Springtime is the season when I find myself turning into that annoying kid in the backseat asking every five minutes “Are we there yet, are we there yet?” So, either my kids are rubbing off on me or we are having a New England Spring where one day it is 65 and beautiful and the next, we are shoveling out from under 2 feet of snow. So to satisfy my urge to get out in the garden, I start my seeds inside. It’s a great way to get the kids (& me!) excited for the growing season.
It’s also something not just reserved for hardcore gardeners. While you can invest quite a bit of money into equipment (grow lights, pots, watering systems), you can certainly get a head start in your garden without these things as well. In fact, seed starting is one area where I try to keep minimal and have had success year after year. So, if you want to get a jump on the growing season with a fun activity for both kids and adults alike, give your garden its best start with the following tips and tricks on seed starting:
Get a Jump on Spring With Indoor Seed Starting
- Seed starting soil
- Select seed varieties (you don’t need to start all seeds inside. In fact, some cold hardy varieties do best with direct sowing. Check out this chart for tips on what to start inside and which do best with direct sow)
- Containers- here’s where you can start to save. I have used old toilet paper rolls, which decompose when planted, egg cartons, recycled plant flats which is what I use because I always have them lying around. Old take out containers or produce containers work great too because you can use the see through tops as a greenhouse. If you decide to reuse old pots or trays, be sure to wash them thoroughly with a 10-percent bleach-water solution to get rid of any disease from past years
- Watering system- Here I tend to go two ways…either a spray bottle to mist or a tray underneath the pots so the pots can suck the water from the bottom. Whatever way you do it, you just don’t want to use too much force for above or accidentally overwater
- A sunny window or door area
When Do I Start?
So this becomes a regional question. Try not to rely on the Pinterest grow charts because they could be reflecting a different climate. The best thing to do is to find out the last expected frost date for your area. A good resource is your local nursery or the place you buy your seeds. Once you know your last frost date, check the back of each seed packet for the days-to-harvest or maturity to figure out how soon you can start them indoors.
Fill your seed containers 3/4 with damp soil. Most seeds started indoors are pretty tiny so I just put down the seeds and sprinkle soil over the top, or about two times the size of the seed deep. Spacing is important. If you plant too close, they tend to get leggy, fighting for light. If they are individual containers, I plant 2-3 seeds per space. Otherwise, try for at least 1 inch spacing in a larger container.
*Mom friendly tip: I have four kids and activities like this can turn into a nightmare if I don’t plan it our right. Like dirt all over the house, a gallon of water spilled on the floor, fighting over seeds…you get the picture, it’s not pretty. So in an effort to avoid this, I’ve learned certain things work and some don’t. First off, I usually let the kids pick out their own easy grow seeds (beginner friendly here). That way I know they’ll grow and they won’t be disappointed. I give the each 3 recycled salad greens containers: easy to fill, plant, water and transplant with. Make sure every kids has their own spray bottle to water with. Please. Just trust me. And that’s honestly all you need to keep them happy.
Once the seeds are in the soil, they need to stay moist but not soggy. I like to mist them, but I sometimes fill a tray with water and set my pots on top to suck up water from below. I cover my newly potted seeds with plastic wrap (or clear plastic lids) to help keep a warm, humid environment) and place in a sunny spot. Keep an eye on them and keep them moist.
It’s important that as soon as the seeds sprout, you remove the covering. You don’t want it impeding their growth habit. Keep them moist and keep rotating them to give even sunlight.
Get ’em in the Garden!
One important step that I find most forget is too ‘harden’ them off before planting them in your outdoor garden. This simply means that before setting your babies free in the wide open outdoors, you get them acclimated to the elements slowly first. About a week and a half before planting them outside, I increase their amount of time spent outside from a couple of hours to all day, increasing both sunlight and time each day. Now they’re ready to go in the garden!
My kids look forward to this garden chore each spring. They each plant their own flat and take full responsibility for its care. I let them pick their seed variety and they are rewarded by the end product. Once you start your own seeds indoors, you’ll be hooked. Its so much cheaper than seedlings from the nursery, gives you more flexibility on what you can grow, and the rewards are not far on the horizon.
If you are looking for more kid friendly gardening check out this fun succulent activity