Starting Seeds Indoors

I’m a little behind due to the bronchitis but I’m getting my seed setup going on and if you are in the Seattle area you may want to do something similar to this.

You don’t need a fancy setup to start seeds but you do need a sunny window. Lacking that, you need some lights on about 16 hours a day fairly close to the top of your seedlings. You can purchase grow lights but you can also use a combination of one cool and one warm regular fluorescent bulbs and get almost the full spectrum of light in that way.

Last winter I started out using my kitchen counter and elevated my seedlings up to the light level until I had time to purchase some extra fluorescent lights.

After finally braving Home Depot I came home with two cheap fluorescent lights, some small C screw in hooks and four lengths of chain with which to lower the lights down to seedling level. Unfortunately this took up some valuable kitchen counter for several months when we have none to spare.

It’s also unfortunate that this is the best picture of that setup that I have. It wasn’t pretty but it was highly functional. And always in the way. But the tomatoes are worth it.

Ultimately I was shopping at City People’s and saw a Jump Start Plant System for around $65 and splurged for it. I want to point out that that is an Amazon affiliate link but if you find one of these at City People you would save the shipping and support a local business.

My intent was to get the seedlings off the kitchen counter but by then it was time for me to start a new crop and the kitchen seedlings were still months away from dirt so I ended up doubling my seed starting capabilities.

Earlier this winter I started a crop of indoor lettuce under the Jump Start light in the living room but once the main garden stopped needing my attention I quickly forgot about my gardening duties and never remembered to turn the light on. The salad greens grew leggy and ratty so I finally put them out in the garden to fend for themselves over winter. I’m not sure that they survived since I already had salad greens growing out there to confuse them with. Salad houseplant experiment fail.

Now that the Jump Start is free again I’m combining it with the fluorescent lights using an old particle board book shelf that’s been in the garage of this and every other house we’ve owned. Why I could not tell you. It’s gone unused for 3 houses now so I’m claiming it in the name of nutrition.

The Mom recently posted pictures of a handsome homemade seed starting shelf that I’m envious of although my setup will honestly work just as well.

My plan is to place the Jump Start on the top shelf and suspend my fluorescent lights over the lower shelves. Kitchen counter reclaimed! Well, it will be once the olives finish curing in my lovely fermenting crock.

Renee’s Garden has some nice garden plans and a timely article on starting seeds indoors if you are looking for basic seed starting information.

I have some reusable plastic flats with plastic covers that help maintain moisture until the seeds germinate and then I remove the covers and put the flats under lights but you could achieve the same thing by reusing plastic microwave or disposable aluminum food containers inside a plastic bag.

One thing that happened to me last year was the dreaded “damping off” where seedlings suddenly seem to die at the soil level and then keel over. It can happen as a result of overwatering. One trick I read about and then employed with real success is spritzing them with chammomile tea. I just used Sleepy Time straight up several rounds of watering and all except the furthest gone starts recovered.

This year I have plenty of dried chammomile flowers from the garden so no need to buy tea. And if you plant chammomile, you will also have plenty of flowers as well as volunteers. The volunteers currently are forming a lush lawn growing in any crack of my garden they could get their roots into.

If you are looking for a master seed starting schedule for the greater Seattle area let me introduce you to to my gardening mentor, The Modern Victory Garden. I’ve just linked in to her 2010 seed starting schedule which is a little bit ahead of Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades: The Complete Guide to Organic Gardening and that’s a good thing for us in Seattle. We have such a tight window to grow sub-tropical plants like tomatoes, eggplants and squash that those extra weeks can mean the difference between an abundance of ripe tomatoes and an abundance of green ones.

The Modern Victory Garden has a forum where you can post gardening questions and she patiently answers them all. She’s got some great “How-Tos” on her site and some amazing gardening series if you scroll through older posts.

I hope you take advantage of this early warm weather to get some things started and your beds ready!

8 Responses to Starting Seeds Indoors

  1. I’m always looking for more info on seed starting, so I’m particularly happy you posted this! Especially the note about dampening off – that happened to me last year with several plants, and now I have a better sense of what to do (or not do) this year.

  2. Thanks for the link. Your setup looks great! My new shelves are to expand from 2 jumpstarts I had in my very cold basement. Those will now be overflow and I have all these wonderful lights right at my fingertips. I love it! Here in New England, we don’t have a very long growing season either, so much of what we plant has to be started and babied for months. It’s worth it in the end.

  3. Thanks for the post! I have leeks in a sunny windowsill right now, and I supplement a few hours at night with a spectrum (Ott) light. I tried starting seeds 2 years ago and EVERYTHING died. I’ll have some chamomile tea on hand this time.

  4. It looks like you have a great plan and are making good use of your available supplies to make a really functional seed starting set up. I really have to expand my light system one of these days as I am constantly juggling plants around to make room for the next big group of starts!

    Thanks for the nice comments and link to my site. The Modern Victory Garden is a labor of love – as is my garden itself! :D

    P.S. We have a bookshelf in the garage that has not beeen used since we moved here and is unlikely to be used again… and yet we keep it around. Go figure.

  5. Good luck with your seeds everyone! I think I might have even sang to mine last year, I so had all my hopes and dreams wrapped up in them. And then I panicked when I lost 7 tomatoes and all my celery. I either overwatered or left them out in what was part sun to harden off and then the sun moved around and they burned so fast.

    KFG – you deserve it! I’m so tempted to buy another set of fluorescent lights since I have 4 shelves now but I’m trying not to spend any extra money given the lack of paycheck in the house. Plus I couldn’t stand it and bought my dh the new juicer. The old one is on it’s last legs. Time to rob Peter!

  6. I just stumbled upon your blog today, but I’ll definately be back. You are dooing so make interesting things. I’m fortunate to have a nice little green house to start seeds in, which works well for me.

  7. Annette, have you ever tried “winter sowing”?

    I had great success with it a few years back (when the woodchucks had not yet discovered our property…) – I winter sowed perennials, some of which (the ones that survived the chubby beasties) are still growing nicely; the foxgloves have been particularly successful. But I also winter sowed annuals with great results. All 15 tomato plants made it and I was able to harvest 175 tomatoes which is a lot, considering the poor plants were getting only six hours of direct sun per day. No disease either. No luck with peppers, though, most likely because of the lack of light.

    I should have started winter sowing a month ago but I still have time for in our area plants can’t go in the ground until Labor Day and, by then, my winter sowed seedlings will be ready. What I really like about this system is that you don’t need to babysit the sprouts/seedlings and that it produces very hardy, disease resistant plants.

    Gotta read your post on seeds. I don’t know if the seeds I have from the trading I did when I was participating in the winter sowing forum (five years ago, I think) are still viable. I think I’ll start some of them anyway but now I only want to grow veggies so I’ll have to buy/order some.

  8. LeAnn – a greenhouse would be dreamy!
    Auburn, that is interesting your tomatoes did so well. I had some volunteers come up and left a few to see how they fared compared to what I had started indoors and they were leggy, puny plants. I think you might get way more sunlight there then we do here in Seattle. We have cloud cover a LOT.

    One thing about starting seedlings indoors is that you can put, say, 5 or 10 per cell in case they don’t germinate so I never throw out old seeds. You will still have some germinate but the % germinating will go down over time.

    Good luck! I just placed a massive seed order last night for an urban farming group (about $650) which was fun. This means we can all trade and try different varieties of tomatoes, etc.

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