Let’s Talk Gardening: Starting Seeds

March 31, 2014

I must preface this post by saying that I am, by no means, a gardening expert. Just because my husband and I have been tending two gardens (at our house and at our city community garden) for the past 3 years, it does not mean that I actually REALLY know what I’m doing. I just want to share our process with others that may have a similar interest in growing their own food, like we do. That being said, let’s talk gardening!

starting seeds

A little backstory before we get started: I’ve never been much of a green thumb. My mom always was, at least for as long as I can remember – I have memories of her spending the entire weekend in the summers out in the garden behind our garage, garden gloves on, snips in her hand, bucket at her feet. I must have been too busy (being a teenager – enough said) at the time to help, but I know I was always intrigued by what she was doing. It wasn’t until I started dating my landscaper husband and we inherited that same garden when we bought my childhood home from my mom that I started developing an interest in doing anything related to plants. And, being someone that loves to cook and use local ingredients, I was pretty excited about the idea of grabbing something for dinner out of our own backyard. So that’s where we began – with a big box of dirt and some wishful thinking!

starting seeds

starting seeds

starting seeds

starting seeds

We currently have two separate garden plots; one in our backyard and one at the community garden in our city. For the past few years, we’ve never been able to get it together quickly enough to start seeds indoors, so we would end up making a mad dash to Home Depot and Gale’s to pick up a billion starter plants before it got too hot to plant anything at all. (In case you’re doing the math, the cost to get our gardens going would add up very quickly). This year, however, we finally made it to the store several weeks before the gardening season started so we could try our hand at growing our own seedlings (and got a much better bang for our buck this way). Here’s what we needed to get started:

- flat inserts
- plant trays
- seed starting mix
- bowl or cup (for filling trays with mix)
- various seeds
- skewers and tape (for marking your trays)
- spray bottles
- towels

Our process was very technical and complicated (and by that, I mean extremely simple). Ready?

1. Starting with one set of flat inserts at a time (we used 2 different ones; half with 72 individual cells and half with 48), put into a tray and lay on a flat surface and fill each cell about 3/4 of the way with seed starting mix.

2. Once each cell is filled, tap the tray on the table to settle the mix.

3. Look at your variety of seeds and decide how you want to group them (for instance, we wanted to put all of the onion varieties together in one tray, peppers in another, herbs in another, etc.). Make markers at this time with whatever you have on hand – for us, it was wooden skewers and some washi tape that I cut into cute flags because I’m crazy.

4. Go through your first tray and poke each cell with your index finger to create a small hole in the center for your seed(s). We planted 2 seeds in each cell in case one was a dud (and in some cases, like with the onions, we planted several seeds – about 7 or so; we’ll thin them out before we plant into the garden). If you’re planting more than one or two seeds in a cell, I’d scatter them a bit so they’re not right on top of each other.

5. Drop your first set of seeds into your holes – they should fall about 1/4″ deep. Once you’ve finished one seed packet (warning – you’ll have way more seeds than you need), go back and fill the holes with the mix. Stick your marker in the first cell you started with so you know what will be coming up there.

6. Repeat with your remaining seed packets and markers until you’ve filled all of your trays (we used 5 trays and planted 15 different types of seeds).

7. I’m not sure this is completely necessary, but we went back and added some extra starting mix to the trays to top them off.

8. Find a warm spot for your trays. You don’t really wan’t light at the beginning – just warmth. We started our trays on our dining room table, but it’s pretty chilly in there so we moved them to our bedroom and they’re MUCH happier!

9. Set out some towels, lay your trays on top, and give them a very gentle watering with a spray bottle. You don’t want to disturb the seeds, so just mist them well.

10. Enlist a cute helper to oversee everything.


Keep your soil moist – we water every day or two with our spray bottle. After your plants start to germinate (time will vary depending on the plant; check your seed packets), move the trays to a spot that gets a lot of light and is warm, but make sure to keep them our of direct light. That’s it! Like I said, we aren’t experts, so I’m sure there are things we could’ve done differently. We didn’t really pay much attention to what the seed packets said about how long before planting outdoors we should start the seeds, so we just did them all at the same time. I’m sure we’ll have plants that are ready to go outside much sooner than they should, but we’ll just roll with it. You may want to plan that out a little better than we did, and we’ll probably be better about that in the future. But, we do this for fun and we learn a little bit more every year, so we try not to be too hard on ourselves. If you don’t enjoy the process, then what’s the point?!

In case you’re wondering what seeds we started with, here’s our list:

- rosemary
- basil
- lemongrass
- tomatillos
- beefsteak tomatoes
- cipolla onions
- walla walla onions
- yellow of parma onions
- sweet pepper carnival mix (a variety of bell peppers)
- corno di toro sweet peppers
- habanero mix
- jalapeños
- thai hot peppers
- pepperoncinis
- hot pepper mix (hungarian wax, anaheim chili, long slim red cayenne, ancho, jalapeño)

starting seeds

We have a ton more seeds that we’ll sow directly into our gardens, and we’ll likely get some plants as well. I’ll be sharing more about that in the coming weeks and will be posting weekly updates to show how things are moving along. I’ll also be posting photos of our gardening adventures on Instagram, so check out the #themillergarden hashtag if you’d like to see those.

So, go get your seeds – it’s not too late. Happy planting!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

The Agrarian Collective April 1, 2014 at 12:16 pm

We love to see people get into the garden! This is great :) Be careful about adding too much soil tough! Most seeds only need a depth of about an 1/8th of an inch and if there is too much soil those little guys might not come up. Just some thoughts from someone who has done this many times :)

Good luck and find more workshops on the garden, pantry, kitchen and table at http://www.theaccle.com



Janelle April 4, 2014 at 2:21 pm

Thanks for the tip, Kelli! Like I said, I’m definitely no pro – we just figure it out as we go along and hope that it works! I’m sure we (and anyone else following along here) can benefit from your expert advice! :)


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