An Easy Way to Start Seeds Indoors

This is our first guest post by Ellie Martin Cliffe. Ellie has written several articles for Birds & Blooms in the past and now produces great products for us like Grow It, Cook It and Garden All-Stars for our books department. Thanks Ellie!

This morning, I woke up and immediately I knew: It was time do something springy. Today I would plant my tomato and pepper seeds for our container garden. Ian and I had already saved seeds from a bell pepper and a hot chili we cooked with, so I ran out to Stein’s (a local garden center chain) and bought container-friendly tomato seeds, plus some tomatillo ones (right…not official tomatoes, but something that’s easy to start from seed that we want to make room for on the balcony). Here’s how I did it.

These are the supplies I used…pretty self-explanatory except maybe the aluminum sheet cake pan (with a cover) and the circular brown things. Those are cut-up toilet paper tubes that I’ve been saving for this very purpose. Though peppers and tomatoes transplant pretty well, one can always use an extra safeguard. When the seedlings are ready to be moved into larger containers, I can just plop each tube in the soil without disturbing the root system, and the cardboard will decompose over time.
First, I spread a thin layer of soil in the tin.
Then, I nestled the TP tubes in the soil and arranged them in six rows — one for each variety: Containers Choice Red tomatoes, Oregon Spring tomatoes, tomatillos, bell peppers, poblano peppers, and chili peppers.
Next, I filled the tubes with soil using the cute little hand trowel Ian bought me for my birthday.
These are the bell pepper seeds we so lovingly cleaned and dried. My dad taught me this trick. I loved that we could taste what we’d be growing — no guesswork required.
The seeds need to be 1/8 to 1/4 inch deep, so I just sprinkled a few into each tube, poked them in a tiny bit, and added a thin layer of soil from the tin.
Last step: watering. A slow, steady stream into each tube does the trick. I’ll check them daily to be sure the moisture level is good. The soil should be damp, but not soaked.
I covered the tin to keep the moisture in and to reduce the draft. There’s a hole on one edge of the cover, so the air should circulate sufficiently. I’ll keep an eye on this, too. The tin is in the sunniest window, right next to Sprout. Some of the seeds may germinate in just three days, according to their packets. I’ll update you soon!
Have you ever started seeds? What were your tricks?

Ellie Martin Cliffe is a Milwaukee-area editor and writer. When she isn’t wielding her (red) pen, Ellie can be found in the garden, at any concert that showcases a fiddle, playing pub trivia, or in the kitchen experimenting with new recipes. She and her husband, Ian, live in a comfy flat with their homegrown grapefruit tree, Sprout.

  1. Mar says

    I’ve started flower seeds in trays with covers and have them sitting on a 4 shelve plastic storage rack next to my patio doors along with some strawberry plants and 2 hibiscus. It’s too cold here in northern Minnesota to put anything out until the middle of May. The growing season is so short I need to get a head start. Most of the seeds have germinated and the sunflowers are at least 2 inches high. It would be nice to have some sunny days to speed things up.
    I am so looking forward to working the garden. Good luck with your seeds.

  2. Sandi says

    I am going to give this a shot. I want to start a garden this year and this is a good way to get a jump start on it. I also saw something about using an egg carton to plant the seeds in as well.


  3. Sally says

    Just this spring I started some tomato seeds in peat plugs (8) in a plastic greenhouse similar to this. I had it on my windowsill. The instructions stated warmer temps speed up germination so I heated a neck wrap I had filled with buckwheat hulls and put it under the tray and left it there until the next day. The tomato seeds germinated in 4 days. I did this every day for 4 days.

  4. says

    Oh, so Sprout is the name of her grapefruit. tree. I didn’t quit get the Spout thing until I read the lettering at the bottom. One of my favorite authors named his plants.

    Anyway, that’s a neat idea. I never thought of doing something like that. O_O I had try starting seeds a couple of times starting as an assignments for school and then for gardening ( of course during the time before I got really into gardening I did successfully grew a stream bean from a seed.) The ones that I grew for gardening came out alright but some didn’t make it. And I think none of them made it to adulthood, except the cosmos (the first cosmoses I grew turn out to be very beautiful even though they grew too big to the point it bothered my mom).

    This year I try growing Lavender from see (I try doing that last year but most of them didn’t make it and the ones that did did not make it too adulthood). A few days later I did see some sprouts but then I decided to put them in the sunlight. The directions told me not to expose them to sunlight until they were mature enough but I thought they needed sunlight so I let them had sunlight. But then later on at night it dawn on me why the directions said not to putt he plants in sunlight right away. Because the plants would burn up! When it came to my mind I realize that I made a mistake and checking my spouts they were all gone. I was a bit disappointed in myself.

    I wanted to keep trying to grow lavender but then I decided to wait until I started my organic garden. Instead I am going to raise the butterfly flower seeds I bough during an Earth Day event in Richmond, Virginia. This time I am going to use that cheap glow light that was shared in the “for less” section.

    Also, I was going to try that method that one person shared in the magazine where the person grew her seeds in egg shells. I have seen a similar technique use in that event I mention earlier but whoever did that did a much better job cracking them then I did. They were not crack so low unlike mines.

    I look forward to seeing your update on your plants.

  5. judi bazinet says

    i started some flower seeds in a greenhouse which i thought would be perfect and they would do great but i was wrong.the only things that did well was the moon flowers.everything else either started to come up and then stopped growing,or didn’t come up at thinking maybe they didn’t get enough sun,so make sure you give them plenty of sun all day.i will try again next year.

  6. Penny says

    You just solved my problem! I have been wracking my brain for a way to have very deep but narrow planting containers for herbs, cukes, melons, trees, and the like. Easy Peasy! I will just use those tubes but not cut them shorter. Think of the tubes from wrapping paper, paper towels, the choices are endless! Thank you!

  7. Penny says

    I also save those containers from roasted chickens that we all buy at the grocery, I have started loads of seeds in those, about 14 to each container. A tip – peel the labels before you wash the container and they come right off. It’s harder if you get them wet. And also you get containers from produce (mine came from green beans) and bakery goods that have a hinged top and make great planting beds.

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