DIY Seed Starting

For years as a gardener, I was intimidated by specialized and expensive equipment and always bought my plant starts but have realized how limiting and also expensive this can become; these days I am thrilled to be a part of the entire process of starting, growing and harvesting. You can save money, share the abundance of extra plants, and start unique varieties that are hard to find. In this short article, I would like to share my own home setup and some tips, resources, and related videos I have come across to help get folks started on this path of abundance.

Tips & Supplies for starting Healthy Plants

Seeds – So many types & varieties to choose from, check out some where local or search online. I recommend Seed Savers Exchange, High Mowing, Territorial Seeds, & Johnny’s Seeds


Soil – One area I don’t recommend cutting corners or being cheap – the mix should be nutritious to give your plants a great start they deserve and also help prevent disease. I am using a store bought organic mix of peat, perlite, vermiculite, & slow release fertilizer – Coconut Coir can also be used as an alternative to Peat .


Containers – Try and get creative before you buy anything new. People throw out or recycle all sorts of containers that could be used for starting seeds like cups, bottles, egg cartons, paper pots. Also give your local nursery or friends a call, they may have older plastic trays/pots for free. If you want to get advanced, you can get a soil block maker – soil blocks can help prevent transplant shock.


Water – Get soil moist before you fill your containers and plant (consistency of oatmeal). For doing it indoors, using a big plastic bag or tub can work great to mix things up. To keep things moist, I like to use a heavy duty paper towel (blue shop towels) I lay over the soil and keep moist until the seeds start to lift the towel from germination – as mentioned before this will only work with seeds that need darkness for germination so check your seed packet for more info. Mist soil when it becomes dry or if you’re using a planting tray or container with holes like mine you can dip into a larger container of water and bottom-water by soaking for a brief amount of time.

Heat – Find a warm spot to help speed up & increase germination (not too warm that the soil dries out quickly). I have mine setup near a radiator that I occasionally turn on. You can also buy/borrow heat mats or even try using rope lights coiled up under your trays – there are many paths to a similar destination.


Light – Some seeds need dark germination, some need light – be sure to check your specific seeds. Once germinated, 4ft Fluorescent Shoplights from your average hardware store can work great for a light source, just make sure you get 40watt ‘Full Spectrum’ light tubes – these aren’t high energy using lights. To use even less energy you can always pay a bit more and get LED lights. When you hang the lights up, shoot for being  1-2″ above the growing seedlings to ensure they get enough light – even better if you can find a sunny place during the day – I have large south facing windows so I don’t need light as much during the day. The amount of light per day depends on the plant, so look up specific info on what you are growing. When they start to get ‘leggy’ (tall & weak) it’s an indicator they aren’t getting enough. Using an automatic timer can also help you keep track, though not necessary.

Air – Once germinated, small fan or an open window with a breeze helps the plants grow stronger and can also help prevent dampening off rotting issues.

Shelf – Utility shelf works great, otherwise a good place you can hang your lights is all you need.


For more resources, videos, & tips see links below & sign up for our Newsletter. Stay tuned for the next steps – including hardening off and transplanting. Happy Germinating!


Here is a great video from the show Growing a Greener World that explains things quite thoroughly from basics to more advanced techniques:

Starting from Seed (Episode 605)

For seed starting supplies, I recommend shopping at a local owned nursery/garden store if possible – here are some options if you’re in the Twin Cities area:

Twin Cities Seed & MaterialsMother Earth Gardens, Eggplant Urban Farm Supply

Seed Starting Supplies Online

More detailed information about starting seeds from these sites:

Seed Starting Schedule

Simple & Frugal Seed Starting

Cheap Tricks for Staring Seeds


Posted in DIY