Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Starting Seeds Indoors for Noobs

5 garlic plants and 3 strawberry plants
Yesterday Laurie gave me three little strawberry plants from her garden.  She was trying to give me many more than that but I had to decline since my balcony space is so limited.  If I could though, I definitely would have accepted more since I love strawberries.  I didn't have time to prepare a new container so I just ended up planting them in the same container I had already sown the lettuce, nasturtiums and swiss chard in.  Since there were no signs that any of these were germinating, I figured the strawberries might as well go there, and if the others do decide to pop up I'll deal with them then.  The garlic went into shock a bit a few days after I planted them and the leaves got droopy.  But I think they are now recovering; a couple of the leaves turned yellow but the rest seem to be green and sticking up all right.

Little strawberry plant up close
Today I'm spending the morning and early afternoon at home awaiting my amazon delivery (ice cream maker and replacement moka pot, yay!).  It was the perfect time to start my seeds.  I'm no expert on this, but I had some success in the past doing it this way, so I thought I would share my method.

Starting Seeds Indoors
cardboard egg carton (do not use styrofoam!)
potting mix (seed starting mix is much better but I couldn't find it anywhere near me this year)
a large bowl
empty strawberry cartons (or similar)
repurposed trays (I used a couple of meat trays that had been washed well and a random plastic lid)

I've tried both starting seeds in egg cartons and toilet paper cardboard rolls and the egg cartons were by far the easier method, at least for me.  So first, roughly tear out each little cup from the carton so you end up with 12 cups.  I usually make a little snip with scissors if I have to and then use my hand to divide them out.  Using scissors, trim away the excess so you wind up with little neat cups as shown below.  Using a paring knife, make a drainage hole in the bottom of each cup.  Set 6 cups inside each strawberry container and then set that atop a tray.

If you don't trim the edges you can still fit some in, but it'll be a little harder.  Now pour out some potting mix into your bowl and add some water.  Mix it so it feels nice and wet.  Using the spoon, add some to each cup. You want to pat it gently in, but don't pack it tight.  You want the mix to be loose so the tiny roots can establish themselves.  I also add some water to the tray so that the egg cartons get wet too.  

Now you're ready to plant seeds.  Most of the seeds I plant are quite tiny.  Chamomile and thyme seeds are ridiculously hard to distinguish.  Do your best and drop two tiny seeds in each cup.  I like to space them a little bit apart.  I do this as insurance, in case not all the seeds germinate.  Some of my seeds are a few years old so this seems like a good idea to me.  If they both germinate, you will have to sacrifice one so the other can thrive.  Trust me on this, I dithered once between two basil seedlings and they both stayed smallish; finally I got rid of one of them and the other one shot up.  It's worth it.

So to plant, I drop the seeds in the cup and then push them gently down a little with my chopstick.  I tend to ignore whatever the package says and just plant them about as deep as the seed diameter.  This is much easier than doing it with your fingers.  To cover the seeds, I use the chopstick to push a bit of dirt over them.

When you are done planting one strawberry carton, close the lid and set on a sunny windowsill or under lights.  The strawberry cartons are nice because they keep some of the moisture in, but also allow air to circulate through.  I always water the tray so I don't disturb the seeds.  The water wicks up from the bottom.

And that's all!  You can see my ghetto and unstable setup in this picture.  I need to figure out a more stable way to mount that light.  My seed cartons are actually further away from the light than it needs to be at this stage so I will be stacking some books under them to bring them closer to the light.  When the seedlings have three set of true leaves (the first set of leaves are the seed leaves), you can transplant them to larger containers.  The beauty of the egg cups is that you just plant the whole cup and you won't have to worry about disturbing the seedling at all and the cardboard will decompose.


  1. if she really has that many strawberry plants, maybe you can baby sit one for me until I come to take it off your hands

  2. i;m very impressed with your garlic sprouts. hopefully they will not bolt (in the night).