I’ve been polishing my green thumb with houseplants for a few years now and thought I’d try to make the jump to growing a garden from seeds. Because my only private outdoor space is a balcony and I live in hardiness zone 7 (if you want to get into gardening, start by learning your hardiness zone!), that meant I’d have to start growing seeds indoors. I overseeded, assuming I’d only get a fraction of what I’d planted to grow, but just a month later my apartment had become a meadow of seedlings—600, to be specific.
I took the painful steps of culling the weak ones, and still had 326 left. I raised them all the best I could. By the end of June, I had delivered hundreds of plants to friends in four different states along the East Coast. I kept just 18, which provided me with harvests of tomatoes, bell peppers, jalepenos, serranos, and cilantro well into the fall.
Here are the 9 products I used to grow hundreds of plants during my first try at seed starting.
Jiffy Biodegradable Seed Starting Strips 50 Pots
Start your seeds in these biodegradable seed starting strips. The main benefit to using biodegradable pots is that you can put them directly in the ground or a container. (If you're worried about the roots not being able to get through the bottom, you can carefully cut the bottom off.) Leaving the seedlings in their (seed) starter homes eliminates the risk of disturbing the roots when you need to give them more room to grow. You can also water them from below easily. Just place the seed starting strip in a dish of room temperature water.
Espoma Organic Seed Starter Potting Mix
You can’t just use standard potting soil to start seeds. Seeds require sterile seed starting mix. It contains no soil (yep, no soil). It’s light and fluffy, which allows the seeds to root and push their way up through the mix more easily. Mix it with water to make it nice and moist, then spoon it into the Jiffy strips before adding your seeds.
GE BR30 LED Grow Light Bulb
I have a big, bright west-facing window, but I promise you, it’s not enough light. Once the seeds germinate (i.e., push their way up through the mix), turn on a grow light and leave it on all day. A lot of grow lights are long rods or shaped the size of a board game, but I didn’t have the space for that. Instead I got a grow light bulb on a clamp, which made it really easy to adjust the height of the light to where the seedlings needed it to be. Grow lights should be placed just a few inches above the top of the seedlings, but the GE BR30 LED grow light runs kind of hot, in my experience, so I keep it a few inches further away from the seedlings.
Belle 10" Plastic Planter With Saucer in Peacock Blue
Ultimately my plants would all end up in containers ranging in size from 12” to 16” (a bit of a tight squeeze, but I did the best I could for the space I had!), they couldn’t start in those containers. A small tomato seedling can’t go straight into a 16” pot. I bought plastic pots of various sizes to accommodate the growing plants and potted them up as necessary.
Miracle-Gro Water-Soluble All Purpose Plant Food
There are a ton of fertilizers out there, enough that I could’ve gotten a dedicated fertilizer for each individual fruit and vegetable. But I stuck with one all-purpose fertilizer. Once they were on the larger side, I watered the seedlings with a 24-8-16 fertilizer at half strength, about once a month. Seedlings are vulnerable to fertilizer burn, so you have to be careful not to do too much.
Bloem 2-Gallon Watering Can in Living Green
Once you’re done with the reusable pots, you’ll be watering from above. Growing plants in containers requires a lot more watering than if you grow them in the ground, so you’ll want a large capacity watering can with a narrow spout so you don’t get the leaves wet. Wet leaves can lead to fungal diseases.
Woodpeckers Wooden Dowel Rod 3/16" x 12"
Yes, wooden dowels! These are such a good multipurpose tool when growing seedlings. Accidentally tamped down the potting medium? Use a dowel to fluff it up. Trying to redistribute the soil for your seedlings? Move it with a dowel. Loosening a young plant to put it in a bigger pot but your trowel is too bit to fit? Insert a dowel. Compacted soil making water flow down the outer edge of the pot and not actually get to the roots? Aerate it with a wooden dowel.
Dr. Earth Final Stop Vegetable Garden Organic Insect Killer
Some gardeners are opposed to using any pesticides or herbicides in their garden—that’s fine! I was pulling my hair out facing down an army of aphids that were determined to take over and claim my plants for themselves. Washing the aphids off in the sink with a gentle stream of water and applying this all-natural, organic spray by Dr. Earth did wonders for the plants and my sanity. Just make sure you wash your produce well before you eat it.
Fiskars Micro-Tip® Pruning Snips
A sharp pair of snips are essential. You’ll use them cull the weakest seedlings to make more room for the stronger ones, prune the suckers off tomato plants, and—best of all—harvest the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor. The more you harvest, the more you encourage your plant to produce.