Start Seeds Indoors

Stuck at home? Now is a great time to start your edible garden. Many people buy small plants at the nursery, but if that isn’t possible right now, try seeds. Seeds can be started indoors and transplanted out or transferred to larger pots as they grow.

Here are tips on starting seeds.

  • Many seeds can be started in pots indoors and then transplanted out. Try salad greens, peas, broccoli and other brassicas, tomatoes, peppers and squash. Don’t try root crops like beets and carrots—they need to be “direct sown” into the soil.
  • It’s best to use a light seed-starting medium rather than plain garden soil. You can buy it, or make your own with a mixture of compost, peat moss, coco coir, sand and soil—whatever you have available that will be lighter weight than soil. The goal is to make it easier for the seeds to push out of the soil.
  • Plant in very small pots, like “six-packs” of nursery cells, one inch wide by two inches deep. Or use small yogurt containers or take-out food clamshells. Try to have at least two inches of depth.
  • Sow small seed just under the surface of the soil. Bigger seed like peas can be planted deeper.
  • Keep the seed bed consistently moist but not soggy.
  • Keep the seed tray in a warm place while seeds are germinating. A seedling heat mat is a great tool for the avid gardener.
  • Place the seed tray in a sunny indoor spot once the seedlings appear.
  • Be careful when watering. Use a bike water bottle or small watering can to gently water at the soil level.
  • Cool-season crops like salad greens and peas can be planted in the garden when they have two or three sets of “true leaves.” (The first leaves to appear are called the “seed leaves.”)
  • Warm-season crops like tomatoes and peppers should be “potted up” to larger pots and kept indoors until the weather is warmer, with nights consistently at or above 50 degrees F.
  • Before transferring any seedlings to the garden, they need to be “hardened off.” This is done by setting the seed tray outside for an hour one day, two hours the next, etc., for 5 to 7 days. This gets them used to the weather so they will survive better in the open garden. If planting in a warm raised bed or under cover, this step is less important.
  • Water consistently once the seeds are in the garden to help them set their roots and get off to the best start. The surface of the soil should just start to get a bit dry before watering again.

Order your seeds from one of our wonderful bioregional seed companies. Be patient as they are probably experiencing a high volume of orders.

Here are some seed companies to try:

Share, Learn, Grow at Our Seed Swaps

Sprout some new ideas for your edible garden in January! Come to the annual Seed Swaps presented by our King County Seed Lending Library branches.

Along with seeds of favorite vegetables, you will find enthusiastic fellow gardeners to share their best varieties. Many attendees at last year’s swap brought their own seeds.

Seed Swaps will be Saturday, Feb. 2 in Northwest Seattle and Snoqualmie Valley, and Saturday, Feb. 9 in Northeast Seattle and Feb. 24 in West Seattle. (See details on our Events page.)

shoppers 2017 swap

At the swap, stick around to learn about both ends of the gardening year. There will be short workshops on seed starting and seed saving. If you save your own, you can make a deposit to the library’s seed bank at next year’s swap.

Bring your edible garden seed to share. It can be commercial or home-grown seed, but please follow these guidelines:

  • Share only seeds of edible plants that your fellow gardeners would grow from seed, such as annual vegetables, herbs and edible flowers.
  • If donating packaged seed, it should be organic or open-pollinated or heirloom.
  • If donating home-saved seed, please clean it off the stems or stalks and bring only the seed.
  • You can clean your seed at the swap. We will have screens and buckets available.
  • All shared seed should be fresh, within three years of purchase or saving.
  • Please label all donations with seed type, variety if known, and year it was grown/saved.

The Seed Swaps are free and open to all; bringing seed is not required.

The King County Seed Lending Library has five locations around the county, all operated by volunteers and supported solely by donations.

Seed donation