Growing Vegetable Seedlings
Part II

There’s something very exciting about growing your own food. It makes you feel all “at one with nature” and crap. Sorry about the sailor language, Mom. But honestly … if ever there was an act to elicit swear words it’s growing your own food from a tiny little seed. Here’s how to do it.

There’s a real feeling of power that comes with growing your own favourite food. If I thought there was a way, I’d try to grow my own hot dogs. But we all know that isn’t possible. Hot dogs don’t grow on plants, they’re grown in Super Happy Magic Land. Ikea.  (if you click on the word Ikea you’ll find my post on  how to make the revered Ikea hot dog, plus my beautiful poem in honour of it.)

As you may remember, 3 weeks ago I showed you how to start your own vegetables from seed with just a few plastic cups, some seeding mix and a windowsill. In those 3 short weeks my plants became this:





{ Sweet Baby Girl }



Now that your seedlings have grown their first set of “true” leaves you can replant each of them in their own little pots.  The true leaves are the second set of leaves the plant grows.  The first set of leaves that come out are just practice leaves called the seed leaves.


How to Repot Your Seedlings

Gather up some pots.  If you’re like me, they might be dirty.


Clean with Bleach

If you’ve ever had a problem with your perfectly healthy seedlings rotting and withering away you could have damping off.  A lot of times this is caused by dirty pots or infected dirt.  Fungus in the pot or dirt takes hold of the tiny little roots and just rots the plant away.  To help avoid this clean your pots.  I spray em with a mixture of a bleach and water.  I put a couple of Tablespoons of bleach in this little spray bottle and fill it with water.  Then I soak the pots and leave them to sit for a half hour or so.



Wash with Soap

Now wash them all in hot soapy water.



Fill Pots with Dirt

Fill all your pots with new dirt.  Old dirt can have fungus with can cause damping off.  You can heat your old dirt in the oven to kill the fungus but seriously … dirt’s not that expensive.  Just buy a bag of dirt.



Pick a pot of Seedlings to separate.




Grasp the leaves.



Use a Dibber

Gardening supply stores sell things called Dibbers.  They just little pointy tools that make certain tasks easier.  I just use a pencil.  Does the same thing.  Stick your dibber into the dirt, getting it under the stem and roots of the plant and gently pry the plant up while lifting the leaves.  The plant should pull right out if the seedlings aren’t too big and tangled.  These Luffah’s were too big and tangled.



You can also very gently remove the plants from their cup.  And I mean *very* gently.  If you dump them out you’ll break all their stems and kill the plants.  Lay them down and tease their roots apart with a couple of pencils or dibbers.  Careful not to break the roots.



Lift it by the Leaves

Only and always lift your seedlings by their leaves.  Never touch the stem.   If you happen to break a leaf off, the plant can grow a new one.  If you break the stem, the plant cannot grow a new one and you will have become a plant murderer.

As you can see, growing the plants in a long cup has given the plant a good, long root system.



Create a Hole in your Dirt

Using your finger or a dibber create a hole in the dirt that goes almost to the bottom of your pot.



Drop the Plant in the Dirt.

Again, be careful.  It’s a recurring theme in transplanting seedlings.


Use your dibber to push the roots down into the dirt.


Use the dibber again to push the dirt around the roots so there aren’t any air pockets.

Ta Da!   Repotted Seedlings.

Plant your seedlings so that the dirt is at the same level it was in its original container.  An exception to this rule is the tomato plant.  You can plant a tomato plant  deep.  Right up to it’s first set of leaves.  And when you replant it outside you can do the same thing again, planting it even deeper.  This’ll give you a bigger, better root system.


The one disadvantage to repotting you seedlings is the space they take up.  These were once in 3 pots and fit nicely on a windowsill.  You only had 3 pots to drag to the kitchen sink to water.  Now … you have 10 or 12.  It’s gonna be a lot of work.  But you’re a farmer now and farmers work hard.  You must now rise with the chickens, unless you’re from the city in which case you can rise with the last drunken “Wooooooo” you hear outside your window.  Everyone else just wake up at that point in the night when you have to pee but choose to go back to sleep instead of just peeing even though it keeps you half awake for the rest of your slumber.


Imagine the magic of it all! You put a tiny seed in a hospitable environment, fertilize it, take care of it and several months later a beautiful bundle of joy appears.

I wish there was some sort of comparison I could use here but I’m drawin’ a blank. The fact that we eat it as soon as it’s mature is what’s throwing me.

Happy Gardening.


  1. Kelli Richardson says:

    Hi ~karen!

    I am a first year gardener living in zone 10a (San Diego) who has fallen, hook, line and sinker into the gardening cult. I started this season at the end of March working with a raised bed of about ~65 sqft.

    Unfortunately, I hadn’t yet discovered your comedy blog, er, gardening, chicken-raising, how-to site so I missed out on the whole dibber/pencil/chopstick tips about separating seedlings. Those cute little seedlings I picked up at the nursery with 2-3 in each little cup are now large, healthy-looking squash plants. However, I assumed (yes, I know that makes me an *ss) that since the 3 seedlings came together, they are supposed to be planted together. As you so delicately showed above, that’s not the case. Say it ain’t so, Joe!

    So now I have what I thought was going to be 2 zucchini and 2 Squash plants, going nuts. There are really 10 total plants, all in a 2.5×2.5 area! So now my dilemma is what step to take next for the groupings of 2-3 squash plants.

    1) Dig up the whole clump and use a dibber/pencil/chopstick to try and separate the three plants and then transplant them into 2 other pots or another area of the garden?

    2) Dig up the whole clump and cut away one or two of the plants and throw them on the compost pile and replant the lone survivor? It hurts just thinking about tossing healthy plants!

    3) Cut back two of the three amigos with scissors at the soil line so there is just one amigo left?

    Any wisdom to impart? Or even an educated guess would be appreciated!


    • Karen says:

      Hi kelli! Based on the amount of space you’re working in I think you’d probably be best to cut away the extras at soil level and leave the remaining to grow. :) ~ karen!

  2. Judy Emmert says:

    What?? We can have more fun and frivolity with you in TV Land.?? Please tell…

  3. Leslie says:

    I knew I could get the info on this stage of the seed to healthy plant process AND be entertained. All I had to do was go to your site instead of just thinking about it. I love this post. Thank you!

  4. Debbie says:

    Hey Karen, why do my tomato babies look like this and not like mini tomato plants?

    • Karen says:

      They’re fine. They’re just young and they aren’t getting enough light so they’re leggy (long stems). Get them somewhere with more light if you can. If not, and it’s warm enough get them outside. They’ll be fine. :) ~ karen!

  5. jtu says:

    Just to let you know, Dirt is what you get up from the floor; Soil is that in which you grow seeds and plants.

  6. Brittany says:

    I found this post via pinterest. I just bought two seedling kits and a TON (and I mean entirely too many) seeds. Your post sounds just as excited as I feel! My boyfriend grew up on a ranch so he doesn’t understand my excitement (I, on the other hand, grew up in LA and Vegas. We don’t grow things there).

    I will be sure to be VERY careful when I transplant them. *fingers crossed that they even sprout!*

    • Karen says:

      Hi Brittany! Oh … they’ll sprout. :) Keeping them alive is the hard part. They’re kind of like kids. When they’re really young they don’t take a lot of care, but once they’re hit teenagerhood, they’re a pain in the ass. Then, as they mature … easy to deal with again. :) I just planted several heritage variety tomato seeds and have, like you, a ridiculous amount of other seeds to deal with as well.

  7. Pam'a says:

    “You must now rise with the chickens, unless you’re from the city in which case you can rise with the last drunken “Wooooooo” you hear outside your window.”

    Made me all wistful about college. ::sniffle::

  8. Niki Turner says:

    Wow! Thank you for this post. I planted my seeds last week in one of those plastic containers with the tiny peat pots and clear lid. Almost everything has already sprouted, but I was clueless as to what to do next. Up until now, I’ve never been able to get past the “sprouts” stage. Hopefully this year things will be different with your instructions!
    ~ Niki

  9. Stephanie says:

    What beautiful photos! Thanks for the info. I’m hoping to plant a garden next year…maybe I’ll be adventurous and start the seedlings in the house. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Kristen says:

    I do love this post – very well illustrated about how to go about re-potting. However, what was particularly delightful was the line about peeing in the middle of the night. So unexpected, and so true!!

    Thanks for making me smile :)

  11. Lisa says:

    Alas, be VERY careful not to wash too much soil down your sink in the washing pots phase. It would be better to wash those pots in a bucket and dump it outside when they’re washed. Or you could do a post on how to take apart the trap underneath the sink, which I am expert at. :-)

    And chopsticks work great instead of pencils, because if you get distracted and use the wrong end, you’ll have a dirty eraser. Which is sad.

    • Karen says:

      Lisa – Hah! Yes if there’s a lot of dirt I dump the dirt into the garbage or outside first. These pots didn’t have much “dirt” in them. Just a tiny big stuck to the sides of a few pots. No big whoop. And yes, chopsticks are a good idea! ~ karen

  12. Susan says:

    I come from a very long line of women who simply look at plants and cause them to grow massive while I myself am a serial plant murderer.

    I don’t mean to be. I don’t want to be and hopefully with posts like these I will be reformed. Cross your fingers for me…

  13. Audrey says:

    Are we using potting soil, topsoil, more of that seeding soil or some other soil for this part of the indoor farming industry? :)

    • Karen says:

      Audrey – Excellent question! Potting soil at this point. I’m not sure why I’m even doing this because it is currently snowing in Southern Ontario. I don’t believe summer is *ever* going to actually come. I think it may have been taken hostage by winter. ~ karen

  14. Michelle says:

    Hi Karen,
    I agree with Jeanette – your pictures are great. May I ask what type of camera you use? And if you’ve ever had any photography training? I really hope you use some REALLY expensive camera – I use a crappy point n’ shoot, and my pics are, well, crappy ;)

    • Karen says:

      Michelle – Up until a year ago I’d never taken a picture. My camera (well … my boyfriends camera, which I use) is a Nikon D 40. The lens I used for the shots is the one that came w/ the camera. I took one course over the winter and I’m signed up for another one in a few weeks. You actually CAN take really great pictures with a point and shoot! You just have to read the manual and find out where all the controls for the F stops and shutter speed etc. are. It just takes longer to take a good pic. with a point and shoot because the controls are kindda hidden. ~ karen!

  15. Thanks for all the info on starting seeds – I just planted some yesterday and now I am crossing my fingers as I have tried it before without success.

    • Karen says:

      Laurel – Did you make sure to cover up the seeds with plastic or Saran Wrap or something until they germinate? ~ karen

  16. Stina says:

    Hi Karen,

    That’s funny that Jeanette commented about your photos too, b/c I was just thinking, “see, I want to take photos that look like that”! They are so crisp and clear. What kind of camera do you use? I think I need to take some lessons too!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Stina – The camera is a Nikon D-40 and the lens I used for these photos was the one that came with it. More than the camera you use, I think the lens is what creates a nice sharp picture. Plus good natural light makes all the difference in the world. ~ karen!

  17. Sherry says:

    I agree… photos are truly beautiful! Question: how did you take those when both your hands are in the picture?? You really are talented.

    • Karen says:

      Sherry – You scamp! Trying to trip me up aren’t you? Camera’s on a tripod and it has a timer. I pre-focus, hit the timer button then stick my hands in the shot! GREAT. Now all the magic is gone. ~ karen

      • Sherry says:

        Scamp! Love it! BTW, I just ordered Geek Love from Amazon. Can’t wait to get my freak on :)

  18. Laura says:

    Veggies just went up in price by 25% in 3 months. Soon we will all be saving boatloads of money thanks to you, Karen.

  19. Adrienne Audrey says:

    Your little plants are looking good!

  20. Jennifer says:

    Your photos *are* lovely! I’m rooting for the luffah. And the post — as always informative + funny. This caused me to chuckle: “Again, be careful. It’s a recurring theme in transplanting seedlings.”

    We’re a little ahead of you on the growing season here in AZ — I actually snipped my first basil for some pizza tonight.

  21. Jeanette Schnell says:

    Your photos are so nice! Those lessons are really paying off. How do you like being a One Woman Show?

    • Karen says:

      Jeanette – I love it quite frankly! I consider myself to be a bit of a creative type and well … the second any censorship comes in via a producer, director or executive … the creativity dies a little. So I’m happy I have TV land to make money and ’cause it’s fun and happy I have blog land for my creative side. I don’t know how I’d get along without it at this point. Um … if that’s what you meant about being a One Woman Show, LOL. ~ karen

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *