if you want to have 2x Zucchini plants, I would start 10 Zucchini seeds. This increases the likelihood of getting the desired number germinated and with any extras you can give these to friends and family as the season approaches!
Q: What temperature for starting seeds?
I have done multiple experiments where different temperatures have been utilized (50F, 60F, 70F, 80F) and the germination rate significantly diminishes when you go below 70F. Therefore, ensure your space is at least 70F.
I haven't noticed significant differences between 70F and 80F so don't worry too much about getting it above that 80F mark.
Q: Mould on soil when starting seeds?
It's not terribly uncommon to see a little bit of mold or fungus on the top of your seedling mix. Why? Because we are using organic matter (worm castings and compost) that is actively decaying and as it does so, freeing up nutrients. As such, I don't get too concerned when I see a little bit of white or green fluff/mould (take a look in your compost pile next time and you'll see huge networks of it!).
To decrease it showing up, you want to decrease the humidity in your seed starting area. The best way to do this is with air flow which can be accomplished with a small fan gently blowing air through the air. Additionally, that bit of airflow will simulate wind and toughen up your plant babies for the big scary outdoors.
Q: What is damping off?
If the mould and fungus gets out of control, you can run into the issue of damping off - which is the plant ultimately dying to the fungus or mould. However, in the thousands of seeds I have started I have never experienced this issue. A big reason behind this is because of the turkey baster and limiting the amount of moisture going into the mix and spreading out the watering days to every 2-3.
If you have followed the steps above the likelihood of damping off will be very low.