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  • Writer's pictureYouth Energy Squad

Seed starting 101

The instructions were sourced from homestead and and pictures are by eradajere oleita


Have you ever walked into your neighborhood store and saw seed packets for sale? Do you get the urge to go home and start a garden? Or do you feel overwhelmed with the idea? 

A lot of people find gardening intimidating and have lots of seeds in their home that they don’t use or forgot about. While starting a garden with already grown nursery plants is a great way to start, there is nothing more satisfactory than watching your seed germinate. Starting from seeds gives you more diversity and selection of varieties for your garden, along with getting a jump start on the season. On the flip, it’s understandable if indoor planting seems overwhelming, especially if this is your first time. This guide will give you the basics of starting plants from seeds. 

Seedlings: a young plant, especially one raised from seed and not from a cutting.

Germinate: of a seed or spore, begin to grow and put out shoots after a period of dormancy.


Goals:                 Grade Level: All

  • Know how to start seeds

  • Learn more about indoor growing 

  • Learn how to start your seedlings 

Supplies:                   Time: 30 min 

  • Seeds

  • Seedling containers/pots and trays

  • Seedling start medium

  • Labels

  • Bright light

  • Water

  • Heat

  • Airflow or Fan


Thing to know: 

  • Seedling Starting Pots & Trays: With time, gardeners experiment and develop a preference on the type and size of containers they use for starting seeds. Our favorites are described below. No matter what you choose, it is best if they sit inside some sort of tray that can catch any excess water runoff. Trays should be kept covered with dome lids after the seeds are planted, before sprouting. The lids help keep in moisture and warmth, assisting in germination. Some seed starting trays come with dome lids, or you can purchase them separately.

  • Seed Starting Soil or Medium: It is very important to start seeds in fresh, sterile, bagged seedling starting mix. You do not want to use straight “potting soil” or other bagged raised bed mixes. They’re often too heavy and dense for good germination. They may inhibit growth of super fine new roots, and don’t have the ideal moisture retention properties that seedlings like to thrive. Avoid using old soil from your garden! It may have diseases or pests.

  1. Insert pic here The ideal seedling mix ~ nice and fluffy, light, without large chunks or woody pieces, and no fertilizer added. 

  2.      You do not need any fertilizer in the soil that the seeds are started in! On the contrary, you want to avoid it – fertilizer can burn fragile seeds and seedlings, inhibiting or killing growth. Seeds themselves are amazing little things! They contain all of the nutrients needed to allow the seed to germinate (sprout) and grow its new baby plant for at least the first two weeks of life! We’ll talk more about feeding seedlings in the “Instructions” section below

  • Labels: You will want something that you can mark your seedling containers with, to keep track of what is what. This is helpful while starting seeds indoors, and you can also transfer those labels into the garden along with the plants at the time they’re planted out later.

  • A Light Source: Unfortunately, most times, natural sunlight through even your sunniest window isn’t enough to keep seedlings happy. This is particularly true when you are starting seeds indoors during the short-day winter months. In that case, you’re definitely going to want to provide artificial light. If it is summer or early fall, then a sunny window, greenhouse, or other natural light outside may be sufficient.Your seedlings will tell you if they’re getting enough light or not.Without adequate light, seedlings will get “leggy”. This is when they stretch out super tall and thin in search for more light. Taller seedlings do not equal healthier, better seedlings! This growth pattern will make them weak, susceptible to toppling and breaking. The shorter and stockier you can keep them, the better!

  • Water: Oh, the great debate about chlorinated or dechlorinated water, and its impact on plants. There are dozens of studies out there arguing whether or not it harms your plants. My opinion is this: chlorinated city water will not necessarily “harm” your plants. They will not turn over and die if that is the only water you have access to. My suggestion would be to use dechlorinated if possible. It could make the difference between living plants and thriving plants. We use captured rainwater for our seedlings. If using water in the kitchen, you could run it through a Brita-type carbon filter first. For outdoor hoses, we like to use these hose carbon filters.

  • Heat: If your house is cool in the winter (less than 70°F) or if you’re using an outdoor greenhouse, you’ll want to use a seedling heat mat or other method to help maintain a consistent ideal temperature while starting seeds. Optimum germination temperature is when the soil is 70-80°F, for most things.Some plants like lettuce do prefer cooler soil to germinate. Furthermore, most seeds can sprout in the 50-60s, though slower and with less success. If your house is just below 70°F and you can’t use a heat mat, find a warm place to keep your seed trays. This could include the top of a refrigerator or next to a sunny (but not cold and drafty) window.

  • Airflow, or An Oscillating Fan: Seedlings started indoors need movement to develop strength and prepare them for the great outdoors. Good air circulation also helps prevent disease, mold, and a condition called “damping off”. An easy way to do this is to provide a gentle breeze via an oscillating fan once the seedlings are a few weeks old. 

Now that you have all your supplies gathered….



  • Step 1: Get your labels ready; so you can pop them in later as you go! I like to sit down with a glass of wine the night before we are going to sow seeds, sort through seed packets, choose what we want to start, and create the labels ahead of time. You could totally switch it up and do this later.

  • Step 2: Prepare the seedling soil mix: We like to mix up an organic bagged seedling soil (about 70% of the total bulk), with just a little organic potting soil or finished compost (20%) and some worm castings (10%) in a large tote, tub, or other container that can hold it all. You’ll see why in step. *it's ok to use a bag of seeding soil just by itself 

  • Step 3: Pre-moisten your seedling start mix: It is best to sow seeds into damp  soil. Add a little water into the seedling start medium or soil, mixing as you go, until the desired consistency is reached. Aim for the consistency of a wrung out sponge – damp, but not sopping.Pre-moistening soil is good idea for many reasons:

  • It reduces the need to heavily water immediately after sowing seeds – which in turn reduces the risk of disturbing where your seeds are (e.g. pushing them too deep, or making them float to the top).

  • It also helps the soil evenly absorb water going forward. Sometimes when soil has dry spots, it can actually repel water instead of absorbing it.

  • Lastly, pre-moistening the soil can make it a tad more dense and compact from the get-go. Not that you want dense soil – but containers full of dry soil will compact and shrink way down in the container after being watered for the first time, reducing space for root growth. If you have already planted your seeds, you can’t add more soil on top of the shrunken stuff because then your seedlings would be buried too deep.

  • Step 4: Fill your seedling containers with the damp soil mix: Working with your seed starting soil in a tub makes this step really easy and less messy! You can literally just use the cups to scoop up soil, or set the 6-pack cell containers down in the tote with the soil and paddle it in on top. Do not compact it. If anything, give the containers a little shake and tap on the table surface to help it settle and fill any large voids that may be left in there. Top off as needed, but don’t press it down. Seedlings like loose and fluffy soil!

  • Step 5: Sow your seeds! To do so, follow instructions on the seed pack. The package should tell you the recommended depth for sowing. For example, it may call for ¼” deep, an inch deep, or maybe even  “surface sown” – where the seeds should be placed just on the top of the soil surface. We have found for surface-sown seeds, it is helpful to sprinkle just the tiniest bit of soil on top of them. Like literally barely any. This prevents seeds from drying out as easily than if they were fully exposed.

  • Step 6: Water: Your soil is already damp, right? So we don’t need to go crazy here. However, it is really important that the seeds and their soil don’t dry out during germination. Especially the upper portion of soil where the seeds are hangin’ out. We usually like to give them a light misting over the top of the soil with a spray bottle or gentle trigger mister. Avoid using a watering can, as the strong stream of water can disturb the soil and seeds. It is also easier to accidentally over-water using a watering can.

  • Step 7: Cover the seedling trays: It is best to cover the trays up until they’ve sprouted. This helps prevent the soil and seeds from drying out, and also helps keep warmth in. We use heavy-duty humidity domes. In a pinch you could also use plastic wrap with a couple holes poked in it, or, any extra black bottom trays you may have turned upside down on top. The seeds do not need light and can germinate in dark conditions, but be sure to check frequently and take off any non-transparent lids as soon as they sprout! Without good light right away, they’ll immediately start to get leggy. Or if using an egg carton just covering it would do. .

  • Step 8: Provide warmth: As we already discussed in the supplies section above, the optimum germination temperature is when the soil is 70-80°F, for most things. So get those trays into a nice warm spot, or turn on your seedling heat mats!

You are ready! 

Watch this video for more hands on

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