How to Grow Vegetables & Flowers from Seed.

Congratulations! You’re here, I’m so excited for you! That means you’re ready to up your gardening game by starting your own seeds. It’s easy, you’ve got this. Here’s how to do it.

Woman in jeans and rubber boots standing outdoors holding white tray with a row of potted seedlings on themSkip right to the instructions.
Want to know how to grow vegetables from seed?  Well. It’s very complicated.  You stick them in dirt and wait.   Yes. You too can have a homegrown tomato to slice into this summer if you just have a seed and some soil.

As you may know (you definitely know) I started out growing vegetables in my front yard before I graduated to my 40′ x 40′ community garden plot. I write about vegetable growing here on my blog, in the Lee Valley newsletter and for The Old Farmer’s Almanac. 

That unfortunately doesn’t mean I know everything about gardening, it just means I’m in a constant state of anxiety realizing how much I don’t know about gardening. Just last week I threw a fit and vowed not have ANY garden because the stress of figuring out where to put the Cafe Au Lait dahlias was overwhelming. 

To contend with every season there are pests, disease, drought, weeds and whatever it is that’s eating my tomatoes in the middle of the night. I suspect giant Amazonian centipedes or vegetarian ravers. 

But the one thing that really is EASY about vegetable gardening is growing your own plants from seed.

Before I get to the instructions, if you’re looking for something REALLY fast to grow that you can eat, you can grow your own bean sprouts in 4 days. I do it all the time and it’s amazing how this kind of thing can help satisfy your green thumb and desire for fresh produce through the winter months.


How to Plant Vegetable Seeds

The super-fast rundown is this. More detailed instructions are below.

  1. Wet your soil and fill seed starting trays or pots with it.
  2. Press a seed into the top of the soil.
  3. Cover the trays with something to keep the humidity in while the seed germinates.
  4. Once sprouted, remove the humidity dome and put the plant under grow lights.
  5. Water when necessary and raise grow light heights when necessary.

That’s all there is to starting your own seeds at home. That and washing your hands a lot. But that’s something you’re going to have to get used to if you’re a gardener. No matter how careful you think you’re being, you’re GOING to end up with soil stained fingers. If you’re a sucker for a big frothy lather like I am here’s my DIY on how to make foaming hand soap.

If you live in a colder climate like I do in Southern Ontario (Zone 6), where the growing season is a bit shorter than elsewhere, you have to get a head start on your plants.  

The advantage to starting your own seedlings is you can grow varieties of vegetables you just can’t get in a nursery.

Like red fife wheat!

Karen Bertelsen holds an armful of red fife wheat grow in a community garden.

 


Growing From Seed


MATERIALS FOR GROWING SEEDS INDOORS


Soilless Mix – Seed Starting Tray Drip Tray – Humidity Dome Seeds Water Grow Lights 


SOILLESS MIX

This is a mix for planting seeds in that doesn’t contain any “soil”. It is made up of peat moss or coco coir, perlite and sometimes vermiculite and fertilizer. 

It’s the best choice for starting seeds because it has good drainage, is free of disease and it doesn’t compact. All of these things improve your seedling survival rate.

Most hardware stores carry soilless mix  but if you can’t find it or don’t want to order on line just use potting soil. Don’t sweat it. 


SEED STARTING TRAYS

Seed starting trays are flats of multi holed trays. Each hole in a tray holds a small amount of soil for starting seeds.


DRIP TRAY

The drip tray is set under the seed starting tray and catches drips and dirt.

HUMIDITY DOME

These clear covers hold in much needed moisture for the germination phase of starting seeds. They are removed as soon as the seeds sprout.



SEEDS

This seems kind of self explanatory to me, but if you insist on more information you need seeds to  plant in the soilless mix. Basic seeds are available in garden centres, online seed shops, and hardware stores in the late winter and spring.


WATER

Yep. You’re going to have to water them.


LED GROW LIGHTS

You can use anything from florescent tubes to T5 tubes to panel lights.

 


HEAT MAT

Heat mats aren’t mandatory but they’re very helpful for germinating seeds and growing on other heat loving plants like loofah or tomatoes. If you’re curious about growing loofah sponges this is how I do it.

 

If you don’t want to spend the money on or can’t find the seed tray and drip tray, all you need are a few plastic pots or even plastic cups with holes punched into the bottom and some plastic wrap.


If you want to get everything in one shot, I’ve compiled a list of everything you need on Amazon complete with 13 various seeds, a seed starting tray, heat mat, soil and plant markers, all for a total of just $77. Just click here to see my Amazon Seed Starting Shop.  You can also add in a full spectrum grow light for another $29.  


STEPS FOR GROWING SEEDS INDOORS


A palmful of soillless mix, a combination of peat, perlite and bark.

Soilless mix used for starting seedlings, not growing them on.

1. Soak the soilless mix with water.

Before you fill your containers with the soiless mix, add enough water to moisten it and mix it with your hands.  Squeeze out the water.  The perfect ratio of water to soil is when you squeeze your soil very hard and a few drips of water come out of it. 

If it streams out, your soil is too wet. If nothing comes out your soil is too dry.

A hand squeezes a palmful of sand with water streaming out of it showing too much moisture.

This is too wet.

 

2. Fill your tray with the seed starter mix.

Plant roots like a slightly compact soil. It helps to give the plant stability.  So, push the dirt into each divot with your finger so it isn’t quite so “airy”.  You may need to refill the tray with more soil after you compress it.

Filling a seed starting tray with soilless mix on a white countertop.

Plant roots like a slightly compact soil. It helps to give the plant stability.  So, push the dirt into each divot with your finger so it isn’t quite so “airy”.  You may need to refill the tray with more soil after you compress it.

Using a finger, soil is compressed a little bit into seed starting trays to provide stability to seedlings.

 

 

3.  Now it’s time to plant your seeds!

An array of seed packets held over a seed tray ready for planting.

I’m going with parsley here

Parsley seeds held in the palm of a hand.

 

Put two or three seeds in each cell. This way you’re guaranteed at least one plant will germinate.
If they all grow, just weed out the runts by cutting the stem off at soil level. Don’t pull it out, because this will disturb the soil of the other seedlings.

A close up view of tiny parsley seeds on top of soilless mix.

 

4. Cover the seeds up with soil.

A good rule of thumb is to cover the seed with the same depth of soil as the seed. (A 1 mm seed will be covered with 1mm of dirt)  

Some tiny seeds don’t even need to be covered at all. Refer to the instructions on the seed packet.

Also, once you’ve covered them, press down on the soil with your finger to make sure the top soil is touching the seed. Seeds need to be in contact with all the soil around them to germinate well.

TIP:

For especially tiny seeds like poppies or snapdragons you can  use sand  to cover the seeds. It’s finer than soil and will help keep moisture in.

Seed starting tray filled with soil and planted, ready to germinate.

 

5.  Cover your seed tray with a plastic dome.

The dome helps create heat and the necessary humidity for the seeds to germinate.  As soon as your seeds sprout, you can remove the lid.

Humidity dome being placed on seed starting tray and drip tray to help with germination.

 

If you don’t have a dome or are planting into plastic cups or pots just cover the pot with plastic wrap and secure it with a rubber band.

A plastic cup filled with soilless mix and seeds covered in plastic wrap.


**If you have a heated seed mat (propagation mat) then place your tray on the mat. The bottom heat on the soil will improve and speed up germination immensely. I HIGHLY recommend getting a seed starting  mat.**


6.  Once your seeds have sprouted REMOVE THE HUMIDITY DOME and put them under fluorescent lights.

*If you don’t have grow lights put the plants in a south facing window*

I use T5 LED lights right now on a 3 tiered seed starting stand and some just hanging from the ceiling over a workbench. They offer better light and last longer than traditional fluorescent lights. 

If I were starting from scratch I’d probably get these flat panel LED lights and build wood shelves, but the tiered grow light stands I use now are great too.

T5 grow lights over seedlings in pre true leaf stage which are known as Cotyledons.

 

Picking the Right LED Lights.

To grow most things 32 watts per square ft. of plants is MORE than enough.

For instance, if you have a 2′ x 2′ of plants, that equals 4 square feet which means you would need 120 watts of LED lights for growing.  And like I said that’s MORE than enough. That would allow you to grow actual vegetables and flowers as opposed to just seedlings.

LED Grow light Recommendations

Grow Space Wattage
   

2 sq ft (2×1)

~60

4 sq ft (2×2)

~120

6 sq ft (2×3)

~200

9 sq ft (3×3)

~300

12 sq ft (3×4)

~400

16 sq ft (4×4)

~500

20 sq ft (4×5)

~640

25 sq ft (5×5)

~800

30 sq ft (5×6)

~960

36 sq ft (6×6)

~1150

40 sq ft (6×7)

~1280

Once the seeds have sprouted, keep the tray under the lights.

TIP – LED lights should be 8-12 inches from the top of your plants, possibly more if it’s a setup with very strong lights.    T5 bulbs should be 5-6 inches from the tops of your plants.

If you don’t have grow lights, just put your tray in a sunny window but make sure to rotate the plant so it  isn’t always reaching the same way for the light..

Finally, you  have to water these things. I’m fairly certain if you can recognize most of the words in this post, you’re smart enough to realize you have to water plants.


Luffa seedling ready for transplanting on a black backdrop with loofah seeds scattered around.

7. Water your plants by putting water into the drip tray and allow the plants to soak up the water for 10 minutes. Any water left in the tray afterwards should be dumped out to prevent overwatering.

8. As your plants grow, adjust the height of your lights.  The height will depend on the type of light.  Check your light instructions.


When you’re ready, this post has all the information you need about the next step, transplanting your seedlings after they’ve formed their first set of true leaves.


And that’s really all there is to starting your own plants from seed.  

QUICK TIPS

  • Seeds don’t need light to germinate. They need heat.
  • Seeds need moisture to germinate.
  • Water from underneath.
  • Keep a fan going to prevent “damping off”.
  • Use white boards to reflect light back to plants.
  • Use a timer on your lights – seedlings need 15 hours of light unless they’re onions.
  • Run your hand across the top of your seedlings. It strengthens them.

Easy to Grow from Seed.

Beets – these seeds are actually a cluster of seeds so for every seed you plant you could get 2-3 plants.

Peas – they can be planted directly outside in April  because they like the cold but starting them inside helps improve germination and stops squirrels and mice from eating the seeds before they get a chance to start.

Squash – both winter and summer squash grow well from seed.

Tomatoes – the star of every garden, tomatoes are one of the easiest plants to start from seed.

Herbs – basil, parsley, dill, oregano, … all are great seeds to start.

Kale – I actually only like one variety of kale, Black Kale, and I grow it successfully from seed every year.

 

Now grab a seed, get some dirt and start growing your own flowers and vegetables.  I’ll give $5 to the first person who can grow a carrot big enough to replace a leg on a harvest table.

Have a question? Ask away.
 

→Follow me on Instagram where I often make a fool of myself←

 

How to Grow Vegetables & Flowers from Seed.

82 Comments

  1. Colleen says:

    Hi Karen, it looks like the grow light you suggested doesn’t ship to Ontario, and when I search Amazon.ca, that model isn’t coming up. Do you have another recommendation that can be bought in Canada? Thanks!

  2. Sabina says:

    I have an out of town wedding right in the middle of April. Should I wait and start my seeds after we get back, which would mean, after April 22nd? I feel like that would put me very far behind. The lack of a real winter this year has me thinking an early warm up, especially since we had nearly zero ice on Lake Erie this year. Last year I started my seeds at the normal time, early April, and our weather was very late warming up so it felt like I started my seed too early. Same growing zone as you Karen, just the other side of the lake.

    Gardening is not really my daughter’s thing and I cringe at the thought of leaving her in charge of my seedlings.

  3. Scout says:

    Could i start tomatoes in my aerogarden and move them outside or will that be too big of a shock for them? I only want a few plants.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Scout. You could try just starting them in the Aerogarden. I just wouldn’t try to transplant one that’s become full size in the Aerogarden. ~ karen!

  4. Ron says:

    Don’t know how I managed to miss this when last it appeared but wattage is no longer the correct unit to specifiy when calculating grow light requirements. The correct unit for specifying amount of light is the lumen. Watts are a measure of how much electrical power is required to produce a specific quantity of light (lumens). Lamp wattage required per lumen of light output varies by lamp type: incandescent, CFL, LED etc. with incandescent having the highest wattage/lumen and LED’s the least.

    Back in the day before CFL and LED lighting was an option and all lighting was incandescent using watts as a measure, although not correct, was ok because there was only one type of lamp in use. The figure of 30 watts/square foot you refer to probably corresponds to the amount of light produced by an incandescent bulb. A typical incandescent fixture produces about 15 lumens/watt so 30 watts incandescent would produce 450 lumen of light output. LED lighting labels now include lumen output and often include the required wattage of a typical incandescent bulb producing the same number of lumens.

    However, having said all this one of the most important aspects of a good grow lamp is the total colour spectrum of the light produced by the lamp which is a whole other story.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Ron. That’s not how most of these lights are sold though. They’re sold as “watts”. Regular lightbulbs have lumens on them now, but I haven’t (for whatever reason) noticed that to be the case with these grow lights. ~ karen!

  5. carla says:

    Karen,
    Loofah seeds. Meant to follow your instructions but I’ve been distracted with wedding planning for my daughter. Got as far as soaking the seeds ‘overnight’….which turned into several days. And when I looked at them again they had sprouted! The new seed sprouted, the old seed did not. I’ve put them in newspaper pots and we’ll see if they survive the first transplant.

  6. Rebekah says:

    “Once your seeds have sprouted REMOVE THE HUMIDITY DOME and…”

    What if only a few of my seeds have started? I’ve got some Asclepius incarnata growing from seed – very excited! – but some have sprouted and some haven’t. I’m worried about damping off – I killed all my heritage variety tomato plants one year because of that! So do I keep the humidity dome on until the sprouting of some? Or half of them? Or most of them? Or does it vary with the type of seed? My poor little plants!

    I admit I started my seeds a wee bit early. But oh, they are such a joyous sight when it’s miserable outside!

    • Dan says:

      I always take the humidity dome off when a few seeds have germinated so they don’t stay too damp. Usually the other seeds will go ahead and germinate within a few days but may be behind the others in growth. If the seed flats get too crowded because the first to germinate are getting too large, transplant into individual pots (I use Solo cups with holes punched in the bottoms). Once the first true leaves start showing you can start feeding with a half-strength liquid fertilizer.

      • Rebekah says:

        Hi Dan – sorry fo the delay in my response. Thanks for your advice! For 1/2 strength liquid fertilizer, does it matter if I use capillary mats for my watering? That is, I don’t water from above, but instead from a reservoir below so the mats draw up the water to the soil. Do you know if the fertilizer will still get to the plants that way?

  7. Simona says:

    I love all your posts! My seedlings are out… but they’re looking so leggy and anemic! Just tall skinny things…..Is there anything I can do? I’ve got them exposed to natural sunlight, no grow lights.

  8. Susan Schneider says:

    Hi Karen- I need help and don’t know who else to ask! So, since you posted this, I felt I could ask you without coming at you from outta the blue. I planted lacinato kale seeds in small peat pots and they grew pretty well. They are so long and leggy, though. They still are only a couple of inches tall and they have no breadth to their stems, or whatever they’re called. I don’t have growing lights, but move them around all day to keep them getting some kind of light. Then, I think I made an almost deadly error by giving them water soluble fertilizer. They almost all died, but somehow made it through that. Is there anything I can do to help them grow better? Or should I give up and get plantings from the store. I live in the US in MD and it’s been one cold spring. These seedlings I have are about 3-4 weeks old. Am I just wasting my time? Thanks for any help you can offer!

  9. Sabina says:

    I retired my seed-starting hobby a few years ago when I had to offer temporary shelter to a family member and his “stuff”. That meant my “stuff” had to find a new home which ended up being my seed-starting table in the basement…because the basement floor seeps water when it rains. Then I met the BF and gave him the shop light I was using for his shed. The family member has since moved out and my daughter took over that bedroom and turned it into a gym…so I still don’t have room for all that “stuff” on my table. This post has me green with seed-starting envy and I’m dying to throw all that stuff in a dumpster since I haven’t looked at it in three years, reclaim my light, and start some seeds!

    And Karen, on a side note, I think we need to break up. You were in my dreams this morning…something about winning a stay with you for the weekend in a house that was under total rehabilitation…and thrifting…and artwork…I think your posts are all converging on my psyche and combining into utter chaos…I need to find a pink tool belt…

  10. Jen says:

    I’ve always been told that you should have the lights as close to the plant as possible, especially in the beginning. I’m using fluorescent. Thoughts?

    • Karen says:

      That’s true. Especially with the case of fluorescent which don’t get hot enough to burn the plants and aren’t as strong as the newer ones. But you also have to remember that the lower the lights are the less width span you get out of them which reduced light available to the plants on the edge. As long as your plants don’t extend beyond the width of the fluorescent then you’re good. :) ~ karen!

  11. Mary W says:

    I still have a seed pack from your post several years ago for ‘gem ‘corn. Found it last year when cleaning out a drawer and it’s been next to the toaster since waiting for me to plant them. IF I can get these to sprout, I could anything to sprout. My biggest problem is having a place to grow them that the deer won’t eat them. I will do it this week, I will do it this week, I will.

  12. Grammy says:

    Karen has, of course, everything covered on growing from seeds, and also having children grow some things themselves. But some kids are just stubborn. I have a tip for anybody with kids who just can’t seem to interest them in helping to grow things.

    My daughter wanted nothing to do with gardening. She didn’t like dirt, or sweating, or having to actually take care of something to keep it from dying — none of it. She also had no interest in ever eating a vegetable. But two things got her interest and cooperation and made her actually want to eat things.

    I would send her out to the garden while I was making dinner and ask her to find the reddest, roundest, most perfect tomato for me. It sometimes kept her busy for up to half an hour, searching every single plant to find the coveted PERFECT thing. Same for bell peppers and a few other things. And if she picked it, she’d eat it.

    The other way to get her to try things she ordinarily thought were yucky: let her thread kabob skewers. We actually spent many pleasant hours each summer sitting together on the patio threading meat and veggies on long kabob skewers for the BBQ. She loved it when the “swords” were cooked and everyone got to slide the items off themselves.

    She’s in her late 40s now, and eats most veggies.

    • Katie C. says:

      That’s a great tip!

      My kids help me in the garden, but they still don’t want to eat anything. My favorite was my daughter who said something like, “Ew! I’m not going to eat those! They grew in dirt!!” I’m not sure where she thinks the veggies and fruits in the store grew… Hahaha.

    • Karen says:

      “She’s in her late 40s now, and eats most veggies.”, Hahahah! Well good job Grammy. ~ karen!

  13. Paula says:

    Might I add that if your house is below 50% humidity, then the plastic cover should be propped open to prevent fungal diseases but still retain some humidity. Up here in the great, white north (which is still white in some places), the heating is still on in the house and it is extremely dry.
    A heat mat is excellent to aid germination for ‘hot’ weather crops like peppers or tomatoes. Sorry, your post…gardening is my *thing*. lol

  14. Sabrina says:

    Okay my first attempt at starting seeds was kind of a sh*t show. So I am going out and getting the trays because trying to mcguyver the stuff together, while more cost effective is just not working due to the fact that everything is in different containers and different sizes and they all just can’t be together somewhere they’re kind of all over the place. But I am wondering how do you label what you’ve planted when u use the tray and can I just keep the trays once filled on my porch or do they need to be indoors. Thanks!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Sabrina. The trays and clear covers (to keep the humdity in while sprouting) really do help. Whether you can start them outside or leave them outside once started really depends on where you live and what it is you’re starting. Some seedlings do fine with (and even prefer) cold weather, others will die immediately with it.
      Example of cool weather crops are broccoli, kale, beets, lettuce, peas. Examples of warm weather crops that don’t like cool temps are tomatoes, squash, zucchini, peppers. ~ karen!

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  16. Laura says:

    Here’s a tip for planting seeds…….every time you crack an egg over the winter, crack the top off, wash and keep the rest of the shell (1/2 to 2/3 of the egg shell) In Spring, fill with planting soil and sow the seeds. You can keep them in a flat egg crate too….and just keep damp. After they have sprouted and are hardened off, just plant the whole thing….the egg shell will break down and provide much needed nutrients to the plant too.
    Also..for those of you with small spaces….Google “companion planting” for veggies. ie: grow tomatos in a big pot & plant carrots with them – they do well together. Same with radishes and lettuce – one grows ‘down’ while the other grows ‘up’.
    We live in the Okanagan area of B.C., Canada – and we have a long HOT, DRY summer. Planting in pots allows me to move things into the shade when it gets too hot and dry.

  17. Ashley Windley says:

    Just to clarify, cover the tray with the lid and place the tray in a window. And you take the lid off to spritz with water every so often? Then when they sprout, the lid is always off. I’m a newbie here! Also, can I use miracle grow garden soil to start the seedlings (that’s what I have at home right now)??

    I live in WA state and am starting some cucumber, beans, peas, carrots, lettuce, chives, bell peppers, asparagus, strawberries.. i will be transferring them into a large elevated planter once ready.. some i will be putting into their own pot. how will I know when they’re rdy to move? Time, size? A website would be helpful if you have one! It is mid august here, it’ll be warm until late october. I’m assuming some of these will die, but I’m bored, need a hobby, and didn’t want to wait until spring lol! Any advice you have would be wonderful, thanks!! Enjoy your blog!! :)

    • Karen says:

      Yes, that’s right Ashley. As soon as they sprout the lid comes off. You probably won’t need to spritz if the soil you planted it was wet enough. Condensation builds up in the tray, then drips down. You can use the miracle grow soil if you like. I always recommend soilless mix because it’s guaranteed not to have any contaminants, and it’s nice and loose for new little roots to start in. But use what you have. If you live in WA state, this really will be just an experiment because none of your little plants will make it til spring. :( What zone are you? This calendar/calculator of mine might be helpful to you … ~ karen!

  18. Karen Holt says:

    Love, Love, Love your website! Hubby and I are starting a patio garden. We have tomato plants and herbs so far. He mentioned that he wanted us to try starting plantings from seeds. Your website gave me so much information, now I have to admit I am excited to give it a try. Thanking you from beautiful Naples, Florida. Have a bountiful day!

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Karen. Starting seeds is a LOT of fun! Addictive even because you can try so many varieties of plants that just aren’t available at nurseries or the garden centres where you normally buy seedlings. I don’t think my day will be all that bountiful. There’s still a foot of snow on the ground here, lol. (NOT normal for this time of year). ~ karen!

  19. Margaret K. says:

    Bay Area, California – no problem with worms in the peppers here, but radishes get root maggots. So the only stuff my grandkids can grow when they visit in the summer is alfalfa sprouts and such.

  20. Mary says:

    THANK YOU, I have that exact same tray filled with seeds, and my Moskvich tomatoes sprouted, but the rest of my veggies haven’t yet- and I couldn’t find ANYthing telling me if I needed to cover them before, or after they sprouted. Heaven forgive my black thumb, lol- you would never know my dad was a honcho for the USDA, rest his soul, lol.

  21. Brandi says:

    I start my seeds indoors. I used to buy those recycled paper cup thingies, but I now actually save the empty toilet paper rolls. I cut them in half, leaving me with two short tubes. Snip the edges of one end of your short paper roll, then tuck them under, creating a cup. My 3 year old had a blast with me planting all our seeds. When the weather is right, just plant them, toilet paper roll and all, in your garden. That way, there’s no disrupting the roots.

  22. gayle brown says:

    i would like to know how to fertilize young seedlings, just after they come up. and at what intervals. the plants i get from the nursery is so healthy looking…thanks..gb..

  23. Eliesa says:

    So, I planted all my seeds a few weeks ago and they look ready to transplant to the beds. But then, I’m not sure what exactly they should look like… is there a size they should grow to before being transplanted – a certain number of inches? I’m planting cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelon, peas, etc. Thanks!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Eliesa – I’ll need to know where you live (what Zone) in order to determine if you can plant out yet. Transplants can be planted out at any size, but they need to be hardened off. (become gradually accustomed to their new conditions) Email me at [email protected] with your Zone and I’ll guide you from there. ~ karen!

  24. Tiffany says:

    I did this! I went out just yesterday with my free afternoon and bought squash, zucchini, roma tomatoes, serrano peppers, green onions, and bell peppers. I bought the drip tray, and the seed tray, and the cover, and the soil and was SO excited once I planted all of the seeds…
    and then I realized I have absolutely no place for these suckers to go once they get full blown. I have no garden space.
    Hopefully my boyfriend will let me plant them in his backyard. Do you think that is a good idea?

    • Karen says:

      Tiffany – Hah! I do that all the time. I get wayyy too much stuff for the space I have. Be forewarned … the bell peppers have a tendency to get wormy caterpillar things. Every pepper I grew last year got them ONE day before it was time to pick them! So sad. :( ~ karen

  25. Audrey says:

    Aaaand I suddenly want to throttle my husband. We tried starting seeds last year – we live in Cleveland so share your long winter and short growing season. Our seedlings grew, though not all of the seeds produced, but when I tried to transplant them it was a big effing fail. Most of them died. The plants didn’t survive the transplant because the soil completely fell away from them and their tiny little stems broke in my hands. And I am realizing, after reading this post, that the problem with the MANY MANY MANY seedlings we grew was twofold. 1) My husband never put a plastic cover over the trays and 2) the lights are about 2 feet above the table. *facepalm* Maybe I’ll give it a go again on my own, it’s not too late after all. I just need to find some plastic covers for our trays….

    • Karen says:

      Audrey – That’s a sad story. :( Remember the plastic only has to be over the seedlings until the germinate. Once you see them pop up out of the soil, the plastic comes off. Also, when you transplant or handle the plant in any way, use a pencil or something to support the roots, and always grab the plant by it’s “true” set of leaves. If it happens to break, the plant can always grow another set of leaves while it can’t grow another stem. Does that make sense? Good luck! – Karen

  26. Evalyn says:

    Seedling trays: I would buy six pack sized instead of those huge ones. Different seeds germinate at different rates so if you start brocolli and sunflowers in that big tray, the sunflowers will be a foot tall by the time the brocolli germinates. You need to be able to take the first sprouters out of the drip tray and leave the later ones in. It’s also easier to keep track of varieties (like three kinds of tomato plants) if you can sprout them in seperate seedling trays.

    I am so getting that block maker. Goodbye to my shed full of assorted plastic pots.

  27. Christina says:

    I would really love to plant my own veggies, but I live in a condo and don’t have any outdoor soil to call my own. Are there any yummy plants that can be grown entirely in a pot?

    • Karen says:

      Christina! There are allllll kinds of vegetables you can grow in pots! A lot of plants love pots because it keeps their roots nice and warm and compact. I’m not sure if you have a window or a balcony. Balcony is best as long as it gets 8 hrs. of sun, but even a window will sometimes produce vegetables. Plants that grow well in pots Jalapeno peppers, Tomatoes, Basil, Parsley, Lettuce, etc. etc. I’ve never tried beets or carrots in a pot, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work! The only the you have to remember about pots is they dry out faster than a traditional garden so you HAVE to remember to water them. The bigger the pot, the less you’ll have to water. Generally speaking you’ll have to water every day or every other day. Good luck! ~ karen

  28. Jules says:

    Thanks so much for this Karen- love the easy list…this is on my TO DO list for this year- I have to get better at growing veggies. Question- I know you said for the idiots- you realize you have to water..I think I OVER water???..do you really need to water every day? sorry probably a stupid question but I really want to know!
    Thanks so much!
    Jules

    • Karen says:

      Hi Jules! No, you don’t really need to water every day. It depends on the plant, the soil and the size of the container it’s in. The bigger the container, the more dirt, the longer it will stay wet. For vegetable seedings, you just need to keep them moist, not drowning in water. Just stick your finger about halfway down the soil and see if it’s damp. You know those little metal sticks with the gauge on the top? They’re for measuring soil dampness? They really work. They’re about $8 or so. If you can’t figure out if the soil is too wet or too dry get one of those. Good luck! ~ karen

  29. Kasey says:

    I really wish I had seen this sooner! I had no idea that seeding soil existed and just got regular soil. Also, when do you start using plant food on them? I bought some and have used a little, but after reading that the seeding soil has no nutrients, I’m confused about it.

    • AmyL says:

      You don’t need to use any plant food or fertilizer on the starters: a seed already contains all the food it needs to sprout and form it’s first baby leaves (I’m reaching realllly far back to 9th grade biology here: I think they’re called cotyledons). Basically, seeds have two parts: a tiny germ — which is essentially the “embryo” that will sprout — surrounded by a big nutrient “nut”, that gives it energy to sprout, form roots and the first leaves.

      After they’re sprouted, you plant the small starter block into a slighly larger pot/block that has nutrient-rich soil and let both the roots and leaves develop some more, then you harden them off (take them outside for progressively longer periods to let them get used to harsher conditions), then finally plant them in your garden. It’s not nearly as hard as it sounds!

  30. Trysha says:

    So you’re telling me I can actually do this? Mmmm…sounds like the kids and I have a project for the rest of spring break after all…

    • Karen says:

      Trysha – You DO! It’s so much fun to grow your own vegetables. Make sure you have some quick growing ones for the kids. They like instant results. As do I. Which is why I still plant radishes! ~ karen

  31. Lisa says:

    Here’s my tip: soil block makers!
    http://www.johnnyseeds.com/p-8087-medium-4-soil-blocker-4-blocks.aspx

    I used to save yogurt cups all year long for seed starting, but then I found this block maker thing. Just smoosh the damp soil in there, and eject the blocks. I put them directly in the drip tray. They don’t fall apart either if you pack the soil tight enough. And to plant them, obviously you just plunk the whole thing in the ground.

  32. Amy Schmucker says:

    Wow I thought I would never get to the end of the comments.
    Another Florida girl here. Broccoli will survive in Feb March without slugs here. But once the heat and the daily rain comes… up comes the whole plant b.c I hate those slimy worms. UGH. But my kids love the broccoli, so gotta grow it. Beans are awesome. they work really well in pots too.

    Karen, wanted to give you a heads up on a box called the Earth Box. They cost about 30 dollars. (if you buy them) but if you make them yourself you can get em about 5 dollars.
    you need…
    One large storage container (I found them for four dollars at Big Lots)
    4 inch pots that fit inside the container..set upside down. On top of the pots, place wire called hardware cloth or I call it Rat wire, (the mesh wire that has the small holes)
    The area underneathe the wire become the water reservoir. A layer of newspaper covers the hardware cloth and then fill the container with soil.
    A small PVC pipe runs along the side of the container to funnel water to the reservoir.

    In Really hot hot areas where your soil is not good, or you want veggies on your patio, or condo this is a good idea.

    I haven’t tried it yet, as our weather is perfect right now, but later in June and July, I am going to try it out.

    Ok, that is my tip for the gardeners. good luck.
    Amy In Central Flordia

  33. Denise says:

    I can’t wait to get my luffah seeds now. Perfect timing after that post. Maybe I’ll grow one pollvault size for the five bucks.
    I consider myself to have a green thumb, but have the worst time with tomatos and just gave up on them.. :( However, I would try again if I can find seeds for the “ugly tomato”. I have looked everywhere!
    Thanks again for a great post!

  34. Pam says:

    I just went out and planted more seeds. With this on my face: http://www.mariobadescu.com/Drying-Lotion and in a low-cut shirt with no bra. Basically looks like pink chalk dots on my face. Ran into the landlord who works next door. Sometimes working at home makes me forget about the boundaries between public and private attire. But it does let me plant a garden over lunch. Thanks for the inspiration Karen!

  35. Patti says:

    Okay, okay. You’re missing a pretty important vegetable here – beans! They’re super, super, SUPER easy to grow, and they’re soooooo delicious and delightful! I was told to plant them in 2 week periods, so I did – I did a row, and then two weeks later another row, and so on and so on. It meant I had great fresh beans forEVER instead of a huge batch all at once.

    I was JUST talking about gardening with my fiance last night – last year was our first attempt and this year we want to be more organized about it! A couple tips from me:

    Oregano and thyme are easy to grow but they take over an entire garden, so keep those suckers potted.

    Kale is also a super hearty green that stays alive forever and just keeps going and going and going.

    Garlic! Although I think you have to plant it in the fall or something… you just pop the cloves directly into the ground – pretty deep, and you get awesome garlic! It’s pretty cool. You can’t use dried garlic, though, it needs to be fresh. Then, the last head we ‘harvested’ we just broke into individual cloves and planted each of them. The garlic was already coming up yesterday – pooh pooh to this snow!

    • Karen says:

      Patti – You’re right! Garlic is great to grow. I’ve been growing it since I was 15! So at least a few years now. :) But because you start it in the fall, I didn’t include it in my list. Also, oregano and thyme are perennial herbs so they didn’t make my list either. I don’t pot mine because they don’t have as good a chance as living as perennials if you pot them. If they get too big in the garden you can just split them. Cut a big hunk off them and give it away. I’ve never grown Kale … and in fact just ate some last night! I’ll add Kale to my personal list. Thanks! ~ karen

    • Pam'a says:

      Speaking of herbs that take over, beware of mint! I planted chocolate mint one year, and swore at it for the next five as it spread everywhere. What the heck do you do with chocolate mint anyway, besides pinching off the odd leaf and making your friends smell it?? That thrill dies fast.

      Fun factoid: You can tell a plant is from the mint family if has square stems.

      • Karen says:

        Pam’a – You are soooooo right about the mint! Although I remember needing it for some recipe last year and thinking “Phew! Glad I happen to have some even though I pull it all out every year”. :) ~ karen

        • Alisha says:

          I have a 4 foot wide rosemary plant that I cut down to almost nothing twice a year and it just grows so rapidly I don’t know what to do with it all! I’ve given bags of it away on Craigslist! It blooms 10 or 11 months out of the year on Vancouver Island. Silly plant. I find all my veggies get fungus :( I was stoked to grow zucchini from seed last year and they were just getting big enough to pick and they turned all black. I was so sad!!

      • Sideroad40 says:

        Chocolate mint makes the BEST tea! Just hang some stems of it in ‘August’ or so until dry and crispy…store in a container to make fabulous tea (cold or hot) and impress your guests!

  36. magali says:

    I have a jalapeno plant growing right now in an Aerogarden (this ugly machine with a light where the plants grow in water. My boyfriend got it for christmas from his brother.) My mother in law in convinced no jalapenos peppers will ever grow. Tell me she is wrong. Your jalapeno plant made peppers right?

    • Karen says:

      Magali – My Jalapeno plant grew so many peppers I didn’t know what to do with them! It was insane! So yes. Once you get your plant outside into the sun it will prove your mother-in-law wrong. Honestly … you’d better learn how to pickle them or something. A great way to cook them is the BBQ on medium for about 45 minutes. They lose most of their heat but maintain their flavour. ~ karen

  37. Penny Santa-Barbara says:

    Karen I noticed your seeds are from William Dam, my favorite seed shop. Do you live close to there?
    Penny

    • Karen says:

      Penny – Yes! Within driving distance. Love William Dam seeds. That’s where I got my seedling trays actually! ~ karen

  38. Traci says:

    Hmmm…do I have to use this method if I live in Florida? Please so no, because I just planted some seeds in pots and stuck ’em outside. It’s really warm and sunny, think they’ll be ok?

    • Karen says:

      Traci – LOL, no if you live in Florida you should have a long enough growing season that you don’t need to implement the “windowsill” technique. ~ karen

    • Denise says:

      Hi, I live in south florida, sometimes I put them in the ground, sometimes in little cups out on the back porch to start. I don’t plant lots of seeds but both have worked good…..except for the durn tomatos. :D

  39. Jen says:

    Any thoughts on damping off? It usually kills most of my beautiful seedlings, just as the true leaves start to unfurl.

    • Karen says:

      Jen – If you’re having trouble, just bring your plants outside gradually. Once you’re about a week away from your setting out date put the plants outside in the sun (the sun shouldn’t be toooo strong at this point) for an hour. And make sure they’re protected rom wind. Bring em back inside. Do the same thing the next day for a couple of hours and so on until the end of the week. This should do the trick. ~ karen

    • Karen says:

      Jen – EEP! LOL, I misread your comment. Using actual “Seed starting soil” like I’ve recommended should help with this. This stuff doesn’t contain any actual “dirt” which can have fungus. Fungus is what causes damping off. Also use sterilized pots and tools. Don’t use dirty old pots from last year. Clean them well and spray them with a mixture of water and hydrogen peroxide. 10 parts water, 1 part hydrogen. Leave it for a few minutes, then rinse it off. Finally, make things the plants are overcrowded which promotes fungus and don’t over water. That should help! ~ karen

  40. kim says:

    Thanks Karen, I have been planning my first in upteen years garden. I was thinking about putting broccoli in the garden but now…..yuck!!! If I served slugs to my daughter she would never eat veggies again!!
    Kim

  41. Amie says:

    My friend gave me a paper pot press for Christmas. It’s fantastic! You roll the paper around, press the bottom, fill with dirt & your away. I leave mine on the window sill in takeaway containers. When they are ready, you can plant the whole pot. The paper naturally breaks down and the seedling doesn’t freak out about being moved. Its well worth the purchase! http://www.heaveninearth.com.au/p/360072/paper-pot-press-or-pot-maker.html

  42. cred says:

    Funny, I just planned out my veg garden tonight- now’s the time to start peppers & tomatoes for me, too (I’m also in southern Ontario)
    I also vote for mesclun mix lettuce- direct sown, cool crop makes for great mixed green salads. Can’t wait!
    A little tip for thinning our seedling runts- just snip off the smallest with scissors to avoid accidentally uprooting the seedling you want to save.

  43. Pam'a says:

    I would like to add another easy vegetable– So easy that you ought to just wait and plant it outside: LETTUCE! You don’t have to wait very long, because lettuce loves cool weather. Check with your local nursery to find out when it’s safe. Then, laugh at those expensive bags of lettuce for months to come!

    As for inside seeds, you can also use egg cartons if you don’t want to spring for seed trays. AND, your seedlings will be happiest if they sit someplace warmish. Yay spring!!!

    • Karen says:

      Pam’a – I forgot all about lettuce! Yup! Great and easy. Although lettuce is sometimes prone to aphids and other bugs. As for the egg cartons, I personally don’t use them because the cardboard actually sucks the water out of the dirt, making the plants dry out wayyyyy faster than if you put them in something plastic. Also, the shape of the egg carton isn’t deep enough for the plant to develop nice, long roots. That is all. :) ~ karen

      • Pam'a says:

        LOL… I forgot about paper egg cartons! You’re right– They sure *would* suck water. I was being all save-the-planet and talking styro or plastic ones. :)

  44. Pati says:

    Ugg I too don’t ever grow Broccoli cause of the nasty caterpillars! Nothing worse then cleaning it all and cooking it, only to just about eat one hiding in the stalk…eeww. I don’t grow carrots either as I get maggots in mine..
    Thanks for the post Karen! Wasn’t it nice playing in the dirt after a long winter! Yaaa spring!

  45. Jennifer says:

    Agree with Adrienne — perfect timing on this post. Just about to plant my square-foot garden and not a clue as to which tomato seeds to buy. ‘Sweet Baby Girl’ FTW!

    Loved this part the most: “But I’m fairly certain if you can recognize most of the words in this post, you’re smart enough to realize you have to water plants.” Gracias for the validation. :-)

  46. Adrienne Audrey says:

    This post comes at a good time. I have started the “cup” method with my herbs except I planted like 20 seeds in each 4 inch container and they all sprouted so now I have to majorly thin them out.

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