The Basics of Starting Your Own Seeds
There are some serious perks to starting your garden from seed. Learn how seeds work and how to get started.
July 27, 2020
seeds in plant beds

Photo by Josie Walker

Let’s start with the question of why someone interested in growing their own food would want to start plants from seed themselves rather than get plants from a nursery or box store. After all there is less risk, planning, and work involved in picking up plants from a garden center. Someone that is gardening for the first time might find it’s best to use established plants so that you can focus on learning about planting, maintenance, and harvesting. However, there are some serious perks to starting your garden from seed, a few of which are as follows: 

  • You’ll save money. 
    • When you do the math it’s not hard to see why starting your plants from seed is a better economical choice than buying starts. The cost you pay for a packet of seed is about what you would pay for a single plant from a nursery. There is some upfront investment to consider that we’ll discuss later. 
  • You’ll know exactly what went into your plants from the beginning. 
    • A big part of the reason many folks wish to grow their own food is to take full control over how it is grown and what ultimately ends up in their bodies.  By growing your own seeds you’re given sovereignty over all inputs and processes, so you know exactly what did and did not go into your soil and water from the start.  You might also want to control what impact your plants have on the ecosystems and communities in which they are produced.
  • It’s an amazing spiritual and emotional journey! 
    • When you start your garden from seed you get to truly experience the joy of cultivation. In different ways we all plant and care for seeds of faith, ideas, fellowships, and movements. One of the great gifts of living is to bring new life into the world by being part of the creation of something. While it is on a small scale, there is absolutely something life-giving about planting a seed, caring for it, and watching it grow. Best of all, you’ll probably end up with more seedlings than you can plant, so it’s a great opportunity to help your community by sharing with your neighbors! 

How Seeds Work

Having success in cultivating your own seeds depends to some degree on an understanding of what a seed is and what conditions it needs to grow. Luckily, seeds want to grow, it’s what they’re designed to do! When you receive a packet of seeds they will be in dormancy, basically meaning that they are alive but asleep. Seeds can stay in this state for many years, even decades, under the right conditions. Seeds will remain dormant until the environment is right for germination. Each type of seed has its own requirements, but the majority of seeds need warmth, water, and air to sprout.

Starting Indoors vs Outdoors and Timing

Each seed packet will come with instructions and recommendations for when and how to start your seeds. Some seeds do better when planted outside directly into a garden or large container while others are best started indoors. In planning when to start seeds, the most important thing to consider is your average first and last frost date, which you can find by clicking here.  For instance, tomatoes and peppers should be started indoors 6-8 weeks before your last frost date. 

Getting Started

Here’s what you’ll need to get your garden started: 

  • Containers
  • Seed Starting Mix
  • Lighting
  • Space 
  • A Plan

The following video does a great job of explaining how to start a garden and covers each of these in depth: 

Sowing and Maintenance 

  • Spacing 
    • Each type of seed will have suggestions for spacing and planting depth. Spacing is less important if you’re planning to repot your seedlings before planting outside, and a rule of thumb for depth is to plant about two times the diameter of the seed. 
  • Moisture
    • One of the keys to successful seed-starting  is just to maintain the right level of moisture. This can be tricky, as not enough moisture can kill a young seedling but too much can also kill it and create other problems. Some indications that the moisture levels are not sufficient are wilting or yellowing of the leaves or mold on the soil surface. Seedlings can be watered either from the top or the bottom.  Water can be poured into a plastic tray that the container sits in, allowing the roots to absorb water as needed. This “bottom watering” technique can work well to prevent over or under watering. Before seedlings emerge, you can use a plastic cover or Saran wrap to hold in moisture and prevent drying, but keep an eye out for mold. 
  • Light
    • If your seedlings look like they’re “reaching” for a light source, such as growing diagonally toward a window or growing very tall but skinny, it is best to move the seedlings closer to the light source if possible. If your seedling is in a window, the container once per day to help them straighten and grow stronger. 
  • Temperature
    • Most seeds should germinate in temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees F, but if you’re trying to germinate heat-loving seeds like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, or basil in a cold part of the house, use a heat mat to warm them.  
  • Fertilizer/Nutrients
    • As mentioned before, seeds already contain the nutrients they need to get a good start and adding fertilizer at the beginning could cause more harm than good.

While this is a lot of information to take in and can seem overwhelming, starting your own seeds can be an immensely satisfying step in your gardening journey. There is an initial investment of time and money, but once you get a system in place that works for you, you can reap the numerous benefits of starting plants from seed with only a few minutes of work per day. Best of all, if you save seeds from your harvest and your supplies at the end of the growing season, you can continue growing your own food at minimal cost for years to come. Starting your own seeds is a key step in achieving food sovereignty and self-determination for yourself and your community. 

Check out our DIY Series on Youtube and stay tuned for future blog posts on seeds.

Additional Resources:

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