starting seeds indoors

This will be our fourth spring and summer at Next Gen House, and the third year that we’ve been able to start seeds. (The first year we moved in with enough time to build a small raised bed and get some seedlings from a home improvement store. We’ve come pretty far.) After reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, we discovered Seed Savers Exchange, a group that has been saving heirloom seeds for more than 35 years. We started ordering from them in 2012, and they are where we begin our garden story each year.

First we start with a plan. We talked about what our goals were this year, the primary one being to plant less “types” of produce and focus on what we really consume the most of or would like to can, since we rely on our CSA for variety. This year, that focus is herbs, peppers and tomatoes. We’re definitely growing some other items too, but most of the others are direct-seed, meaning the seeds are sown directly in the ground after the risk of the final frost has passed. 

This weekend we started a tray of herbs, one of peppers and one of tomatoes (with a few brussels sprouts thrown in for good measure). Here is what we’re growing:

  • Brussels sprouts
  • Tomatoes
    • Amish Paste (good for canning, less water content)
    • Plum Lemon (a complimentary packet from SSE that we’re giving a whirl)
    • Black from Tula
    • Earliana
    • Beam’s Yellow Pear (these went gangbusters last year)
    • Dr. Wychee’s Yellow
  • Peppers
    • Candlelight 
    • Cyklon
    • Garden Sunshine
    • Jalapeno Travelers
    • Santa Fe Grande
    • Chocolate Beauty
  • Herbs
    • Thyme
    • Mint
    • Rosemary
    • Sage
    • Chives
    • Oregano
The herbs will be in containers on our deck eventually, and the tomatoes and peppers will get new, larger beds. We rotate the different beds each year to cut down on disease risk and recurrent pests. We know from last year’s experience that we didn’t give the tomatoes enough room, so we had one massive tangle of plants and didn’t give each one the opportunity to flourish.

We bought simple trays from Walmart, and filled them in with moistened organic seed starting mix. Probably next year or the following year, we’ll make our own seed starting mix, but we have leftover bags from a previous purchase that we don’t want to go to waste. 

These trays also have a bottom water tray, so we can water from the bottom, which is something we haven’t tried before. After filling the slots, we consulted the seed packets to determine the depth at which to plant each type. Mark used a wooden skewer with hashmarks on each 1/4″.

I love the SSE seed packets – they have really easy to read information, with the most important stuff at the top – like when to start indoors, how long it takes to germinate, and where to place them outside.

Some of the seeds are so tiny that they come in a small envelope within the packet. What a miracle, that such a robust plant, and by extension so much food, can come from such a tiny seed. I always talk about being connected to where your food comes from. When you hold seeds, you’re looking at the origins of plant life. Pretty awesome. 

We mark our seed rows with popsicle sticks from the craft store.

This year’s trays also have a cover, which helps trap heat during the “wait to germinate”. This is another new thing for us this year.

After we finished all three trays, they got transported to what I’m going to call the “grow room” (spare bedroom) and placed on the shelves of the seed starting station that Mark built for us this weekend.

Mark built this contraption that will also double as a greenhouse when it’s done holding seeds and fluorescent lights. We have only ever used windowsills to start seeds, which has never worked out for us particularly well, since the seedlings get really leggy reaching for the sun. We don’t get enough sun in this part of the country to rely on a windowsill for light. Even though nature has usually come through with some veggies by the end of summer, the plants weren’t as robust as they could be, and we think it was primarily because of insufficient light at the beginning. Enter Mark’s project.

We will also harden the seedlings this year by exposing them to the outdoors a little bit at a time, so they are “hardened” before they go in the ground.

This is all assuming that the seeds germinate and grow, so it’s always a game of chance. I look forward to watching these seeds grow – and seeing if this year’s modifications pay off! 

  • Ber

    I love the light shelf!!