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Starting Garden Seeds

Let’s break starting seeds down and take a look at the following sections: container type, soil composition, soil temperature, time for development, and what makes a healthy plant.


We don’t all have 140 milk cartons sitting around to start our seeds in, but finding a better (and re-useable!) replacement is really easy and affordable. I found mine at the local gardening center for under $5. It has 64 slots within a plastic tray. There are also options to use trays or pots made of peat, which can then be placed directly into the ground upon transplanting.

But really, you can plant in whatever your heart fancies. Shoes, soup cans, children’s hands that agree to stand still for 6-8 weeks… As long as it can retain soil and allow moisture to escape, you should be golden.

The individual slots allow me to put anywhere from 1-3 seeds per square, totaling nearly 200 seeds per tray. I start my onions in a 4-6″ pot, rather than the squares. Onions are hardy seedlings and can handle growing in big bunches like that, plus they are one onion per plant, and the more the merrier in my opinion. I don’t weed those out to choose the strongest. Those who survive, survive.

Soil Composition

You want your soil to be able to drain, retain the nutrients for the plant, and contain enough organic matter to develop a healthy plant. Soil is composed of 3 main parts: clay, sand, and silt. Clay are the smallest particles with sand being largest. The most desirable combination of these results in what is called loam, which is made up of around 25% clay, 50% silt, and the rest sand and organic matter.

For seedlings, you’ll want to get a specialized type of soil. Look for one composed of high-grade sphagnum peat moss and vermiculite, or horticultural vermiculite. Regular gardening soil is prone to getting more plant diseases, which wipe out the tender new seedlings.


– a naturally occurring mineral that helps exfoliate the soil and create air channels

    Sphagnum peat moss

– holds an incredible amount of water for its weight and enables the soil to hold more water and nutrients

Soil Temperature

The temperature for when seeds begin to sprout varies based on type of plant. The range goes anywhere from 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit to 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit. Check your seed packet and some resources online to see whether your type of seed does better in complete darkness (which will be colder) or with 14-16 hours of light.

Once the plant has grown its first two true leaves, it’s time to lower the temperature. Try to keep it 10-15 degrees lower than it has been, as this helps the plant become more sturdy.

Time for Development

Your seed packets usually tell you how long to let the seeds mature indoors before transplanting outside. This requires you to know when the last frost is expected for your area, and there are so many maps of this I could probably print them out and turn it into floor rugs to cover my whole house.

Even if you are in a specific area for your frost dates, consider different things which may affect the temperature. Being on ridges, or down in valleys, can alter when you experience the last frost. If you have doubts, ask local and experienced gardeners for their advice, or use the ever expanding world wide web.

How to Tell a Healthy Plant

I mentioned earlier that you must wait for the first two true leaves to arrive before dropping the temperature. What are those, you may wonder? When a seed comes up, the first leaves are not how they will appear for the rest of the plant’s life. They are slim and long. Most plants have very different leaf types and you will be able to tell once they have come in.

A healthy plant will be a vibrant green and not have yellow blotches or withering leaves. It will be sturdily built, not tall and spindly. Think a healthy wrestler. You want to be ready for the wind, the rain, insects, disease, a misplaced foot, and eager rodents. This takes brawn, folks.