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When to Start Seeds Indoors

It's that time! Winter is here and we finally get a break to rest, recover and recuperate while we peruse our seed catalogues. Unless like me, you still have to trudge out in the weather to care for livestock. In that case, I see you and salute you from my insulated carhartt onsie that always gets a look and a laugh from friends. It is what it is, am I right!? And everyone likes to give birth during or right before a snowstorm.

So when to start seeds? There's a million and one templates people will try to sell you on TikTok and online. I've wasted money on some of them myself, just to find they didn't have much to offer and were a waste of hay and feed money, so to put it. What's worked for me is to have a master planner with all our goings on and a cute wall calendar if I wish, to also add the crop planning for seed starting, transplant, stagger planting, etc., throughout the season (or a full 2nd planner if you need more space or want to include garden tasks. (I.e., Wednesdays we weed, checking for pests, thinning carrots, whatever. Or assigning garden tasks to others without sharing your full schedule.)

I organize my seeds in storage containers based off how they need to be planted: 8-12 week transplants, summer squash, winter squash, direct sow, direct sow stagger/succession, and I'm working to better define my winter harvest and spring harvest crops who have multiple planting time options (lettuce, kale, onions, carrots).

We are in the mountains of California, zone 9b (we get snow here). For my area, our rule of thumb is we don't move transplants out until after Mother's Day, so mid-May. Our local farmers market begins in June. Our short season means I want the largest, oldest, strongest transplants I can prepare ahead to get any sort of food off the plant before the season comes to an end. For me, I will start mine earlier, rather than the shorter part of the time frames listed below.

*Someday* we plan to have greenhouses here. I say someday because everything we've tried so far has been destroyed in the wind. You may also look at frost protection or grow tunnels, cold frames, etc., for extending your season where you are. If you're in Southern California and reading this, you can plan on the short time frame and putting seedlings outside earlier on (or the whole time).

If you plan to start Asparagus from SEED (not buy crowns in other words) start those bad boys 8 to 12 weeks prior to last frost date. But if you buy crowns you'll be able to harvest a crop sooner, just FYI.

I like to start all my seeds with a heat mat to aid in germination. My Amazon picks that I have and use:

For a 1020 tray size

For a rack shelf size (four 1020 trays across)

If you want to regulate the soil temperature with the heat mat

*Screenshot this part to favorite and save for easy reference later*


8-12 weeks Asparagus (seed), artichoke, eggplant

8-10 weeks Peppers

6-8 weeks Tomatoes

4-6 weeks Okra

To prevent leggy, weak seedlings we found having the right amount of grow light was an important aspect to our seedling set up.

We used these bulbs from Amazon, two per shelf on this rack suspended with little chains and S hooks that we could move the height of the bulbs up or down from the seedlings. Because we're off-grid and power use is a high consideration for us, we did also swap out the bulbs for LED T5's to fit in the same ballast. The LED ones we use are these:

For us, we also needed humidity domes to lock in moisture and heat, but this was in a colder room that was unheated at the time.

We get our 1020 trays and humidity domes online from Bootstrap Farmer. Pricier, but they hold up so we've found them worth the investment. If doing a larger garden, I found soil blocking helpful with the step-on one from Ladbrooke which gives 35 soil blocks of 1 1/8" squares. This fits three times across in a 1020 tray for 105 seedlings in the tray.

I found the hand soil blockers cool, but a pain. Literally, hand cramps are not something I want to deal with but I could see keeping and using the hand ones if I was only planting a few and not much more than that.

I recently learned Mindful Farmer now has a drop seeder tray that pairs with the Ladbrooke step-on 35. I have this on order to try out and am hoping this saves time and energy in seeding for this season. Fingers crossed, will update with thoughts on this after I've used it.

Happy Seeding! Good luck and have fun on your seeding journey, and feel free to reach out for any questions!

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