How to Start Seeds Indoors

There are several reasons why you might wish to do so. If you live in an area where the winters are long, and so the growing season is relatively short, starting seeds indoors gives you a head start when it comes to planting out. Indeed, any permaculture gardener who wishes to extend their growing season can use starting seeds indoors; perhaps they may succession plant a crop that they wish to harvest over the entire season, with the first transplants providing a young crop before the mature plants of the second and third planting mature. Another reason may be that soil conditions on your plot are not ideal, perhaps with a high clay quotient. This can make it hard for seeds to germinate and push through the soil surface; starting the seeds indoors and transplanting seedlings out to the garden beds gives them a better chance of establishing themselves. And starting seeds early indoors can also potentially lead to greater yields as the plant has longer outside in the sunshine of spring and summer to generate energy and set fruit.

Sourcing seeds
There are several ways to get your hands on the seeds you want to cultivate. The first, and most convenient, is to use seeds from plants you already have growing on your plot. Remember that in most cases, this will not produce an exact replica of the parent tree (grafting is the technique that comes closest to doing that), but it does mean you know exactly what substances and materials the parent plant has been exposed to, so, being a permaculture gardener, you can be sure the seeds will not be bringing in any inorganic fertilizers or pesticides to your site. You could also source seeds from your local seed bank. This organization will have specimens of native plants that will be suited to the conditions in your location. Fellow gardeners can also be a good source of seeds – just make sure they haven’t used inorganic products on the parent plants and that they haven’t suffered disease that could affect the quality of the seeds. And you can always purchase seeds from a garden center, nursery or online. Again, make sure the seeds come from an organic, unadulterated source. Typically, you can also find a greater variety of species available as seeds than as seedlings.

Containers
You can use just about anything as containers for starting your seeds indoors, as long as they can hold a plant-7407_640couple of plant-7407_640inches of soil and do not become waterlogged. Whatever you use – be it old milk cartons, yoghurt pots or something similar – just punch drainage holes in the base. Larger containers allow more space for root growth, but if you don’t have much space to store the containers, small ones will suffice. Rectangular containers have more surface area than circular ones. You can grow seeds in small individual containers or in trays together, remembering that individual containers tend to dry out more quickly than larger communal ones. If using recycled containers, clean them well to ensure no diseases or pests remain to attack your seeds.

Growing medium
A light, well-structured growing medium is required to give your seeds a good start. Because of the tender roots that the seedlings have, they will struggle if the soil is too cloying; they need a well-drained, well-aerated medium in which to establish themselves. Seeds contain within themselves all the nutrients they need to germinate, so your initial growing medium doesn’t necessarily to contain compost. A purchased organic seed-starting mix will have the right structure, while you could also use a combination of peat moss and vermiculite or coconut husks. However, with such a medium, you will need to transplant the seedlings to a more nutrient-rich soil when the first leaves appear. As such, it can save time and energy to simply plant the seeds in a compost-rich medium in the first place. While the seed won’t need the nutrients to begin with, they certainly won’t hurt it, and when it has set leaves the nutrients are immediately available.

Planting
Different seeds will have different planting specifications – which will be provided by the seed bank or appear on the package of purchased seeds. However, as a general rule of thumb, plant seeds at a depth four times that of the diameter of the seed. Plant into moist soil so the seeds have the water they need to germinate, and cover with a plastic bad to preserve humidity until the seedling appears (at which time remove the plastic so that the seedling is not damaged by the magnifying effect on the sun’s rays that the bag will have). The time when you plant will vary a lot depending on the plant you are growing, the time it takes to reach maturity, and its relative hardiness to cold when set out in the permaculture plot. Normally you would plant a certain number of weeks before the average last frost of spring in your area. So, for instance, alliums such as inions and leeks will need starting indoors 12 to 14 weeks before the last frost, while eggplants and tomatoes will need 6 to 8 weeks, and cucumbers just a couple.

Position
When you have planted the seeds, they require gentle heat. Placing the containers on a windowsill over a radiator, or on the top of a refrigerator can give the required temperature, without overheating the seeds (a few types of seed also require light to germinate so you may need to place near a window). Once seedlings appear, they require light rather than heat. A sunny, south-facing room that lets in lots of light is good. You can get both light and heat from sunshine, although be careful of placing plants on a windowsill if you have a lot of sunshine as they can get very hot. You will also need a position that allows enough space for the plants to grow, and that has a system set up to catch water that drains from the containers.