My Garage Indoor Seed Starting Setup~ 2022
It has been hard to resist starting Summer seeds, but it’s finally time to prepare and get going! This year, the biggest change is going to be growing seeds under grow lights for the VERY first time. I’ll walk you through our DIY indoor seed starting setup below and talk about some of my seed starting plans for Summer.
For those of you gardening with me for a long time, you know that I’ve never had an indoor seed starting setup area with grow lights. Our mild winters here in Orange County, California make for ideal temperatures outdoors during the day, and so I would typically sprout my seeds indoors, bring them out for sun, and inside at night. Honestly, there were quite a few benefits to this:
♦no need to purchase grow lights (the sun is free!)
♦outdoors provides a natural breeze and fresh air for stronger seedling stems
♦the process of hardening off (also discussed HERE in detail) is easier because your seedlings are already adjusted to natural, full sunlight.
♦space saving! My home is about 700 sq feet….there’s not a lot of room for seedlings indoors. At night, they would stay on the kitchen floor
Furthermore, there was also a part of me that wanted to show new gardeners that you don’t need tons of fancy equipment to start seeds (living in our mild climate of course). Friends, this “hybrid” indoor/outdoor setup worked for me for years, despite also having its drawbacks—birds eating seedlings, bad weather days, the labor of moving trays in/out of the house, etc.
Why I’m trying an indoor seed starting setup now
So you might be wondering why am I changing the seed setup this year? As with anything gardening, each situation/climate/gardener is going to be different, so it really came down to my personal needs and lifestyle. This Spring we are installing new floors, counters, and new sink in the kitchen so my floor space in our 700 square feet home will feel extra diminished (and let’s be honest, any renovation means dust and chaos). Also, my schedule has changed in conjunction with how many seedlings I need to start—resulting in my realization that I won’t be able to bring LOTS of trays in and out every day. It was time to find a system that is lower daily maintenance—and an indoor seed starting setup stays put and runs itself.
Before I share th indoor seed starting setup I’ll be using, I do want to remind everyone that buying seed starts from a local nursery is also a very useful and valid way to save yourself some trouble. For me, there are just some varieties I want to grow that you can’t find as plants, so seed starting is necessary. I also plan to use up all the extra “older” seeds in my collection, to be more frugal this year.
Speaking of buying seedlings, Sam and I were on a short road trip down to Vista, CA where I found an artichoke variety I wanted to add to my collection at a nursery. It’s a ‘romanesco’ artichoke that is a green globe variety with purple streaks. If you don’t know, I really love growing artichokes and share my tips in Growing Artichokes FAQs.
The New Indoor Seed Starting Setup
If you are new here, you might also want to check out my whole Seed Starting section of the blog with information on The Basics of Seed Starting, Tips for Growing Strong Seedlings, and a 10-Day Hardening Off Schedule. It’s some of the first information I ever added to the blog, but it all still stands today.
After a little garage cleaning (our garage is like the go-to place for all the random junk we have collected and things we don’t have room for in the house), Sam was able to make some space for a table to be my seed starting space. He was also able to use old fish tank lights we had in storage to create the light I needed (the perks of being married to an electrician). While this indoor seed setup uses lights not specifically for plants, it follows the basic guidelines for an indoor seed starting setup so you can get the idea. I’m sharing the details of mine below and some similar items that are commercially available.
Indoor Grow lights
I’m very excited to be using grow lights this year for the first time. The important part is figuring out how high above the seedlings they should hang—-too low and you could burn them, but too high and the seedlings will get leggy. Fortunately, most grow lights come with manufacturer’s instructions that you should follow for that.
I’m curious to see if having grow lights on for 14-16 hours a day results in faster seedling growth for me. Remember, I previously used the daylight that was available right now (which is less than 12 hours a day) to grow my seedlings, so it will be exciting to see the difference an indoor seed starting setup makes.
You can check out a selection of commercially available grow lights HERE. NOTE: using lights that were previously for fish tanks took some tweaking and assessment regarding the spectrum (blue/red/yellow/etc) and also the strength. Thankfully, my husband is an electrician so he is well-equipped to handle this stuff. Usually, it’s best to buy proper grow lights made for seedlings (and follow their instructions).
Heat Mats & Thermostat
Growing in our garage means it’s COLD (like down in the 40s and 50s right now). This is far too cold for peppers, tomatoes, and other heat-loving crops. Therefore, I plan to use the heat mats for germination at a temperature of about 70-75, but once the seeds sprout, I’ll keep the heat mats set to a lower temperature to prevent legginess (maybe 60 degrees). This is a first time thing for me, but that’s my guess. Conventional wisdom says to turn off heat mats once germinated (keeping heat mats on while growing seeds indoors can result in leggy seedlings due to the fast growth), but our garage just gets too cold for me to imagine turning off the heat mats completely for these Summer plants. I’d love to hear your experiences with this in your indoor seed starting setups! PS: this is why having a thermostat is important for regulating the heat mat temperature. Our thermostat came with the heat mats as a set.
During the growth cycle of seedlings, I’ve always watered from the bottom. There are a couple reasons for bottom watering: a) some seeds are so tiny they can be flooded out if watered from above, and b) in enclosed spaces, moisture on foliage can result in conditions for disease. Since I’ll be using a combination of 4” pots and small seed trays in my indoor seed starting setup, I don’t have watering trays that are specific to these products. Instead, I’ll be using foil food trays to put under my seed pots. Watering from underneath is a great way to promote deep root growth, make sure you are watering thoroughly, and the foil might act as a good reflector of light for the seedlings too.
Update January 2023 indoor seed setup: I plan on using this same setup, but use my favorite Epic Gardening seed cells because they are sturdy and great for my space. Additionally, there will soon be matching watering trays available from Epic Gardening for these seed cells soon that I plan on using.
A Fan to Strengthen Stems
Growing seedlings indoors means there is a lack of natural breeze. Without a breeze of any kind, the plants you grow can have weak and thin stems that won’t do well once put outdoors. One way to start strengthening stems is to have a small fan run on your seedlings while they grow. This is also good for air circulation anyway, which can prevent some diseases as well. I’m just using a fan we already had in storage. Just like this one!
Now that the indoor seed starting setup is complete, all I’ll do is follow the Basics of Starting Seeds and see how the setup performs!
NOTE: If you are near me (in Orange County, Los Angeles, and parts of San Diego), you might take advantage of my “seed starting schedule” in the Garden Resources Library. This schedule is not based on pushing boundaries—it’s a very conservative schedule. You’ll notice that typically I would wait to start peppers and tomatoes and a lot of warm season plants, but this year has been a more mild winter so I’m going to start a few weeks earlier than usual for some plants. Please keep in mind that we live in a climate where we can push the boundaries of growing much more IF WE WANT. Whether or not you want to will depend on your garden size, time, budget, and overall goals.
Related Article: What Type of Garden is Right For You?
Some of my personal seed starting goals this year:
Other than trying out an indoor seed starting setup, I’d like to avoid up-potting or separating plants this year. Each time you perform either of those tasks it takes a) resources- like soil medium, larger pots, and labor and b) a little time for the plant to recover. Ideally, I’d like to start my seeds at the right time, in the right size cell, and simply have them go straight into the garden when it’s nice and warm!
This year I’m pre-germinating my peppers and eggplants in coffee filters (view my tutorial HERE) and transferring one germinated seed over to each 4” pot—no thinning needed! And yes, I’ll be using 4 inch pots and don’t plan to up-pot before they go in the garden. Tomatoes will be treated the same. The flowers and herbs will be different. I’ll use my smaller seedling trays (from Epic Gardening), sow multiple seeds per cell, and thin accordingly. They won’t be up-potted before going in the garden, so the flowers are herbs will have the least amount of space to grow than my other plants.
I’m going to stagger start dates more. Last year, instead of starting all my tomatoes at once, I did a few waves. One early (like February), one in March, and another in August. It resulted in a nice spread of tomatoes. The same thing worked for summer squash, as I sowed one type earlier than usual, another once the weather was already warm, and a couple more throughout Summer. Technically, I guess this is succession sowing, but all I know is that it was nice to not have all my seeds “in one basket” and have more variation in harvests throughout the Summer. There’s a more relaxed feel to it as well. This works well in Southern California because our growing season is very long.
Use up my leftover flower and herb seed packets. Do you have lots of half-used seed packets from years past? This year I sorted through all my flowers and herbs and decided to use them. My seed purchases this year were centered on solely the main edible crops and what we love to eat. I bought some new okra, corn, tomatoes, eggplants, etc.
Some things to be excited about!
Oh gosh, I get giddy thinking about some of the saved tomato seeds I collected last Summer. I collected seeds from some of my best heirloom tomatoes (like Black Krim) and I’ll be growing them this year. Collecting and saving your own seed is a great way to acclimate varieties to your specific climate— which means stronger, healthier, and happier plants. I’ve been on a mission to develop a strong collection for our garden climate, starting with the seeds that are easiest to save: heirloom tomatoes and dried heirloom beans. I don’t tend to save any melon or squash seeds since the cross pollination chances are too high for me to feel like it’s worth it.
Dried heirloom beans! This year I bought several new dried bean varieties to grow. It’s become very obvious that dried beans are a crop we use a lot here at home, and homegrown tastes the best! This year the dried beans are getting priority and space! If you want to learn about growing heirloom dried beans, I’ve written up a post about them HERE.
What is something you are excited about for the upcoming Summer garden?