How to start vegetables from seed

As part of Community Cultivators, I’m hosting the Starting Seeds, Spring Prep and Planting Workshop. Here is a resource of information provided for and discussed at the event. The information is based on what I’ve read in books like The Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible, information I’ve garnered through lots of GardenWeb forum reading and from my own experiences. Enjoy!

This cauliflower seedling sure looks like a tomato... Arg, mislabeling.

 Starting Vegetables From Seed

“There are many reasons to grow your own plants from seed. If you start your own plants, you know exactly how they have been cared for. You know what sort of soil they’ve grown in, what they’ve had for food, whether they’ve been bothered by pests.” — Edward C. Smith, The Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible

  1. Soaking
    1. Give your seeds a good start by soaking them a couple hours or preferably overnight.
    2. Water is okay but better things include compost tea, fish emulsion (beware of stink factor) or a biostimulant like Agrispon. The first two are cheaper and the ones I’d use.
  2. Soil
    1. If you don’t choose a soil that is rich in nutrients for your plants, you will need to water with fertilizers. That seems like too much effort for me. So, I just use organic potting soil. If I have it, I mix in worm castings or good compost.
    2. Also, make sure the soil you use is fine. Large bits of compost makes it more difficult for seedlings to emerge.
    3. Some people say to only use potting soil because it is sterile, which keeps seedlings from getting plant diseases/fungus. That seems crazy to me! Don’t you want your soil to be alive with microorganisms!? How can microorganisms live if the soil used is truly sterilized? So, I ignore that bit of advice (and so do other successful gardeners I know).
  3. Light
    1. Make sure your seedlings have adequate light. If this involves moving them around to the sunny parts of your house (morning/afternoon), then do it. Some people supplement with fluorescent lights but that costs electricity and space, which I don’t have in my small apartment.
    2. If you can’t get the lighting situation worked out for your living situation, then perhaps sowing directly and/or buying transplants is the way to go.
  4. Other Considerations
    1. A warming mat can help with seeds that prefer warmer temperatures to germinate, like peppers. I bought this one for myself for Christmas but I’m not sure how much it helps since this is my first season using it. I’m sure it helps some because we don’t always have the heater on and the tray of 4″ pots I use is near a drafty window.
  5. What to Put Them In
    1. I’ve heard that it’s a good idea to sterilize plastic pots if you’re reusing them by soaking them in mixture of 1 gallon of water to 1 tablespoon bleach. I don’t really like using bleach. So, I don’t do that.
    2. Other ideas for what to put seeds in to start them include peat pots or peat pellets. If you use these, then be sure to keep an eye on watering. They dry out quickly.
    3. Another idea is a self-watering seed-starting system like this one.
  6. Planning
    1. Read the packages of seeds you plan to start. Some of them tell you how many weeks in advance to start inside in order to have them in the ground at the beginning of the season for that crop.
    2. Otherwise, you might do some research on how many weeks before the last day of frost to start your vegetables.
    3. Here is a great resource from Elizabeth Anna’s Old World Garden about when to plant things in North Texas. The best part about it is that it gives general dates for planting. Any planting calendar resource must be tailored to the specific season.
    4. Use your best judgment and when in doubt, call it an experiment.
  7. Hardening to Plant
    1. Once your seeds have grown up into transplants, begin to harden them for the garden. For more about that, see this GardenWeb post.


  1. Hello new neighbor. This is great. I will try to grow something now with your instructions. …on a separate note, I can’t find the Leuda Facebook site, can you help me? The eggs were super yummy by the way, thank you!

    • Glad you liked them! They are even better when they’re fed non-corn feed. Elizabeth Anna’s down the road sells eggs like that from her chickens, which live at the shop. Just FYI. But I never say no to fresh eggs, even ones fed conventionally.

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