When to Start Seeds Indoors Planning Guide

When to Start Seeds Indoors Planning Guide

Ready to start your garden, and wondering when to start seeds indoors under lights?


Well, I got answers for you. And it won’t even cost you a dime.


This article is an excerpt from my best selling book, Organic By  Choice: The (Secret) Rebel’s Guide To Backyard Gardening. You can buy it on Amazon or directly from me (saves 20%, shipping is included, and get the digital version free).


When you start seeds indoors, it’s an effective and affordable way to get a good variety of plants budding in your garden.


Yes, you can buy starts, and sometimes, I even do that, especially with the more difficult to germinate varieties (looking at you, cauliflower.).


Indoor seed starting gives you a wide range of possibilities on how and what to grow, and knowing the basics and when to start seeds indoors will allow you to harvest organic crops earlier in the spring and into all summer long.


How to know when to start seeds indoors

Remember that when you’re planning to start seeds indoors, timing is everything.


It’s easy when all your seeds come in the mail and you’re still being bombarded with catalogues to feel like you have to get everything done ASAP.


Breathe. Pace yourself.


Keep a “when to start seeds indoors chart” handy and make a schedule and try to tackle just a couple tasks a day so you avoid feeling rushed (more on this below). 


A “when to start seeds indoors chart” will help you count back from your last expected frost date the indicated number of weeks growth is required for that particular seed before moving it outdoors.


Review your garden layout plans (if you haven’t done that, here’s my square foot gardening layout article) and have the right equipment handy.


square foot gardening plant spacing


Specifically, plan out the seeds that you’re trying to grow and what part of your garden you’ll grow them. Most seed companies include basic growing information on their packet labels.


Keep in mind that weather is unpredictable so “when to start seeds indoors” guides on your packets are just an approximate.


Review the “when to start seeds indoors chart” below for general guidance and Organic By Choice for specific guidance about the best time to start seeds in your area.


Some common dates for when to start seeds indoors

11 weeks before last frost date: Early greens like lettuce, spinach, mustard, collards, and kale. See my article “What seeds can you start in January?”

10 weeks: Herbs like basil and oregano, broccoli, onions, early greens

9 weeks: Pepper, onions, shallots, tomatoes, shallots

8 weeks: Peppers, tomatoes, leaf lettuce, cabbage

7 weeks: Lettuce, radicchio

6 weeks: All the above plus delicate herbs like calendula, thyme, and lemon balm

5 weeks: Tomatoes, melons, cucumber, squash


If you want a full chart plus expert growing tips, there’s a full encyclopedia in my book, Organic By Choice.


Additional tips to start seeds indoors with success


Find the right container

There are plenty of seed growing containers out there, such as peat pots, seedling flats, and even egg cartons.


You can still get a great harvest even if you're growing a garden in small spaces!


Pretty much, you can use anything as long as it can contain the growing medium for at least 2-3 inches deep, depending on the vegetable variety. (Don’t forget to poke some drainage holes and label them.)


However, the key is finding the right size container. For example, you’ll probably need a large growing container for lettuce, especially if you start it in January and plan to put it in your garden in April.


Take a look at your plants and decide how long they’ll be in pots indoors. This is an indicator of how big the growing pot should be.


square foot gardening plant spacing


Use an effective growing medium

A good seed-starting mix must be fresh and sterile with a light and fluffy texture (I show you how to make an organic seed mix in Organic By Choice.).


This allows the medium to hold enough moisture to aid in germination. You can choose to buy commercial bagged mixes, coconut husk fibers, or compressed pellets of peat that expand when wet.


Provide adequate light

It is important to make sure that your seedlings get the right amount of sunlight to grow after they germinate.


Window sills often cannot provide enough light for seeds, so most gardeners use artificial lighting for starting seeds indoors under lights.


You can also use plant lights with a timer system.


square foot gardening plant spacing

Five Steps To Start Seeds Indoors

There are five easy steps to start your seeds indoors and move them to the garden to grow fully.


Use an organic seed-starter mix

You can use a commercial starter mix, or make your own (you can read more about how to do this in Organic by Choice).


Remember that at this stage, you won’t need any compost (in fact, it can make things a bit difficult if it makes the soil very heavy).


Everything that your new babies need to grow is already in the seeds.


square foot gardening plant spacing


Know how deep you need to plant your seeds

Your seed packet will indicate when to start seeds indoors, but they might skip how DEEP to plant the seeds.


The rule of thumb is to plant seeds twice as deep as they are long. This works great for squash, cucumbers, etc, but what about tiny seeds like lettuce?


I tend to broadcast these seeds then thin because it’s faster and less eye strain (those seeds are TINY!).


If you’re braver than I am, you can plant 2-3 seeds and then thin. Similarly, plant 2-3 tomato seeds and then thin when the second set of leaves emerges so just the strongest seedling remains.


It’s best to moisten the potting soil before planting seeds so they’re not dislodged and disturbed.


Water seedlings only to keep the soil moist and not soggy

One favorite trick I use is to wait for the soil to slightly dry up in between watering sessions. A wet environment invites disease.


Feed with warmth and sun

As indicated above, using a light to start your seedlings and keep them going is a good idea. While seeds don’t need light to germinate, they do need warmth.


The trick is not each vegetable variety requires the same amount of warmth. They like to keep us on our toes.


For example, spinach won’t start if the soil temperature is over 70 degrees, but tomatoes won’t germinate if the soil temp us UNDER 70 degrees. Knowing the warmth needed to germinate is really important (and something I show you in detail in Organic By Choice).


As for light, you can use artificial light for starting seeds indoors under lights, or choose a south facing location.


Hardening off

Once you’ve managed to start seeds indoors, you’ll eventually want to put them outside in your garden. You can’t just slap them outside, or they’ll go into shock (especially if one day it’s 40 degrees, the next 70, and the next 40 again).


No vegetable has time for that.


Gradually transitioning your seed start to the outdoor weather is key.  


Knowing when when to start seeds indoors isn’t difficult, and following these steps, you’ll have more success starting an organic garden full of healthy vegetables!

square foot gardening plant spacing

Save Seeds From Tomatoes, Beans, & Peas For A Self-Sufficient Garden!

Save Seeds From Tomatoes, Beans, & Peas For A Self-Sufficient Garden!

If you’re a new gardener, chances are you’re wondering how to save seeds.


Maybe you want a self-sufficient backyard farm, or loved the taste of this year’s tomatoes and want to try to grow them again next year.


On our farm, we try to save seeds so we can have a consistent harvest year to year – I like predictable plants, and over time, we’ve been able to develop varieties that are well-suited to our particular micro environment.


In this article, I’m going to show you how to save seeds so you can have the same!


What Seeds Should You Save?

Although you can save seeds from any vegetable you want, you’ll have a more consistent crop if you save seeds from self-pollinating vegetables. If vegetables have cross pollinated (so the seeds would be hybrids), they might not carry the same genetic traits as their parents.


Self-pollinating vegetables include:


  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Beans
  • Peas


However, if you do end up saving seeds that are potential hybrids, all isn’t lost – you might enjoy the next year’s vegetables even more.


Only save seeds from fully ripe vegetables. Choose the best, healthiest vegetables to harvest from.

Beans, Peas, & Greens (Lettuce, Mustard, etc)

You have a couple choices. You can harvest the pods when they’re mature and slightly dry, and allow to fully dry indoors for 4 or so weeks.


A second option I’ve seen farmers use successfully is to allow the pods to completely dry on plant.


The downside to this is there’s a chance of mold if it gets rainy or animals can scavenge them before you can harvest them. They could also pop open, spilling seeds on the ground or allowing them to mold.


Whichever method you use, be sure to choose healthy, unbroken pods to harvest.


Once completely dry, gently rub pods between your hands to reveal the dry beans or peas. Separate the seeds from the chaff and allow to continue to fry for another 2 weeks.


Store in an airtight, rodent-safe container.



Cut open a fully-ripe pepper (if it changes color, wait until after the it’s finished) and remove the seeds.


Place on a paper towel and allow to dry for 2 weeks. Store in an airtight container in a cool area, out of direct light.



Tomato seeds need to be treated differently than the other seeds in this article (this process can also be used for cucumber, squash, and melon seeds).


They’re covered with a natural germination inhibitor (the “gel” around a tomato seed) and need to go through a fermenting process to remove it once you harvest the fruit.


In nature, the fruit rots and falls to the ground, and the rotting process removes the gel surrounding the seed.


Since none of us want rotting fruit hanging around in our house attracting fruit flies, we need to ferment the seeds in a shorter timespan, about 5 – 7 days.


After choosing the tomato you want to save seeds from, slice it open and scoop the seeds and pulp into a mason jar. Fill with water and let sit for about a week.


It will probably smell, and might give an off-smell. That’s ok (you can loosely cover the jar to keep pests away). As you’re waiting for the fermenting process to complete, check to see if any of the seeds have started to float.


If so, remove them and toss. They won’t produce strong seedlings, if they sprout at all.


Once fermented, strain out the viable seeds and clean them thoroughly with fresh water. Lay them on a paper towel to dry for a few days. Store in an airtight container in a cool area out of the sun.


We Used These 2 Easy Seed Tricks Before Planting & Got A Bigger Harvest!

We Used These 2 Easy Seed Tricks Before Planting & Got A Bigger Harvest!

Nothing is more frustrating than planting seeds only to have just a few (or none) actually sprout (we’ve all been there).


We used these 2 super simple hacks to help our seeds sprout – and ended up with more veggies than we can harvest!


And these are two tricks you can easily repeat at home.


Want to learn more about starting specific vegetable plants? Grab a copy of my bestselling book Organic By Choice: The (Secret) Rebel’s Guide To Backyard Gardening on Amazon!


Want to learn what they are?


So, you know how seeds such as beans, peas, watermelon, and tomatoes are so hard?


Well, those hard shells protect the seeds…but it also takes more energy for life to emerge from them BECAUSE of those hard shells.


And if you don’t also have the right growing conditions? Forget about it!


In this article, we’re going to show you how soaking seeds and scarification can help your seeds germinate easier – and give you a bigger harvest!


Why does this work?

As we’ve said, some seeds have hard shells – good for protection, makes germination a little tougher.


Soaking the seeds helps loosen the hard shells, making it easier for tender young seedlings to sprout.


It also gives seeds a little more hydration before dropping them in the soil – which hopefully is moist, but might very well dry out in the weeks between planting time and when they’re scheduled to emerge from the ground.


Similarly, scarification helps by weakening the hard outer shell a bit before planting. Water can be easier absorbed by the seed, too, kickstarting the germination process.


What is scarification?

Scarification sounds worse than it is. All it means is chipping, scratching, or nicking the exterior seed shell so it germinates easier.


In nature, scarification takes place when an animal eats a seed and it passes through the digestive tract. Seeds are also naturally scarified by the freeze/thaw cycle of fall, winter, and finally spring.


There are some seeds that NEED to undergo scarification before they’ll germinate, such as morning glory seeds.


In other cases, scarification just helps your plants sprout.


Avoid scarring soft seeds or seeds that are very small (such as lettuce seeds), or if the seeds are easily crushed. Because of their size, they’re unlikely to withstand the scarification process, and you might end up crushing or damaging the seed so it can’t germinate.


To scar seeds, you can rub them with fine sandpaper, microplane like this one, or nick them with nail clippers. If you nick them, you want to be sure to penetrate the tough outer shell.


Another option is to put seeds in hot (but not boiling) water, and allow to cool to room temperature. Let sit for another 48 hours then plant immediately.



If you plan to soak your seeds, fill a cup with room temperature water and add your seeds. If any of the seeds float, remove them since they won’t sprout anyway.


You can soak them for 24 hours in room temperature water. Plant immediately (so, don’t soak them a week before you decide to plant – do it just 24 hours ahead of time).


You can also soak your seeds in compost tea so they’ll have extra nutrients when planted.


A second option is to thoroughly soak two paper towels with room temperature water. Place your seeds in between both sheets for 24 hours right before planting. Be gentle in case any seeds have already started to sprout.


Some veggie seeds that can benefit from soaking are peas, squash, beans, okra, lettuce and other greens, and herb seeds, particularly parsley and fennel.