Starting from Seeds

You don’t need a greenhouse to produce healthy, vigorous transplants.

By Doug Hall

Photography by Mitch Mandel


You can grow vigorous plants from seed at home.Seeds are a satisfying and thrifty alternative to purchasing flower and vegetable transplants in spring. Starting seeds indoors gives the gardener control over crop timing, as well as a greater selection of varieties (including many heirlooms that are not often sold as transplants). Organic gardeners take advantage of the opportunity to begin the growing process with certified-organic seeds. Success with indoor seed starting requires a suitable light source and a careful eye toward the seedlings’ temperature, moisture, and nutrient needs.

April Johnson, landscape and greenhouse coordinator at the Rodale Institute near Kutztown, Pennsylvania, grows literally thousands of organic transplants every year. Johnson uses a two-step process: First, she plants seeds in flats, and then, when the seedlings are up and growing, she transplants them to individual pots or cell packs. This technique works for many vegetable crops (broccoli, cabbage, eggplant, lettuce, onion, pepper, tomato, etc.) as well as for many annual flowers and herbs.


starting from seed, step 1

Step 1
To sow the seeds, fill a flat with moist seed-starting medium. (Johnson shares the recipe for her organic seed-starting mix here.) Level the medium and use a ruler or piece of lath to press shallow rows about 1/4 inch deep and 2 inches apart.






starting from seed, step 2

Step 2
Sprinkle seeds into the depressions. Space seeds about 1/2 inch apart. If planted too closely, the seedlings will be more difficult to separate at transplant time. Label each row to identify the variety planted.