Starting Organic Seeds Indoors
Growing organic seedlings: Step-by-step instructions on how to grow an organic garden from seed using indoor fluorescent grow lights. Topics include organic seed selection, organic soil, watering, fluorescent grow lighting, indoor/outdoor containers, seed planting, seedling care, hardening-off of your seedlings, and the final step of planting your garden.
Growing organic seedlings is a great way to introduce new varieties and nutrition into your garden by applying organic gardening techniques.
Choosing the right soil for growing indoor seeds is essential to your success!
The best soil is a soil-less mix, usually made from sphagnum moss.
Unlike most potting soil, seed starting mix is poor in nutrients. The make-up of the soil particles is very fine to assist in seed to soil coverage promoting proper root growth, and most importantly seed starting soil is sterilized.
Note: Some companies will “boost” the soil with beneficial microbes, but this is done after the soil is sterilized to removal any harmful microbes, as well as unwanted seeds that may end up sprouting and competing with your new seedlings.
The growing medium for seeds should be loose, light, and retain moisture. Tiny little seeds have tiny little roots that are seeking a safe place to grow. Seed starting media provide this environment. Just remember, don’t wait too long to transplant your seedlings or they’ll lose vigor due to lack of nutrients in your seed starting soil!
My favorite advice to my gardener friends: Plant your best seeds! If they fail for whatever reason, …
…Don’t give up! There are many farmers that have heirloom seedlings for sale. It’ll cost a little more and you may not get your favorite tomato that year, but you will have a full and satisfying garden!
It’s best to use water that isn’t chlorinated.
Ways to get around this include placing a pot of water outdoors in the sun for a few days to allow the chlorine to offgas.
Watering is essential when you have seedlings. If the soil is too dry they’ll wilt. If the soil is too wet they start getting a fungal infection and die.
Lighting is where most beginners fail.
Lighting is essential in obtaining hardy compact seedlings. Based on my experience, shop lights are the best lights for growing seedlings.
Poor lighting will result in “leggy” seedlings. It’s best to toss leggy seedlings and start over. The plants will not have sturdy enough stems to produce fruits and your yields will be low on non-existent.
Seeds most often fail for three reasons: water, fungus, and poor lighting!
Always plant sequentially when planting your seedlings (ie sequential planting). In other words, start some of your seeds two weeks prior to when you feel you should start your seeds.
If you are new to seed starting, you’ll quickly realize what it means to have soil that is “too wet” as none of your seeds will germinate. Then after a week or two, I plant my real set of seeds. In addition to this set, I actually plant a third set of seeds, just in case the weather pattern has changed and we end up having a late summer.
My favorite advice to all my gardener friends, plant your best seeds and varieties. If you fail, don’t give up! There are many farmers that have heirloom seedlings for sale. Accept that you’ve failed, and just go buy some. It’ll cost a little more and you may not get your favorite tomato that year, but you will have a full and satisfying garden!
You can either purchase a seed starting kit (pictured here) or use a Rubbermaid style container like I do.
These can be obtained at Walmart of Kmart either as a name brand or even the generic brand is good. I seek the ones that state “No BPA”. BPA stands for Bisphenol A, which a plasticizer used in plastics to help them stay flexible. It is also an endocrine disrupting hormone.
The goal of growing seedlings is to create a greenhouse environment, where your seedlings survive and thrive.
If you purchase a seedling kit, look for one that has a clear plastic dome. Almost all kits come with one.
If you choose to grow seedlings for a large garden and are willing to transplant your seedlings, you may want to use a Rubbermaid type container with some saranwrap on the top. Just secure it in place with a rubber band.
Note: No watering is needed until you remove the saranwrap. You now have an enclosed environment for your seedling to sprout and grow. Video coming soon!
If you are using a seed kit, you’ll have to crack open the “dome” from over your seedlings to allow them to acclimate to the ambient temperature and humidity of your house.
If you are using my technique…..Once the seedlings are reaching the saranwrap, you need to let them breathe. DO NOT peel off the saranwrap and walk away.
You need to acclimate the seedlings to the ambient temperature and humidity of your house. Remove the rubber band and pry back the saranwrap just enough to allow the ambient air to get into the container (no more than 10 % exposure).
If you let the humid air escape, the seedlings will quickly dry out and die. Leave your slightly open container this way for several days, allowing the plants to acclimate.
Once acclimated, gently remove the saranwrap and water the soil if necessary. At this point, watering is essential to your seedlings! Your seedlings are very fragile at this point.
Some people will even use a fan to get the seedlings ready for the outdoors.
By incorporating an oscillating fan near your seedlings, you’ll help them develop nice thick stems, and they will mature into slightly smaller and more compact adults. Thick stemmed plants allow for stronger healthier plants and higher yields.
The goal is to allow your seedlings to get used to the outdoor temperature and lighting, before planting them outdoors into the garden.
The sun is too powerful compared to your indoor shop lights and will “fry” or burn your plans within hours of placing them outside.
Typically, gardeners will place their seedlings in some kind of cold frame.
Note: The cold frame will still have to be covered with black window screen or some kind of netting to reduce light exposure for the first several days.
After about 1 week, your seedlings have been acclimated and are ready to plant.
I began my New England garden with raised beds created from 2 x 3’s and rebar. Just put the soil in the middle and this pushes up against the sides and holds them upright.
Over the years, this has worked well. However, the harsh winters loosen the rebar, allowing the sides to sag. It’s too much these days to put them back upright, so now I’ve opted to work with slightly raised beds (soil ~ 6″ from surface). Soon, I too will be purchasing this wonderfully crafted cedar beds. They’ll be great for downsizing my garden as well as easier on my back!
Growing Organic Seedling FAQs
Q: How do I get started?
A: Follow this step-by-step approach:
- Request seed catalogs. The new catalogs come out right before the December holiday season. You can still request a catalog in the fall before the new year as well
- Order your seeds. Take note: The best and neatest varieties sell out by the end of December/ late January. If something caution your attention, order it right away. Most people order seeds sometime before March
- Make a seed starting calendar. You need to Google to find your appropriate growing zone and plan accordingly. Here in New England, we start most seeds indoors April 1st.
- Determine where you are going to grow seedlings indoors and set up your table and lights.
- Start your seeds.
- Harden off your seedlings in a cold frame before planting them outdoors!
- Plant your seedlings either in your container or in your garden beds