Starting Seeds

A simple 'How To' for seed and garden beginners (who may feel a bit intimidated) - based on what I've learned from my mama as a kid and by doing it myself for the last 13 years.


3/19/20223 min read

The adage about having a 'green thumb' is bunk.

Anyone can be good with plants - some people just have to try a little harder than others or do a bit of research when things go pear-shaped. However, if you really enjoy it - gardening, plants, getting your hands in the dirt - then that part tends to be fun anyway.

Here's what you need:

  • Seeds (or seedlings if you choose to go that route)

  • Soil

  • Container

  • Fertilizer or compost (come varieties like pumpkins and tomatoes are what are called "heavy feeders" meaning they take a lot from the soil to be healthy and need a lot replenished a couple times during the season).

  • And of course, water and sunshine

Some minimal research is usually required (even if all you do is read the directions that sometimes comes with seeds). For example, if you want to grow squash, but don't have a lot of space, you'll need to come up with a work around for the meandering vines, but the roots themselves don't need a lot of space, just a lot of compost. Contrarily, tomatoes don't need a lot of space for plants, but all indeterminate varieties need to be staked, trellised, or given some kind of support as they become heavy with fruit - and they need depth. A neat little fact about tomatoes is they will put out more roots along any part of their stalk that is below the dirt - so the deeper you plant them, the more root growth you can give them.

I am lucky enough to have ~3000 square feet of dedicated garden in my backyard...and let me tell you, I still run out of room for everything I want to grow and end up with misfit plants littering my back deck in containers most of the season! :D But I didn't always have this, and even when I had an apartment with a tiny 25 square foot deck, I grew a handful of herbs, and a tomato or two in pots. It can be done and done well!

To give you an idea of how to get started, here's what I do...

  • I get out my seed containers, large or small doesn't matter but try to only plant 1-2 seeds in each of the small squares or else you'll have trouble separating their roots later and may risk damaging them.

  • Then I lay out my seed packets that I plan to plant, and grab a big bowl to mix some water in with my seedling soil (I've tried several brands, but have had the best luck with Espoma Organic Seed Starter and have never needed to add fertilizer - the higher the percentage of sphagnum peat moss the better the moisture control will be to keep soil and seedlings from molding). **You can absolutely plant them dry and water afterward, I've just had better luck starting with slightly wet soil as it doesn't disturb the seed with the force of the water over it later.

  • I then lightly pack it into the squares and using a dibble or backside of a pen I make a little 1/4" hole, drop the seed in and lightly cover.

  • Find them a quiet place where you can check their moisture level often but are unlikely to be disturbed by anyone (kids and pets especially)!

Tips & Tricks:

  • Seed trays typically come with clear covers, these will help with humidity, warmth and moisture regulation, but you don't have to use them.

  • In warmer climates, when the overnight temperature remains above 50 degrees, it would be safe to start your seedlings in a small greenhouse (you can frequently find these second hand for $20-$30 or on sale new for $40-$50. There are also several ways to build your own and there are tutorials for this all over the internet and social media.

  • In cooler climates (even temperate once like the PNW where temps struggle to be above 40 at night until well past seed time) I recommend using seed warming pads under your seed trays wherever you choose to keep them while they germinate.

  • Most seeds do not need light to germinate (unless it specifically says they do) so your seed location does not need to be well lit until your seedlings have sprouted leaves above the dirt - then they will need to be placed near a window or under a grow light until moved outside.

small tomato seedlings in their pots
small tomato seedlings in their pots
kitchen table with dirt and seeds and labels
kitchen table with dirt and seeds and labels
garden table with seedlings
garden table with seedlings