Growing Vegetables from Seed Indoors

Bare Patio April 2-3. Spring
Freeze #1. 
A scorching eighty two degrees to welcome April, only to be followed by a couple of dreary days with temperatures plunging to the mid thirties and accompanied by an inch of snow. What a typical Colorado spring! Okay, so the unusually warm temperatures and lack of moisture throughout March was a bit odd, but an early spring freeze is nothing new. Which brings us to an important topic for discussion, growing vegetables from seed indoors. Any sort of variable spring weather can seriously hamper gardening from seed outdoors, so bypass the troubles and start your seeds inside! In this post, I'll be covering the basics of starting vegetables indoors, as well as introducing you to my own seed mania.

Why start vegetable seeds indoors?

When circumstances call for gardening in small spaces, starting seeds indoors is a great way to boost productivity and overall plant vigor. Whether you're transplanting your veggies to a few raised garden beds, or a container garden like mine, starting seeds indoors can benefit in these ways:
  • Controlled Environment - Seeds started outdoors are left to the elements. Cloud cover can reduce light, an arid wind can dry soil quickly, a sharp temperature swing can bring freezes, etc. All of these conditions can cause less than optimal settings for seed germination. Small gardening spaces rely on extremely well cared for crops in order to receive abundant harvests, so exposing your seeds and young plants to nature's will just isn't reasonable. Indoors, a personalized and stable environment can be created and tailored to the exact needs of the garden plants you're trying to sprout!
  • Elimination of Pests - Insects and garden pests love to munch and sometimes devour entire seedlings. Even if your seedlings are not lost to insects, the chance of spreading disease is increased due to the elevated levels of plant stress. Start veggie seeds indoors and never fear. With a sterile potting soil mix, the chances of running into any pest problems are extremely minimal. 
  • Increased Productivity - Since you're in control of the environment, indoor seeds can be started much earlier than when they would normally be sown outdoors. By the time it's recommended to start sowing the seed, you'll already have healthy young plants ready for transplanting. This helps the small gardener focus on achieving greater yields from a smaller number of plants. 

How to Start Vegetable Seed Indoors - 

There's infinite ways that you can choose to germinate vegetable seed indoors. Each technique or piece of equipment used or not used will be specific to each gardener's needs. While techniques will vary, influences such as the ones listed below will always need special consideration:
Seed Trays are perfect for
germinating large numbers of
  • Light - Be it natural sunlight, or artificial grow lighting, seedlings and young plants generally need a whole lot of it. Depending on your desired amount of plants to grow, a south facing windowsill may be the solution, while gardeners seeking increased plantings may want to invest in vegetative specific grow lights.
  • Temperature & Moisture - Gardeners will find that germination rates increase as temperature and moisture levels reach a stable and consistent range. The vast majority of vegetable seeds will germinate comfortably with ambient room temperatures of 70°F. Seeds need consistent moisture in the soil for germination. While the gardener can supply moisture by misting the soil multiple times daily, a humidity dome can serve as a much more feasible way to keep moisture levels steady. 
  • Space - Seeds don't stay small forever! It's important to account for your vegetables' growing size as they mature. Besides their growing physical size, you'll also have to think about the roots! As plants get bigger, transplanting into larger containers will be necessary. Make sure the equipment and area you're working in can accommodate your ambitions. 
Once the basics are looked after, the overall process of how to start veggie seeds indoors is relatively pretty straightforward. For the majority of vegetables out there, all the germination process requires is for you to plant at the recommended depth, maintain consistent moisture and transplant the seedlings to larger pots as needed. Not too bad, huh?

When to Start Seeds Indoors - 

Part of increasing the productivity of your small garden is knowing when to plant specific vegetable seeds indoors. You'll want your transplants to be healthy and strong, so it's important to get the timing correct! Starting seeds too early can lead to stunted growth and fruits even before you transplant outdoors, while starting too late can produce underdeveloped and reduced yields. For best results, plan to plant your vegetables indoors as following:
  • 8-10 Weeks before Average Last Frost - Onions, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Cabbage and Leeks. 
  • 6-8 Weeks before Average Last Frost - Eggplant, Peppers and Tomatoes
  • 4-6 Weeks before Average Last Frost - Cantalope, Cucumbers, Summer Squash, Winter Squash and Watermelons. 
My Indoor Seed Setup - 

Seeing something is always a great way to grasp a concept, so to help guide you through your own indoor seed starting setup, here's the basic features of my own:
My indoor garden and seed
station. It's cat approved!
  • High Output T5 Fluorescent Grow light. This four foot, four bulb system produces 218watts of lighting power and is efficient at covering an area of eight square feet. 
  • 70 Watt High Pressure Sodium Grow Light. This unit I actually picked up on eBay for $20 as an extra in a landscaping job, and couldn't be more happy with its performance. A small but powerful light, I use it for larger growing seedlings. 
  • 707 Organic Potting Soil. I go back and forth a little bit between potting soils, but I recently found a great deal on the Roots Organic 707 potting soil, so that's what I've been using. 
  • Homemade Compost. Amended into the 707 Organic potting soil is my own homemade compost. With a half and half mixture, I'm able to stretch soil much further. 
  • Plastic Containers -  I've purchased a 72 plant seed starter with humidity dome to provide my initial phase of the seed germination. Once the seedlings are ready for transplant, anything from yogurt cups to old plastic planters are used! Just be sure you check and verify the safety of the number grade plastic you choose to use. 
What's growing right now? Well, here you are:  Poblano Peppers, Orange Bell Peppers, Lemon Balm, Orange Mint, Lime Mint, Broccoli, Basil and a whole host of Chamomile, Dill and Heirloom Tomato sprouts. Even an Avocado pit is starting to come to life!

Final Word - Growing Seeds Indoors

The benefits are great, and the risks small. Why not give growing vegetables from seed indoors a try? I'm sure that you'll be more than pleased come harvest time! Take care.