It’s that time! Time for 2023 seed starting!
The winter months are such a nice needed rest, but around this time of the year I get so excited to get my seeds in the ground and my hands in the dirt.
Where I am at in Missouri, we are still a couple months out before I can get any plants in the ground outside. Besides potatoes and peas! So now is the time to get a head start on seeds inside, so the plants are big and ready to move out when the time is right.
Seed packets are lingering all over in my house and I have them in little organized piles on what needs to still be started and what needs to be direct sown. It’s just a little organized chaos over here! If anyone moves my piles, it won’t be good.
If you are unsure where to buy seeds or how to even plan a garden, check out my post on The Best Tips for Summer Garden Planning. I share where I bought all my seeds from this year in that post along with new varieties I am trying and my planning tips to get started.
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Equipment for 2023 seed starting.
When you think about starting seeds, the first thing you need to think about is the equipment. Now I will be completely transparent here. The cost up front in equipment to start your seeds is quite a bit.
However, you have this equipment year after year, so in the long run you are going to save money. Heading to the nursery every single year to buy already started plants is not cost effective. I would rather put that money towards the equipment I need, and then every year I just need to buy soil and seeds. It’s a much cheaper way to start your own seeds.
The first thing you will need is container and trays.
Now you can go completely low cost and use old egg cartons, yogurt containers, or even toilet paper rolls. Those all are good options. But we don’t buy eggs or yogurt from the store, so this just wasn’t an option for me.
Make sure to wash your trays and containers every year just in case they are harboring any disease or fungus from the previous year. Your little seedlings wont stand a chance if you don’t.
You can simply wash and dry your containers in warm soapy water. Or you can soak all your containers and trays in 1 part bleach to 10 parts water for 10 minutes. Rinse them off and let them air dry.
The next thing you will need are grow lights.
Let’s talk about what your little plants need in order to grow. If you are thinking of starting your own seeds or even a garden you understand that plants need water, good soil, and sunlight to grow, right?
Getting soil and water is easy but when you are starting your own seeds in the house, you need to be able to give your seedlings adequate light to grow.
Some gardeners say you can place your seedlings in a warm sunny spot by the window and that will do. I disagree. Your plants need a minimum of 6-8 hours a day of direct sunlight. I highly doubt anyone has a window in their home that has sunlight for that long.
This is where grow lights play a huge roll. It’s also where the biggest expense comes in.
Having grow lights on your seedlings will give all your seeds and plants the best opportunity to germinate and be healthy. If your seedlings sprout but become very “leggy” it means they are not getting adequate light. Move them so they are getting the appropriate light as soon as possible.
The good news about grow lights is I have used the same ones for over 5 years and have still not had to change the bulbs. They last for so long! So while it is an investment up front, you won’t have to do it again and the long term savings is far greater.
I turn my lights on right when I wake up in the morning, spray my little seedlings down with water (only if they are dry) and I turn my lights off at night before I go to bed.
I have two different kinds of grow lights, Feit Electric brand which give off a powerful amount of light and a Ferry Morse free standing system. The Feit Electric brand is my preferred light out of the two.
The last thing you need is some form of shelving system.
The best way to stay organized is with some form of a seed starting shelf. I zip tie 2 of my grow lights to the shelf and the other ones I use the stand.
Having a designated seed starting shelf helps you stay organized and keeps it in one location instead of trays of seedlings all around your house.
I have a very inexpensive wire shelf I got on Amazon and I just store it in the shop with all my seed starting kits every year. I just got the 3 shelf rack, but I need to upgrade to the 5 shelf. That way it gives me more opportunity to start more seeds and keep it all together!
As it is right now, I have one tray on a back counter that I would like to have on the shelf.
It would also be helpful to have a bigger shelf because once I start to separate my seedlings into bigger containers I need more space to put them. They end up right now along every window seal in my home along with on the shelves to stay under the lights.
I usually live in a jungle for a few weeks until they can be moved outside.
Organizing your seeds.
Now that you have all your equipment you need, let’s get our seeds organized to when they need to be started inside or direct sown outside.
I do this very simply, by just making piles. I put all the tomatoes together, the peppers, the cucumbers etc. Then I take those piles and put the ones that need to be started on one side and the ones for direct sowing I put on another side.
I have put together a chart to easily help you in this process. Drop your email below and I will send the chart right over so you can print and keep with all your seed starting tools. If you are already an email subscriber, I sent this chart out to you last week.
Now, get out your calendar and count back how many weeks from your average last frost date, to when you should be starting your seeds. These are the ones to start first.
I don’t do anything fancy with this. I use my day planner that I use for everything, and just write in when I need to start what. You can designate a planting calendar if you’d like, but I find it is easier for me to just do it in my day planner since I use that for everything and I know nothing will get missed there.
Now it’s time to start your seeds!
You have your equipment, you know when to start each seed, so let’s get them started!
First, make sure to get good quality garden soil to start your seeds. I would avoid using the cheapest brand you can find. You want to give your little delicate seeds a fighting chance!
How to start seeds:
- Get your shelf and lights set up where they are going to be.
- Fill each of your containers with good potting soil.
- Take your seed packet and pull out your seeds. A general rule of thumb would be to plant your seed into the soil the same depth that the seed is. See the seed starting chart for exact measurements. I always plant 2-3 small seeds per hole, just in case one doesn’t germinate. I will separate them later. For large seeds, like zucchini and squash, I typically just plant one in a hole.
- Cover your seed(s) back up with soil.
- Gently spray water to saturate the seeds. You want your seed to stay moist until it germinates. Avoid pouring water on as this can move the soil that tops the seed.
- Place your container on a tray and put under the grow light. Make sure your seed is staying warm and moist until it germinates. Generally, you want the seeds to be in an environment that is 65-75 degrees until germination, this includes soil temperatures.
- Once all your own seedlings have germinated and have their second set of leaves, it’s time to separate them and put them into bigger pots! See how I separate my seedlings when they all germinate.
Once you have all your starts, when do you get them in the ground.
Your growing season will be different then my growing season. A growing season for your area is determined by your last frost date to your first frost date.
Knowing these average frost dates for your area is so important to know when to get your seeds started and also when to put your plants in the ground. Without knowing these dates, you could potentially get yourself into a mess!
On the Seed Starting Chart I made, you will find a column for when to start your seeds, but you will also find a column for when it is safe to move them outside according to your last frost date.
One thing to remember is these are general dates. Always talk to other fellow gardeners around you about your hardiness zone. They will have a lot more knowledge and insight then google, when it comes to this.
For instance, according to my last frost date here in Missouri, I can plant end of April. I believe my last frost date, according to google, is around April 10th. My first year here in Missouri I did just that.
Only to find we got 2″ of snow literally 3 days after I planted them. Everything I moved outside didn’t make it. Low and behold all my neighbors and long time residence of my area said “oh yeah, never put anything out until after Mother’s Day to be safe.”
There are of course exceptions to this, like lettuce, potatoes, peas, and broccoli. See the chart to know when to plant those!
Hardening off your plants.
I have had many people come to me and say, “Everything was going great, but when I put them outside they all died.”
This is likely because your little delicate plants were shocked and you didn’t properly harden them off.
Hardening off basically means, getting your plants strong and hardy to be outside. Up until this point, your seedlings have had a controlled environment of no wind, rain, and outside elements.
They don’t have a super strong root system yet and get completely shocked when you throw them into that environment. Always harden your plants off before moving them to their new home in the garden.
How to harden plants off properly:
About 7-10 days before you want to get your plants in the ground follow these steps.
- Find a spot outside on a warm day that is partially protected.. That means don’t just put them out in the direct sun in all the elements to fend for themself. Some partial shade is good. Move all your plants outside for 1-2 hours and then bring them back in. Do this for about 2 days.
- Increase the amount of time they are outside by 1-2 hours every day for 7-10 days.
- After day 3 you can move them to a less protected area.
- By day 5 move them into full sun, around the garden beds they will be planted in, and no protection from the wind.
- It’s always best to have more days of hardening off then less. You are building strong hardy plants that will be able to stand the test of all weather elements.
Now you are ready for 2023 seed starting! As we are just about out of the late winter month and into early spring, let’s get organized and ready to start a thriving garden this year!