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Seed Starting 101: My Workflow

May 17th, 2010

Now that you’ve chosen your container, your soil mix and determined the needs of your seeds, it’s time to plant them. After starting seeds for a few years you’ll develop a work flow that works for you, but it can be beneficial to see how others do certain tasks. You might learn something interesting, or learn a new way to do something. Today I thought I’d share my system. Usually in January I’ll sit down and figure out a schedule of when all the different kinds of plants need started. (Here’s a nice spring planting calculator thanks to Skippy’s Garden). I do this each year and adjust by my previous year’s experience (for example, I like to start onions about a month early to allow for slow germination that can happen with onion seeds).

The first thing I do when I’m going to start some seeds is to figure out what I’m going to be starting. Since each kind of plant has a schedule for how many weeks before frost they need to be started, you don’t start everything at once. Usually it’s onions/leeks first, then a few weeks later, broccoli/cabbages, then peppers/tomatoes, etc. Knowing what kinds of seeds I’m starting also helps me choose what cell size I plan on using in my flats.

This also helps with seed organization, I organize them by type and by season (so spring brassicas & fall brassicas, etc). I can get out a folder and all of that kind of seed is in there and I don’t have to worry about checking which ones I plant in the spring and which ones get planted in the fall. I also don’t have to sort through my entire seed stash to find all the tomato seeds, they’re all in one folder. For more info on my seed storage/organization system see this post.

Let’s say I decided to start onions first. I fill 2-3 seed flats with 2 inch cells full of my homemade seed starting mix. I add boiling water and wait for the soil to become well moistened. Then I pour out the excess water standing in the bottoms of the trays and set them aside to seed in a day or two. This allows some of the moisture to evaporate, you don’t want to the soil to be too soggy!

The next day I add 3-6 onion seeds per cell (with some vegetables that have a higher germination rate, like tomatoes and cabbage I only use one seed per cell, I’d rather have empty cells than several plants in each cell). Make sure to label well, especially if you’re planting different varieties in the same flat, I usually do one or two rows of each variety (in the case of onions I do entire flats of each variety). I then sprinkle some seed starting mix over the seeds to cover with an eighth of an inch of soil mix (experts say to plant a seed 1 to 1.5 it’s width) and I spray the dry mix with a spray bottle to moisten it. Sometimes I add a clear plastic dome, sometimes I don’t, depends on the type of seed and whether I have one available. If I’m using a heating mat I definitely cover with a dome to conserve heat.

The flats are then put under a grow light or on the front porch if the weather is nice and I watch for the first sign of germination. When I spot the first signs of life, the dome comes off, this helps avoid dampening off and other diseases. If the weather is nice stay on the front porch where they will get sun for most of the day, I only move them inside if it’s supposed to be too cold. This saves me time since I don’t have to harden off the plants come late spring, which can take a lot of time and effort! When the tomatoes get their second set of true leaves I transplant them into larger pots and when the weather turns nice they get planted in the garden. I watch my trays of seedlings and only water when the soil is dry, allowing the soil to dry out helps keep them healthy.

What’s your seed starting routine? Any great tricks you’ve learned?

The rest of the Seed Starting 101 Series
Why Start from Seed
Getting Started
Soil Mix
The Needs of Seeds
My Workflow
Diseases and Problems
Hardening Off
Learn More Each Season

Visit my Amazon store to see what seed starting supplies I like.

7 Comments to “Seed Starting 101: My Workflow”
  1. […] Seed Starting 101 Series Why Start from Seed Getting Stared Containers Soil Mix The Needs of Seeds My Workflow Filed under Seed Sowing | Comments […]

    Reply to Seed Starting 101: The Needs of Seeds | Chiot’s Run's comment

  2. Dave on May 17, 2010 at 9:00 am

    I’m definitely in need to the organizational aspect! I suppose I’ll get that down eventually. As for my routine I typically start in Feb. with my tomatoes, peppers, and basil. Outdoor stuff I direct sow like greens. When the weather is warmer (post last frost) I plant the squash and cucumbers directly in the ground.
    .-= Dave´s last blog ..My Front Porch Garden Design Project Part 1 =-.

    Reply to Dave's comment

  3. sarah on May 17, 2010 at 10:49 am

    Another great post. Thanks for sharing Skippy’s calculator :)
    .-= sarah´s last blog ..Make Sure You Do Some Research First =-.

    Reply to sarah's comment

  4. MAYBELLINE on May 17, 2010 at 11:47 am

    Do not trust a Sharpie permanent marker when labelling plastic containers holding your seedlings. My identification marks either washed away or were faded with the sun. Fortunately, I was able to identify those baby tomato plants.
    .-= MAYBELLINE´s last blog ..Breakfast of Champions =-.

    Reply to MAYBELLINE's comment

  5. Amy @ Homestead Revival on May 17, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    I recently realized how unorganized my seeds were and took cues from your method to set up my own mini files. However, my brain is so cluttered that I need even more help and I added some additional information to remind me about what to plant and when. I’m posting on this tomorrow and referencing your blog here. Thanks for being such an inspiration!
    .-= Amy @ Homestead Revival´s last blog ..The Bible and Food (And A Give-Away!) =-.

    Reply to Amy @ Homestead Revival's comment

  6. dig this chick on May 18, 2010 at 9:17 am

    What a lovely series! And be still my heart with your organization! That folder system of seeds is impressive. Yay for spring and seed starting.

    Reply to dig this chick's comment

  7. Mija on May 19, 2010 at 9:03 am

    Not sure where I learned this on the web but my new favorite garden tool is a PENCIL!!! I don’t really enjoy fussing with all the tiny seeds because I always seem to drop them, get more than I need, etc.

    By just dipping the sharpened tip of the pencil into the moist soil – I can then pick up one seed at a time. It works like a surgical tool! I even took it outside when I was doing carrots and a few other tiny seeds. What a lifesaver!

    Reply to Mija's comment


This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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