Gardening is an expensive hobby that stops us from doing all together. That’s why I’m teaching you how to start seeds indoors on the cheap in today’s blog post.
It is in fact January as I sit and write this and I’m thinking I better put out a blog post for those interested in starting seeds…like yesterday! You’d think that January is too early, but if you’re wanting to start seeds indoors now is the time to start gathering your supplies.
Why Start Seeds Indoors?
Keep in mind, not ALL seeds should be started indoors, but for the seeds that you can, there definitely are some advantages.
- It can be the only way you can grow certain crops, all depending on where you live. If you have a short growing season, starting seeds indoors gives you a head start. You can start the seed indoors and after the last frost has passed, plant outside and you’re ahead of the game. Vegetables like peppers and tomatoes require a longer period of warmer weather and so starting indoors will put you ahead.
- Starting from seed is so cheap! You can buy a packet of 100 seeds for around just $3, whereas getting seedlings from a nursery will cost you the same amount for just one small plant.
- You have more control. I find it strange that I’m endorsing this because plants are meant for natural elements, but if you’re starting seeds indoors you have more control and can keep them from dying from pests, weather, etc. If your plants are inside, they are safer to start off with. I know from experience once the humidity and heat hit my zone, it’s a breeding ground for pests and it’s so hard to keep up with. If I’ve got a head start on my seedlings, then when the frost date has passed, I can plant those seedlings out in the milder temperatures which is less risky to the plant. And then I cross my fingers I can get a good harvest before the extreme heat sets in.
This seems pretty obvious, but I wanted to direct you to a blog post I did recently that shared the many heirloom seed companies you can buy from. I choose heirloom because those plants go to seed, and I can save the seeds to plant more the following year. Such a good insurance policy!
Again, I’m sure it’s pretty obvious that I’m mentioning soil. However, this is an important part of the process that you want to make sure you get right. There are many different types of soil to get, and you’ll want something that is loose and crumbly with good organic materials. The organic material is the food for the plant.
For your seeds, look for a good potting soil mix. I listed a brand that I would recommend, but I hesitated to share it off of Amazon. I was reading a lot of reviews on how these soils (any brand) can be infested with pests and I certainly don’t want that indoors.
Your best bet is to go to a nursery and see if the potting soil mix is indoors. Those bags that are housed inside aren’t as likely to have a bug problem. I wanted to mention this just to be safe, but rest assured I’ve never come across this problem.
I’m going to be honest; I haven’t played with making my own soil. That would be ideal someday so I’m not having to rely on the other companies. I’ll be sure to share what I do if my gardening journey takes me there.
I’ll tell you what I get for my containers, and then I’ll give you a few other options. Each item you can find around the house or as a recycled item. Being creative can be an asset in growing seeds indoors on the cheap.
Here’s what I use for trays (72-Cell Trays Hexagonal): In order to have a strong healthy plant, you’ll want to encourage the roots to grow downward. The way you water can help with this, but these trays work great for it too! I’m okay with purchasing this because it is a lost cost and I do reuse them year after year.
Other options for containers: cardboard egg cartons, tiny terra cotta pots found from the thrift store (or here), paper pots from toilet paper rolls, dixie cups, yogurt cups, party cups, ice cube tray
The advantage of using the cardboard or paper pots is you can plant it directly into the ground and it’ll decompose. The problem I seemed to have is they retained moisture so well that they grew mold easily. It’s not the end of the world if this happens. You can repot the seedling and make sure it has good air circulation and sunlight to prevent mold from happening.
If you use any of these containers, be sure the container is small. This will make it easier for the soil to stay hydrated, which is key to getting them to germinate. Another thing to keep in mind is to consider if it has proper drainage. If you get a seed tray or terra cotta pot it should already have it. Egg cartons, yogurt cup, etc. do not, so you can easily poke holes in the bottom of each compartment.
Now that you have your container, you’ll need a tray for the container to sit in. This not only allows for an easier way to carry the seedlings, but it also allows you to water it.
My preferred way of watering is by bottom watering. By doing this, you’re encouraging roots to grow downward towards the water and also allows the soil to wick up the needed amount. If you’re watering from the top, you’re left with a big guessing game with how much do I water?
If you purchase a seed tray kit, there’s a tray included which will allow for bottom watering. For some of the recycled materials mentioned, you can use other things.
For instance, if you choose to use the egg carton to house the seeds, cut off the lid and put it under as your “tray.” With this method, it would be better to water from the top because the cardboard lid would not allow for bottom watering. But if you can use a plastic egg carton lid, that would be great too.
Other options for trays: a cafeteria tray, baking sheet, or a casserole dish. Be creative and keep a look out at the thrift store or even the dollar store for other options! Preferably something big enough to hold the containers as well as a lip for keeping the water in.
A clear lid whether it’s glass or plastic creates your whole setup to act like a mini greenhouse. It keeps the heat and humidity in which your soon to be seedlings need in order to thrive.
There are a number of ways you can do lids. Again, the seed tray kits are super easy and come with everything you need: container, tray, and lid.
If you’re looking for a creative way to use a lid, mason jars might be it. As a homesteader, mason jars are a must! I could go into all the ways you can use it, but for today’s post it works perfectly as a lid. You can also cover your plants with cling wrap and put a couple holes in it to allow it to breathe.
Video For How To Start Seeds Indoors On The Cheap
The above supplies are absolute necessities for starting seeds indoors. The supplies mentioned below are bonus supplies that I would recommend getting if you’re looking to garden long term. These are the supplies that will make your life much easier!
Bonus #1: Shelving
Shelving is ideal because it gives you vertical space to organize your seeds. So, if you’re doing quite a number of seedlings it’ll keep everything together in a more confined space.
You don’t have to spend a lot for shelving. Keep in mind that you’ll want enough space between each shelf to allow for the plant to grow. I got my cheap wire rack from Amazon a couple years ago. The shelves are adjustable, and it does what I need. You can find my rack here for $69.70.
Other great places to find shelving are Facebook Marketplace or even the thrift stores. And if you’re handy and like making things, try making your own shelving unit.
Bonus #2: Grow Lights
You can certainly grow your seeds by a sunny windowsill (specifically a south-facing window) and be fine. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough sun that comes into my house. Or maybe it’s just that the winter sun isn’t as intense? Either way, when I started my seeds indoors the first time, I noticed my little plants looking really tall, with two sad leaves at the top. In the gardening world, they would say your plant is leggy.
The reason your plants get leggy is because it’s trying to reach for the sun. It simply isn’t getting enough. That’s why grow lights are something I highly recommend.
You can watch all the videos on grow light recommendations until you’re blue in the face. Each vlogger gives different advice making it more confusing. At least that’s how I felt.
My solution was to hop on Amazon and search grow lights. I looked for something that looked affordable to me as well as good reviews. This is what I came up with. I’ve had them for a couple years and they’ve really elevated my indoor seedlings!
Again, if you see yourself gardening for years to come, I believe grow lights are a worthy investment for starting seeds indoors.
Bonus #3: Heat Mat
I mention heating mats, but I would try germinating your seeds first without it. Of course, the temperature at which it germinates all depends on the plant you’re planting. Plants like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant do prefer warmer soils. When you’re trying to germinate seeds, the ideal temperature is 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit.
My house is not that warm in the winter, so a heating mat helps me get the process going. You could probably get away without a heating mat, but the germination rate would be a few days longer than if you used a heating mat.
As a result, this is a product I would get after some experimentation, and if you had no luck.
Furthermore, heating mats are a benefit to your seeds ONLY when you’re trying to germinate them. Once the seeds are germinated, I take them off the heating mat.
Depending on how many seedlings you start at one time, you may not need many of these mats. One heating pad warms up an entire tray from a seed starting kit.
If you don’t have a heat mat, you can get creative! I’ve used a heating pad that I keep in my medicine cabinet, and it worked great. What I tend to look for to make sure it’s working is to see if the lid is fogged up and has condensation.
Other things you can try: rope lights, old Christmas lights, or a radiator. I personally don’t have experience with these but if they’re available to you, it be fun to experiment with safely.
For the heating mat that I purchased, click here.
Bonus #4: Fan
This is the last thing on the list and again I want to note that you could probably get away without this. But surely a fan is an easy thing to find around your house.
I had an air filter last year that would oscillate and used that to add a breeze to the plants. Use what you have, amiright?!
I went to Target after Christmas and in their dollar section I found portable fans for $5. I originally only got one because I couldn’t think of an immediate use other than say a power outage during warmer weather. But of course, once I got home, I realized it would be perfect to clip the fans onto the shelf and blow on the seedlings!
The reason a fan is nice (but not necessary) is it can help prevent mold from getting onto your plants. I do not seem to have that problem with the seed tray kits, but definitely with the paper pots.
Another advantage to a fan is it mimics the wind. The “wind” will help start to train your plant and get it strong and ready to go outside after the frost.
Okay, so that’s a lot of supplies that you can buy for starting seeds indoors. It may look daunting, so let’s break down the cost so you can see the overall picture. This breakdown contains all the supplies you need that are all brand new. The list also includes EVERYTHING! So, if you’re wanting to save a little money this year, I’d forgo the heat mat and fan.
Personally, as someone who plans on doing this for many years to come, I find it worth it. Most of the supplies listed you will only have to buy once and can reuse year after year.
The post also included alternatives where you can save more money. See what you have lying around the house, and you may not have to buy everything listed. Just remember to have fun with it and enjoy the process.
Let Me Know In The Comments…
Have you ever tried starting your seeds indoors? What creative ways have you made seed starting work? Share some of your favorite tips in the comments.