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Mar 15, 2011 10:23 PM

Growing indoors - Need input

We are growing plants from seed indoors for the first time, and are looking for recommendations.

Specifically, which light do you recommend. Also, would you recommend the use of a heating pad?

If we are looking to grow 12-18 plants for transplanting, how many seeds should we plant?

Any other advice would be great.

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  1. Here's the set-up we use for seed starting. You can adapt it to accommodate more or less plants. Your biggest concern is enough light and even though we have south facing windows with lots of light pouring in we've never been able to grow good transplants with just that.

    I haven't found it necessary to use heat mats. The top of the fridge is a good place to start seeds that need extra warmth but as soon as they sprout move them into good light. I do use a good bagged potting soil for seed starting but not specific seed starting mix. I generally plant at least 2 seeds per hole (a total of 24-36 seeds for you) and when the sprouts have their first set of real leaves, snip off the weaker of the two at soil level.

    For seeds requiring only 1/8-1/4" planting depth I lay the seeds on top of the damp soil and then sprinkle more soil or vermiculite on top of the seeds to the correct depth and dampen with a misting bottle. To retain moisture while the seeds are sprouting cover the container with plastic wrap. As soon as you see sprouts remove the wrap. Water your containers from the bottom by placing them in a larger water filled container allowing the seeded one to soak up water from the bottom. This method protects the seedlings from being washed away, over watered or otherwise disturbed, and helps prevent damping off disease.

    3 Replies
    1. re: morwen

      That's the grow stand we used too, Morwen. Loved that the lights could be raised or lowered as needed. I never used heat pads but did find that a small fan set on low added necessary air circulation, placed not too near the seedlings but just far enough away to gently stir the air.

      My seeds were started in a seed starting spoil mix in containers like the following:,...
      I like this setup because the water well made it easy to keep the seedings suffeciently moist without over watering. Two seeds per pot sounds about right, and sprinkling with vermiculite or sphagnam moss keeps the seeds from dampening off.

      1. re: Gio

        Oh yeah! I forgot about the fan. We have a little desk top model from the dollar store for that.

      2. re: morwen

        For seed-starting I use well-washed plastic containers from berries and lettuce that I buy in the winter (if they don't already have holes in the bottom for drainage, I poke them in with a knife). I close the containers and put them on old baking sheets, and leave them around on top of our radiators until they sprout. (We have hot water heat - great for seed sprouting, it doesn't get too hot). Then I open the containers (sometimes I cut the container top off altogether if space is at apremium on the seed table) and move them to the cellar where we have shop lights hung from a couple of garment racks, arranged over a table.

        I do need to get a fan down there, too - it's so windy in our yard that every year the poor seedlings get whiplash when I bring them to the porch for hardening off.

        I'm near Boston in Zone 6, so I think it's OK for the seedlings to be growing in the cool cellar since the nights here are still a bit chilly when I bring them out for hardending off. But I grew up in Pittsburgh, and my mom kept the grow lights in the attic where it was pretty warm, never hardened off her plants at all, and still had a more productive garden than me (I suspect their soil was much less acidic and her garden got more sun than mine).

      3. you know what i do - i save up some of those "clam shells" that salad mix comes in - clear plastic, with a lid - no holes in the bottom. (sometimes bakery items come in similar plastic with lid)

        then you put in your starter soil or if tomatoes, maybe some of those puff-up peat pots - then easier to transplant.

        this is a great way of allowing young children to help too - ie they each get their OWN.

        i just put them in a sunny window that offers morning sun and afternoon shade. Our windows are well-insulated so even temps day and night usually. I am in the Pac NW on the coast.

        this is an easy way to grow basil thru-out the winter too - just keep seeding it and it'll grow.

        Sunset Magazine's famous gardening book is an excellent resource for WEST of the Rockies / Calif / OR / WA / etc gardeners and in to BC (Canada). I suggest from experience that you make sure you have the most-up-to-date edition - it does get updated every few years - and it makes a difference.

        regardless of your region - Sunset also has excellent raised bed and confined space garden ideas and projects. ***Remember if you do put in some raised beds - make sure that the wood that you use to make the walls is non-leaching, non-toxic.

        make friends with a really good local garden center and go in when it's quiet first thing in the morning - then they have time to provide extra info. I find many people work in the nice garden centers for the love of gardening - and they likely spend a lot of their paychq at work ;) - they are knowledgeable. Also i'm sure you have a master gardening club in your area - they often have Q&A at this time of year.

        ps - the other resource i like is FINE GARDENING.

        also - i just clicked on your name and see that you are perhaps in the north-central USA which would be like gardening in Manitoba. Stokes Seeds likely has seeds (MAIL ORDER) that are appropriate to your short and sweet growing season and long hours of daylight in the summer.

        some sugar snap peas (eat the whole pod) are pretty easy to grow from an indoor start - and then you put outside after frost danger is over. Around now?

        1. I made a light stand something like the one in the photo below, using 3/4" PVC pipe and Tee connectors, but with 4 tiers instead of 3. Two shoplights on each tier hanging from chains so you can adjust their height to just above the leaves. One cool, one warm fluorescent tube in each stoplight (although 2 cool ones seem to work as well). Some people use expensive "grow lights" but ordinary bulbs seem to work fine.

          Procedure as in Morwen's post, except that I use light potting mix, not potting soil. (Fafard has several varieties). Peppers need 75-85°F to germinate, so if you don't have a good warm location, a heating pad or a 40watt bulb under the tray will help. Once they germinate, you can remove the heat.

          I usually start about 25% more seeds than I plan to plant out, to allow for poor germination, bugs, damping off and other unforseen ills.

          Remember to harden off your plants by moving them outside during the day then back in at night for several days before transplanting out into the garden (or put them in a cold frame) or greenhouse to get used to outdoor conditions.

          1. I do my starts in the basement on an old ping pong table covered with a tarp. I create a "house" with chain suspended fluorescent lights (so I can raise and lower) and then visqueen attached to the chain to create the enclosure. I put the heat in the room on low and try for about 70 degrees inside the enclosure.

            I do not use a heating pad.

            In my experience my starts do better in little plastic pots or long window style pots rather than peatpots. I reuse them every year (make sure to clean with a mild bleach and soup solution). The pots sit in a ridged low box made from plastic or in the top of a plastic container to catch the water run off and to elevate them a little so they don't sit in water.

            As they grow I lift the lights and then I also add a fan on low, open up a side of the enclosure and give them some wind from the fan to give their stems a workout.

            Before you set outside harden them off by dragging them out on a sunny day, letting them get a bit of sun and then putting them back in their house. A little more each day. Don't fret if some get a little sun bleached. After about 10 days they are ready to go into your garden!

            Also, water brand new seeds by filling the tub they sit in and misting them with a sprayer.

            I use regular old potting soil and if the seeds are delicate, a little peat moss on top of the seed as I plant them. Otherwise they just get the potting soil only.