Start Seeds Indoors for Spring Gardens

March 26th, 2018 · 34 mins 54 secs

About this Episode

Welcome to Spring 2018!  Believe it or not considering it was snowing on the first day of Spring. It is only a matter of time before we can get into the yard and get into the garden.  Before you can do that, you need to plant seeds and grow some seedlings!  In this post and episode of the Small Scale Life Podcast, I am going to discuss setting up an indoor gardening area and starting seeds indoors for spring gardens.

Have you planted seeds yet?  I did on St. Patrick’s Day, and I have some great news to share with you about that!

Introduction – How to Start Seeds Indoors for Spring Gardens

If you have been following along over the past few weeks, we have been going through the general process for preparing for the 2018 Gardening Season.  We have done the following steps so far:

  • Developed a garden plan – Developed a list of plants we want to grow)
  • Ordered your seeds – Selected a reputable seed vendor and purchased seeds for our garden.

While there are many seed vendors out there, I focused on four big vendors that members of the Small Scale Life Facebook Group and MN-WI Regenerative Agriculture Group use most often.
Finally!  It is the moment of truth!  It is time to stop thinking and start doing!  I grabbed my seeds and some soil and got ready to get down to business….

Not so fast!

Before I could start planting seeds, I had to some additional planning and prep work.

Setting up the Indoor Growing Area

Part of my planning and preparation work was to select an area in the house to grow seedlings.  In our previous house in St. Louis Park, I grew seedlings on two shelves in a cold and dark basement.  I discussed how I started seeds and some lessons learned after have some failures over the past few years in the following articles (on smallscalelife.com):

  • How to Garden Indoores
  • 8 Steps to Starting Plants Indoors
  • Lessons Learned from Growing Indoors
  • Four Lessons Learned from Starting Seeds

For the 2018 Gardening Season, I had to find a new space to plant seeds and grow seedlings.  While I knew I would be regulated to the basement, it was a much different situation in this house in Minneapolis.  The basement is not as warm as the upper level, but it isn’t as brutally cold and dark as the St. Louis Park house.  I attribute that to the fact that half of the basement is insulated and finished, and that does help retain the heat!  Having more heat retained in the basement should help with germination, and I am hoping that having a warmer basement reduces the potential for damping off disease!

I had to select my indoor growing area, and it really came down to three choices: the built-in near the television, the bar area or the workbench near the furnace.  I would not be able to use a shelf in this house simply because we have gear and things on all of our shelves.  We just do not have the extra shelf space!

The biggest concern I had as I was evaluating each location was the availability of power (for grow lights, heating pads and a timer) and the impact on other basement users (like my son and wife Julie).  Each spot had power, so really it came down to finding a spot that would be out of the way and not bother anyone.

The best spot was the workbench near the furnace.  While losing the workbench for potential projects is not ideal, it is important to remember that I would only need part of the workbench until mid-May.  What could possibly go wrong?  Besides, if we needed to use the workbench, everything can be moved quickly. Of course, that might mean that the trays go on top of the freezer, but I would only use it temporarily (I promise, Jules).

The workbench is 27 inches wide, and that easily beats the narrow 18-1/2 inches on the St. Louis Park shelves.  In case you are wondering: yes, in this case, size does matter!  The extra width easily accommodates both seed trays in a side-by-side configuration on the workbench. On the shelves, I had to use scrap pieces of plywood to get over the lip of the shelf to get the trays to sit side-by-side.  This is much, much better!

Equipment Needed

Part of getting your equipment might include buying soil and seeds - March 2018
With seeds in my hand and a growing area selected, it was time to get my “equipment” out of storage in order to start seeds indoors.  My equipment consistec of the following:

  • Seed trays
  • 9x9 plug flats (or cells, as I like to call them)
  • 5 gallon bucket or kitty litter bin (to hold the soil)
  • Pro-Mix soil
  • Heating pads
  • Grow lights
  • Timer
  • Surge Protector
  • Jumbo popsicle sticks or other labels for your seeds

Most of these materials had been in storage for the winter.  I had to rummage around the garage to find what I needed, and then I realized that I had thrown away my 9x9 plug flats last season!  I had used these plug flats for a three seasons, and they were showing some age, wear and literal tears.  I wanted to get new plug flats, so I got rid of them.

I went to the big box store and found that they did not have the 9x9 plug flats anymore.  I decided to pick up two McKenzie Pro-Hex Plug Flats instead.  They were relatively inexpensive: $5 per kit included a plug flat (72 plugs, tray and acrylic dome).  I would later throw away both of the domes (I feel they encourage damping off disease).

On the same trip, I also picked up the Pro-Mix soil.  While I did pick up a package of Coir for the 2018 Soil Challenge, I wanted to have a more controlled experiment using smaller plug flats.  I also wanted the 2018 Soil Challenge to focus on the best soil for growing greens.  More on my thoughts and how I am going to conduct the 2018 Soil Challenge in a separate post!

Armed with all of this gear and the seeds, NOW it was time to plant!

Start Seeds Indoors: Time to Plant!

Plug trays are loaded! St. Patrick's Day 2018
As I discussed in my Garden Plan, I want to plant at four distinct times this year.  I called these times “Stages.”  The first stage is early spring, right when the soil is starting to warm up.  There are plants that do well in those conditions, and I want to have a crop ready to put in the beds to take advantage of the season.  Plants that do well in the Early Spring Stage (when there are some cold nights) are: lettuce, spinach, Swiss Chard and green onions.  I added one more to my Early Season Stage: broccoli.  Most of these plants are quick-growing, and I decided to hold off from planting them on St. Patrick’s Day because I wanted to get the Late Spring Stage plants started.

The Late Spring Stage plants are the vegetables and herbs that will be in the ground in mid-May and grow until late August.  These are the tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, green beans, zucchini, squash and herbs that are listed on my plan.  Because some of these plants take 80 days or more to for fruit to be ready, I wanted to get them started as soon as possible.  For other plants such as zucchini, squash, potatoes, green beans and cucumbers on the list, I will sow them directly into the beds or planters in May.  The real critical ones are the tomatoes, peppers and herbs, so that is where I wanted to begin.

On a beautiful St. Patrick’s Day, I poured a drink, put on some music and started planting seeds in my new plug flats.  I had so much fun getting my hands in the dirt and planting over 144 vegetables and herbs on my potting table outside!  It was fantastic!  All in all, I planted the following:

  • Cherry Tomatoes (2 rows) – planted with seed I saved
  • San Marzano Tomatoes (3 rows)
  • Opalka Roma Tomatoes (2 rows)
  • Jalapenos (2 rows) – planted with seed I saved
  • Red Bell Pepper (2 rows) – planted with seed I saved
  • Pepperoncini (1 row)
  • Banana Peppers (2 rows)
  • Sweet Bell Peppers (1 row)
  • Yellow Bell Peppers (2 rows) – planted with seed I saved
  • Orange Bell Peppers (2 rows) – planted with seed I saved
  • Dill (1 row) – seed I saved
  • Basil (1 row)
  • Oregano (1 row)
  • Rosemary (1 row)
  • Broccoli (1 row)

I made sure to label the rows with jumbo popsicle sticks.  With three different varieties of tomatoes and seven different varieties of peppers planted, I did not want to make a mistake this year!

Finally, I brought the trays inside, put them on the heating pads and added water to the trays.  I figured I had 7 days before I had to hook up the grow lights, so I started working on a system to support the lights when needed. Again, it does not need to be expensive, sophisticated or fancy; it just needs to work! I have something almost ready for prime time, but I figured I wouldn’t need the lights for a few more days, right?

Putting It All Together

It is time to get planting those seeds for your 2018 garden!  You don’t have to have the most sophisticated equipment or a greenhouse start seeds indoors.  If you are overwhelmed with this whole process, you can buy plants from the big box store, from a greenhouse, or from a friend, but it isn’t that hard if you break it down into the following steps:

  1. Developed a garden plan
  2. Purchase Seeds from a Reputable Vendor
  3. Purchase Some Equipment (i.e., soil, grow lights, timer, heating pads and trays)
  4. Put the soil in the tray and put the seeds in the soil
  5. Label everything
  6. Add water to the tray
  7. Put the trays under the grow lights and on the heating pads
  8. Wait!

Now, you see Number 8 above?  Tom Petty was correct when he sang, “The waiting is the hardest part.”  However, if you do all of these steps right, you DO NOT have to wait long….

I went downstairs after dinner and looked at the seedlings. I was shocked:

After 4 days, I have seedlings! 

Tomatoes, basil and broccoli have punched through the soil. I guess there is something to this starting seeds indoor thing!

This is great!  Of course, I need to finish the light system as soon as possible (which is now complete and operational), but I am very excited for this season.  It should be a great year!