For us, starting vegetable seeds indoors is a long-awaited signal that Spring is right around the corner!

Starting Vegetable seeds
Vegetable Seedlings – A sure sign that Spring is near!

All of those long Winter months of cold and frosty mornings somehow become more bearable when those little seeds start to sprout through the soil. We spent this week getting our seed starting rack and soil mix ready – knowing it won’t be long until those harvest baskets are filled with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and more!

Contrary to what you may hear or read, growing your own vegetable and flower plants from seed does not require expensive equipment! In fact – we have been starting ours easily for years with a homemade plant stand and ordinary inexpensive flourescent shop lights. It’s simple, fun, and not to mention – it saves us a TON of money on our plants! (We have links at the bottom of the article to our DIY seed stand and also a table top version for those that want to start a flat or two)

Starting Vegetable Seeds – Using the Count Back Method

To figure out when to start our seeds – we simply count back from the day we want to put our plants into the garden. Although most seed packets list 4 to 6 weeks as a starting time – we like to use 6 to 8 weeks for nearly all of our vegetable plants.

The extra week or two allows time for the plants to germinate and grow strong – and also gives them the chance to harden off on the back porch. Hardening off is nothing more than letting your flats of young seedlings get used to the fresh air, sun and fluctuating temperatures of outdoor weather a few days or weeks before going in the ground. We put our young plants on the back porch a few weeks during the warmer days of Spring – only bringing them in when temps fall too low at night. It is such an important and often overlooked step that can really help your plants get off to a great start once planted. 

To get adjusted to the outdoors, we let our plants "harden off" on the back porch for a few weeks before planting
To get adjusted to the outdoors, we let our plants “harden off” on the back porch for a few weeks before planting

For us here in central Ohio – our typical planting day in the garden falls somewhere between the 15th and 22nd of May – so using the count back method, we’ll start those seeds on or close to March 20th to give them a full 8 weeks. For fast germinating and growing plants like zucchini and cucumbers – we wait until about 4 weeks before.

The big exception to the 6 to 8 week rule is our ornamental and hot pepper seeds – which we start a full 10 weeks before planting day. For whatever reason, hot pepper seed varieties such as cayenne, habanero, jalapeno and our favorite Chinese Five Color take a long time to germinate in the soil. In fact, some can take up to 28 days before popping through!

We plant all of our seeds in a homemade mix of compost, perlite, soil and sand. Whether you use commercial potting soil or make your own – the important key is to make sure the soil is light for seeds to easily break through.

After we plant our seeds into the tray – we lightly mist with a spray bottle to dampen the soil. We then cover our trays with a plastic top and put them in a dark room. There is no need for light at this point, and in fact – the seeds have always sprouted better for us when we leave them out of direct light. We check on them every few days – misting when necessary to make sure the soil stays damp.

We keep our ordinary shop lights about 1.5" from the top of the plants to keep them from growing spindly and weak
We keep our ordinary shop lights about 1.5″ from the top of the plants to keep them from growing spindly and weak

Once we have a few seedlings sprouting from the soil, we remove the lid and place it under our shop light stand.  It may sound close, but when using ordinary shop lights you want the bulbs to hover down about 1 to 2″ from the top of the plants. Continue to adjust to keep them that close as the plants grow. This prevents seedlings from becoming spindly and weak.

All that’s left is to keep watered and get ready for Spring! And remember – when it comes to watering – your plants will require more as they grow – sometimes even morning and night as they begin to fill the soil up with a healthy root structure!

So get those shop lights and seeds ready – Spring is just around the corner!

Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary  This post may contain affiliate links.

For detailed seed starting instructions, see our previous articles below:

Starting Seeds Indoors 

The Table Top Seed Stand Project

DIY Seed Starting Rack

14 thoughts on “The Keys To Starting Vegetable Seeds Indoors – Spring is Near!

  • February 27, 2016 at 10:37 am

    What is the ratio on your starting mix? I usually start my seeds all in one tray and then pot up in 4″ pots when big enough to move, that way I know I have a plant in each pot when putting under lights. Usually wait until they have the first true leaves to bump up.

  • February 15, 2016 at 4:49 pm

    What’s a good temperature range for starting seeds indoors? I can use my garage or a storage room, but they aren’t heated. Both stay above freezing…usually in the 50 degree range. Thanks! 🙂

    • February 8, 2016 at 12:16 pm

      No…we give them about 12 hours of light each day

  • February 7, 2016 at 9:26 pm

    Love this post! I’m getting antsy to start my seeds. I notice you start in the small cells but it looks like you transplant to cups???
    Would you please share your recipe for your potting soil? I’d like to follow your lead on the soil (I’ve had terrible results with the potting soil from various stores over the years).
    Love your plant stand and showed my hubby. I look forward to your reply and thank you, as always, for providing such fantastic posts. You are my FAVORITE blog to follow.
    P.S. Love – Love – Love your new set up — I can now print your awesome bread recipes. I’ve never made my own bread but getting ready to start.

  • February 7, 2016 at 4:22 pm

    I’ve been starting my seeds in my basement for years now and have great luck. I started with 1″x4″x8′ planks on saw horses and four shop lights (the plug in kind) on chains so they can be raised as the plants grow. I put my starter containers in disposable aluminum roasting pans so water doesn’t drip onto the floor. The lights are on a timer. This set-up was cheap and works quite well. Over the winter I’ll bring in potted plants and keep them there.

  • February 7, 2016 at 3:48 pm

    Could you please post the recipe for seed starter soil? I reviewed and older post on garden soil but I’m betting that seed started mix would need to be lighter and a different ratio all together?

  • February 7, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    OWGF, Just to let you know, I am receiving 2 e-mails each time you send your update.

    • February 7, 2016 at 1:41 pm

      Hi Wendy, thank you for letting us know, can you send us an email to with your email and we will remove the duplicate right away. A few slipped through in the conversion. Unfortunately, I can’t tell your email from the comment, so I want to make sure I have the right one. Thanks, and so sorry for the duplicate!

  • February 7, 2016 at 12:18 pm

    I might have to try again one of these days. As of now, I whine to my mommy, and she starts them for me:) I just don’t have the heart to see them spout and die in my care. (Also, we don’t have a great spot & Mom has a sun room.) Your plants look so happy and full.

  • February 7, 2016 at 10:30 am

    Thank you so much! I appreciate having this information. I have already started some seeds because I was told I needed to start them in January. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and information with your readers. I have been blessed by the things you share.

  • February 7, 2016 at 9:44 am

    I’m moving to a new house in May in upstate sc. Well past freeze. I’d like to start my plants, maybe move to buckets and be able to transplant when me move in. I know it’s not optimal but are there some that will do better? What will be ok to go start late. We do have a long season with first frost in late Nov.

  • February 7, 2016 at 9:19 am

    I love your blog and have been following for a while. I’m a pepper addict and to germinate my peppers I put a heating pad under them on low, making sure it doesn’t get wet. It will speed up germination to about 7 to 10 days, Peppergal

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