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If you have a sizable vegetable garden, starting seeds indoors is well worth the effort. It’s incredibly rewarding for gardeners and lets you pick from many more varieties of your favorite vegetables.

Although the initial investment may seem high, seed-starting supplies ultimately cost less than buying seedlings from a nursery. For the price of some soil, electricity, and a pack of seeds, you can grow 20 tomato plants rather than paying five dollars per plant at a garden center.

Planting seeds indoors also lets you work with soil months before you would outside. It’s a great cure for the winter blues, especially in long winters like those in Vermont.

This guide covers everything you need to know about seed-starting supplies to get your indoor garden going. While we advocate for DIY and recycling when possible, sometimes investing in proper equipment ensures the best results.

1. High Quality Vegetable Seeds

The first thing you’ll need, of course, is vegetable seeds. We prefer organic seeds because they are not much more expensive than conventional seeds and, in our opinion, offer higher quality results and more diverse varieties.

Another option to consider is heirloom seeds – these varieties have been preserved over time and open the door to incredibly interesting specialty varieties.

Renee’s Garden and High Mowing Organic Seeds are our two favorite seed companies. In our experience, seeds from these companies have a high germination rate (meaning, they actually come up when you plant them!) and produce delicious high-quality vegetables.

You’ll need to choose which vegetables to start from seed, based on both the number of each vegetable you want and whether they should be started indoors. We’ve provided a guide on which seeds to plant indoors.

You’ll also need to plan out a seed starting schedule. Click here for an article on when to plant seeds indoors.

2. Seed Starting Soil (or Mix)

Seedstarting mix is specially designed to offer the nutrients that lead to better germination. You can make your own seedstarting mix with the components that will make your seeds happy, or you can purchase a ready-made soil mix, like Gardener’s Supply Company Seedstarting mix or Coast of Maine Organic Seed Starter.

Again, we recommend going with an organic mix to ensure that no unwanted chemicals are introduced to your seedlings early on. After all, you will be eating this food and serving it to your family.

Many companies also makes something called a coir which is basically a small disc of essential nutrients and soil that is dried out. When you add water, the soil absorbs the moisture and expands to fill your pot.

It can also help to add organic compost to your seed starting mix, at a rate of about 1/3 compost to soil mix (check and see if your mix already has compost, and add a little less if it does).

how to start a vegetable garden e-book link

3. Grow Lights or Full Spectrum Bulbs

Build your own seed starting grow light shelf or system
Seedlings need a strong source of light to germinate and succeed.

Starting seeds indoors requires a strong light source to make up for the lack of sunlight in the early spring. While a window sill may work later in the season, the day is typically not long enough for what the seeds need for germination.

You’ll need to consider a full spectrum light bulb or grow light to ensure successful germination and growth.

A full spectrum plant bulb in a fixture that sheds light over your entire seedstarting surface is a decent place to start for a small set up. But once you get started and want a larger seedstarting operation, grow lights are a solid investment.

Be sure to read the details on the size and coverage area of any grow light you choose – some can appear large in the photos but end up very small when you get them home!

** Click here for our article on
How to Build a Grow Light Stand for your seedstarting operation.**

Newspaper Seed Starting Pots
Seed Starting Pots made of Newspaper

4. Seedling Pots or Flats

Once you have seeds and soil and a shelf or other location to put them, you’ll need pots or flats in which to plant your seeds. There are a lot of options when it comes to starting your own seeds, and you need not spend too much money on fancy equipment.

Seed Starting Flats can be large and open for planting seeds that you’ll divide later, or they can be divided into small sections. They are convenient because they fit nicely under a grow light on a stand and can be moved around easily without moving tons of separate pots.

However, depending on the size of the openings, you may have to transplant your seedlings into larger pots part-way through the season. Flats can be plastic (which can be used year after year) or made of peat or cardboard (these will degrade over time and can often be planted directly in the garden).

Seed Starting Pots are individual pots for each plant and come in a wide variety of shape and materials. You can also use recycled containers from previously purchased plants, just make sure they have been carefully washed to avoid introducing pathogens to your seedlings. Lastly, you can make newspaper seed starting pots for some veggies.

We do not recommend newspaper pots for veggies that have to be planted more than 6 weeks in advance, as the pots will begin to decompose after a while. This is by design and great from a zero-waste perspective, but not so great if the pot decomposes before you are ready to transplant your seedlings.

You can also make your own seedstarting pots out of recycled newspaper! Click here for instructions!

5. Fertilizer (optional, but helpful)

Though not always necessary, it can be very helpful to mix fertilizer into the seed starting mix before you plant. This helps to add nutrients that give your veggies a little boost.

You can use an all-purpose fertilizer or a vegetable-specific fertilizer; we only use something specific for tomatoes because we plant a lot of them and have had success with Organic Tomato Fertilizer.

After the initial planting, you can also use fertilizer regularly when you water. Follow the directions on the fertilizer you choose for how much and how often to add fertilizer.

We use an organic fertilizer mix that is suitable for seedlings and houseplants. You simply add a spoonful to your watering can and water your seedlings as usual.

Other Seed Starting Supplies

A few other supplies that may be helpful to you when you start seeds include:

  • A Seed Starting Planner & Schedule
  • A Watering Can, preferably one with a small spout so that you can get very precise with your watering.
  • A Spray Bottle to dampen soil and for early watering before individual sprouts pop up.
  • Boot Trays to put your seedlings on to avoid water damage to your table or shelf.
  • Garden Gloves so you can dig your hands in to mix the soil.
  • Seedling Labels are needed to keep track of what is planted and where. Popsicle sticks or a piece of masking tape on a pot work just fine.

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Carrie Williams Howe is an educational leader by day and an aspiring homesteader by night and weekend. She lives on a small homestead in Vermont with her husband, two children, and a rambunctious border collie. She blogs about her family's homestead life at The Happy Hive.

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