Starting Seeds for a Garden

For 2018, we are building a vegetable garden! In 2017, we built two herb garden planters and I started almost everything from seed. I learned a lot about waking the little buggers up and keeping them alive. I also learned a lot about cooking with fresh herbs. Fresh herb flavor enhanced my cooking so much!

This year, our expansion into a raised bed veggie garden will add to our self-sufficiency, even if we never recoup our investment (my husband’s prediction).

It is time to start seeds! Last year, my husband and I set up a little shelf in our garage dedicated to seeds. This past Saturday, I cleaned out the shelf and got it ready for starting more seeds.

Here is a summary of everything I have learned about seed starting:


Seeds germinate best at about 75-80 degrees. Here in northern Utah county, our garage is too cold, so I bought a 20″x20″ heating mat and thermostat to keep the soil at the perfect germination temperature.

Once the plants have germinated, the mat’s temperature can be lowered some, to prevent burning the tender seedlings.


Just after sowing, light is not required. In fact, I read it is best to cover soil with plastic wrap or cardboard until you can see the seedlings. I cover trays when the lights are on (because other seeds have germinated) and a lot of plants haven’t germinated.

Once sprouted, seedlings require 14-16 hours of light each day. We have two grow lights from last year for our 20″x20″ growing zone. Some of our seedlings got “leggy” last year, and I am pretty sure it was due to lack of light. So I’m doubling the lights this year. Handy little outlet timers keep the lights on track.


I bought a lot of little 6-cell trays, and some big 10″x20″ trays. I cleaned out a domed 10″x20″ tray left from last year with soap and water. Right now, the plan is to sow seeds into the 6-cell trays, and use the bigger trays for organization and drip-catching.

Domes on top of seed starting trays are mostly for before germination. If you leave the dome on afterwards, the heating mat and grow lights will do a good job of baking your seedlings to death.


We use a commercial seed starting mix. I saw recipes online, but I am taking a shortcut on this one. I don’t think I am sacrificing quality. The guideline is to use a soilless seed starting mixture.


When it is time to sow seeds, fill the trays with seed starting mix and get it wet. Some prefer to get the seed starting soil wet first, and maybe it does work better, but my gardening gloves stay cleaner if I add water later. Then, push dimples in the cells with your gloved finger. See the seed packet for official, recommended planting depth. Drop a few seeds in every cell and cover with existing soil in the cells and/or new dry soil.

Water again thoroughly. Your cells should have drainage at the bottom. If there is a drip tray underneath, be aware that watering too much will cause the tray to fill up with water, causing the seed starting mix to get waterlogged, causing your seeds to rot. If the seeds have already sprouted, they will just fall over and die. So don’t leave too much water sitting around your trays.


Last year I stuck with a squirt bottle for quite a while. After about three weeks, I had a hard time keeping the seedlings wet enough. The dirt dried out and got crusty (it turns out, that is a big no-no). Finally I asked someone at the garden store, and she said not to let your soil dry out on top, but still don’t overwater. I broke down and bought a little plastic watering can. Looking back, I feel like it was a better investment than I expected at the time. Boy, did the little can’s water stream douse the soil.

This year I hope to figure out that balance of how to water just enough, just often enough to keep the plants in tip-top shape.


Fertilizer should be applied about every other week, and using an all-purpose, water-soluble fertilizer is recommended. I found it handy to stir the fertilizer into a watering can full of water, and use that to water the plants. Any leftovers went into house plants.

Will these guidelines pay off? I hope so. I will check in periodically with my progress., and update this list as I learn more.