Sustainable Cooks
First Time Visiting? Start Here!

Seed Starting – How to Start Seeds Indoors

Learn how easy indoor seed starting can be! Seed starting is the most economical way to grow a healthy and diverse garden this coming year. A few simple tools and know-how will help you start your garden off on the right step.


Welcome to remedial seed starting.

The first few times I started seeds was when we lived in Los Angeles.  I had nothing more high-tech than a south-facing window and still probably had a 95% germination rate. Oh, my how easy it was to garden in Los Angeles. Well, except for the watering – goodness I hate to water!

Seed starting is very cost-effective and allows you to grow many unique plants that you won’t find at your local nursery, Lowes, or other big box stores.


Technically you don’t need anything fancy to start seeds, but I need something brainless since I’m not home often enough to babysit these little guys.  I had an older version (circa 2006 or 2007) of  this seed starting kit from, but my system came with a little water indicator thingy.  I lost most of the parts in our various moves, so I splurged for the new system this year.  I love that it came with the coconut coir brick.

Many seed starting “soil” recipes include peat moss.  Peat moss is a nonrenewable material that is super harmful to the planet when it is harvested.  Plus, someone told my kid that peat is decomposed dinosaurs, so buying a bag of “Buddy, Shiny, Tiny and Don” from Dinosaur Train would not be popular in my house.  Rather than destroying my child and the earth, I’m giving coconut coir brick a shot this year!

Making seed starting soil
You’ll need:

Perlite (the white fluffy things in store-bought soil.  You can find it at any garden store) ~$4.50
Seed starting soil (I used Miracle Gro organic because I couldn’t find anything else at my store) ~$5.25
Coconut coir brick
*I tried to find worm castings to use in this, but they didn’t have any at my store.  I’ll fertilize in a few weeks to make up for the loss of castings.

1) Place the coconut coir brick in a bucket, and add some water.  Let it soak a bit, and then break it apart.  Keep adding water and breaking it apart until it is damp and loose. (too obvious.  I would feel cheap if I even added a “that’s what she said”).

Owl hat made with love by my aunt.


Jack informed me that it was better to “stab” the coir than to stir it.

2) Add some of the seed starting soil, and mix until the coir and soil have combined.

3) Add water to the mixture if needed.  Grab a handful – it should form a ball that feels like crumble chocolate cake.  If it ball holds its shape (hee hee) when squeezed (OMG), chances are the mixture has too much water it in.  Let it dry out a bit.  If the mixture doesn’t even form a ball, you’ll need to add more water.

4) Add a bit of the perlite, and mix that in.


5) Let your finished soil sit for about an hour or so.

Assembling the seed starting materials
These are all the pieces that came in the seed starting kit.

The black tray (reservoir), is the base and will hold all the water for the seedlings.

Wet the white sheet (it feels like felt) and place one side flush with the top of the spiky mat, and the other end should be fitted under the spikes.


Place that in the black tray.

Put the white plastic tray on top of the white sheet.

Fill with the seedling mixture.  I like to put shovefuls of my seed starting mixture in the middle, and work it in to the compartments by hand.  You’ll want to push the soil down so that each compartment is full, but you don’t want to compact the soil in too much.

Planting the seeds
You’ll need:
-seeds (no brainer)
-a pen
-a stick, tape, or something to mark which seeds are which

In the past I’ve always used Baker Creek Seeds, but Erika over at Northwest Edible Life recommended Territorial Seeds, so I thought I’d give them a shot this year.  So basically if my garden sucks, it’s her fault – not mine! ;-D


Write out the markers BEFORE your hands are all covered in dirt.

Most of the seeds that I ordered this year don’t need to be “started” or shouldn’t be started this early, so I may have “over-sowed” a bit this year.  Oh well, I can always give them away when they’re bigger, or just go nuts with planting and hope for the best.  Given that I have so many holes in the tray, and so few seeds that needed sowing, I only did one seedling per “cell”.

I simply sprinkled one seed per cell and then lightly covered with more soil.

We have tons of windows in this house, but most face north.  I chose a sunny southwest facing sliding glass door for these babies.  Lay a towel down to protect the carpet.

I like to let the seedlings think they’re relaxing on a sunny beach.  Helps with germination.

Cover the seed trays with the plastic domes and rotate them each day so that one side doesn’t get more sun than the other.  I put a towel against the door at night so that cold air isn’t blowing on the trays.  Once the seedlings come up, I’ll remove the domes and place a grow light that I bought using Amazon giftcards that I earned via Swagbucks, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to afford it.

Make sure you add water to the reservoir once the water level drops.  It’s best to water the seedlings from the bottom instead of overhead watering.

Now, assuming I don’t kill these seeds, we’ll have another post in a few weeks about up-potting and stuff.  I’m sure you’re all on the edges of your seats!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

16 comments on “Seed Starting – How to Start Seeds Indoors”

  1. I use the cut off mini blind slats for plant markers.You can cut them to size and put a point on the end for easy sticking.

  2. This site has some great options. I don’t know if this is what you’re looking for, but here are some tomatoes called “flame”

  3. When (if?) you find those tomato seeds you want, don’t forget to save some seed from the fruits of your labours to use next year.

  4. Thanks for this post. I am starting seeds myself for the first time, and want to avoid Peat as well.

    In the late 90’s I worked on the Natural Heritage Education staff in a Provincial Park. Just outside our boundary was a kettle bog that was designated as a Local Area of Natural and Scientific Interest, but it was in the hands of a private landowner who was slowly mining the peat. Even so would let the NHE staff visit the parts of the bog that weren’t being worked on field trips.

    Then the Park and the Nature Conservancy approached him with an offer to buy the property. He didn’t think the offer was big enough, so he stepped up mining operations as a way to put pressure on them to come up with more money. It was heartbreaking, as the bog contained lots of significant plant species that were typically only found much farther north.

  5. Dear Sarah,
    From someone who did this for 7 years:
    The best containers to grow in are either the newspaper rolls or…wait for it…the little plastic boxes that baked goods come in from the grocery store, with holes in the lid.
    I have also started seeds in damp peat moss in plastic sandwich bags that I recycled., this would have to be spritzed with water once a week. I kept them in trays on top of my fridge for the best germination rates.
    I have a milllllllion cost effective ways of starting, dividing and repotting plants…in fact, when the seed starting season began in my house, my husband would turn to the kids and say: Say goodbye to your kitchen table, countertops and shelves for the next six months kids…you won’t be seeing them again until then. Didn’t stop me by the way, I would just, at that very moment, decide that I “needed” to plant 6 varieties of the same plant.
    Just a little helpful hint or two to help you along in your next season.

  6. How ar ethe tomatoes doing? Brandywine always worked well for me when I purchased the little seedling pots.This year I am trying something different (last year I did egg cartons and the plants were fine, but I didnt get any tomatoes off them): I saved all my little sectioned pots, ran them through the dishwasher and started this year tomatoes in them two weeks ago. So far so good; “Uncle Joe” is thriving the most.

  7. We have those same starting things! We also use a crisper drawer from the garage fridge which is filled with peat pots. It looks way hillbilly but we don’t use the drawers in the fridge b/c it is filled to the gills with eggs, raw milk and ground flours. And nuts. Oh and LF stuff. I feel like an idiot with it on the counter, though!

  8. Is Perlite dangerous when consumed by a toddler? This question is purely hypothetical, I assure you. (I’m not talking fistfulls out of the bag. Just one or two pieces picked out of the bottom of a, say, orange tree planted in a container.)

    Can’t wait to see your sprouts sprout!

  9. If you want a variety of tomato seeds try might be a bit late getting the seeds, but there is so many, she also has some herbs and her I think husband has a site too called

  10. thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Can you tell I’m on the edge of my seat? I am on the other side of the world, but I reckon I could get some winter vegies started in egg cartons and maybe some herbs?
    I shall be watching for the next instalment with eager anticipation! 🙂

    • You’re welcome, you’re welcome, you’re welcome! Are you in the southern hemisphere? The egg cartons can work (cover with plastic wrap until the seeds germinate)! My dad also used to kind of lay down a tarp, fill it with dirt, and then planted seeds. Whatever it takes I guess.