Time to share my top secret indoor seed starting area.  This is the first year I’m starting my own tomatoes from seed. Previously I purchased plants from the local Shoprite supermarket.  Last year $3.00 got me 6 plants a little late in the season on clearance.  This year using seed purchased from the same store,  I paid $0.20 a packet and got almost 50 plants with seeds left over.   Not all plants will make it to the garden, but I can always give away the extras.

Young Cherry Tomatoes

When to start growing from seed:  Check the Internet for the date of the last frost in your area.  In New Jersey that date is March 15th.  For tomatoes, you want to start your seeds 8-10 weeks before that date.  

  • Equipment:  The following equipment is what I’m using, not a requirement.  The idea is to allow your plants a 2 month head start, not to raise a crop indoors.  Thanks to the indoor marijuana growing industry there are a wide range of products available online.  Unless your goal is to grow pot for a hobby, avoid the high priced grow lights and hydroponics and use what you have lying around the house
  • Seed Flats – 72 tiny square pots is plenty.  The plastic cover keeps the moisture in and lets you use it later outdoors without birds eating your seeds.  The only important facts are drainage holes at the bottom and a waterproof tray below.
  • Potting soil – Nothing fancy, just needs to be weed free.  That’s why you don’t want to use soil from the garden.
  • Seeds – Pick something designed to grow in your area.  Check the website of your local agricultural Cooperative Extension
  • Light Fixtures- Fluorescent is better as they use less power, also, incandescent fixtures get hot when left on for 18 hours a day, but use whatever you have lying around the house.  If you must buy something, cheaper is better unless you are experienced and know exactly what you want.  No matter which type of lighting you choose, be sure your bulb matches the fixture.

Indoor Seed Starting Area

As you can see above, my makeshift area is doing just fine.   The light fixtures themselves I scrounged from the garage and attic.  The seed trays and potting soil I found in my shed.  The only expenditures this year were $15 for the two light bulbs. A General Electric 41624 60-Watt Plant Light Bulb and a G E LIGHTING #49892 GE15W Plant Fluo Bulb , $3.00 worth of potting soil. and $1.00 in seeds.

Seed Starting tips:

Use fresh seed: While seeds may last a few years, either use your own gathered from your best plant last year or buy new.

Spreading the seeds: Flatten out the soil, put a seed in the center of each pot, then put 1/4 inch of soil on top of that.

Water from the bottom: Pour water into the tray below and allow it to soak upwards.

Proper lighting distance: A rule of thumb is 5 inches above the leaves for fluorescent lights and 10 inches for incandescent lights, but check the package for the bulbs you are using.  If the plants are drooping, the light may be too close.  Plants should be reaching up for the lights.  As the plants grow, raise the height of your light source.  Keep lights on 18 hours a day, not 24 hours a day.

Transplant once before planting:  The tiny flats are way too small to support proper root growth.  One you see two real leaves, not those bogus cotyledons pictured, move each plant into a planter of it’s own.  I’ll be using 18 ounce plastic drink cups with drainage holes cut in the bottom.

Harden off your plants: This means to put your plants outdoors in the sun for an hour a day to start, then increase the time daily before you’re ready to plant permanently.  About a week before I’m ready to put them in the ground, I’ll put all my plants into a little wagon to make transportation easy.

Do not use fertilizer: Until you get your plants into the ground.  The exceptions are some synthetic seed starting mediums that contain no nutrients.  Just go with cheap potting soil and you’ll be fine.