Self-Sufficiency Skills: Spring Seed Starting

Yesterday morning I spent two hours sanitizing my groceries. Scrubbing my produce in the sink with soap, whilst singing the ABC’s about 50 times and wiping down my plastic, tin, and cardboard items with Lysol wipes, a’la this video from YouTube. We live in a weird time man. 

Don’t get me wrong, I know some people are really struggling out there right now to feed their families, and I am ever so grateful for the groceries that we do have and the time and supplies I have to make sure they are as safe as possible for my family to eat. I am thankful for the people who grow and package them; for the drivers who transport them, and grocery store workers who stock them and pack them up into bags so that we can pick them up curbside now with very little social interaction. But it really got me thinking. As a family we’ve always strived to be able to provide for ourselves. We hunt and fish. We grow a some of our own food in our backyard garden, but it’s always felt like more of a hobby until now. Now, it feels like necessity.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed how dependent we have become as a family (and as a society on the whole) on commercially produced and processed items. Wandering into a grocery store and seeing the shelves emptied of meat, dairy, and produce items has been eye opening to say the least.

So this year, in the name of greater self-sufficiency, we have decided that we are going to try to do our best to grow, gather, and hunt for as much of our own food as we possibly can. And at this time of year, that means starting seeds in preparation for planting later this spring. Growing a garden can be a lot of work, but for us, it’s certainly worth the effort when you have greater food security and access to fresh produce in times like these. In this post you’ll find some information on how we do it and how you can do it too. 

Getting Started: Come Up With A Plan

The first thing you want to do when planting a garden is to come up with a plan. How much space do you have to grow food? How many people are in your family? What do you actually like to eat? Be honest. Beets and kale might be really easy to grow, but if nobody wants to eat them, they’re a waste of space. Save your available space for things your family actually likes! 

You’ll want to make sure you have a spot to plant fruits and vegetables that gets at least 6-8 hours of sunlight a day and it’s important to make sure that this spot isn’t located in a place in your yard that floods after a lot of rain. You don’t want to wash out or drown all of your beautiful produce! Try to make sure you place your garden within a decent distance of your hose if possible or you’ll be hauling a heavy watering can way more than you’re going to want to. 

We have raised garden beds here on our property that we built a few years ago. We ordered some soil, compost, and mulch from our local landscape supply company to fill them in, but you can grow right down in the dirt or even in pots on your patio if that’s what you have to work with.

We utilize a method called square foot gardening by which each square foot of our garden is allocated to a certain amount and kind of vegetables or fruits. There are lots of charts on the internet about how much room certain plants take up. We like to use this one below from when planning out how many of each plant type we’ll be able to grow in the space we have. There are lots more out there. Do a Pinterest or Google search if a crop you’re thinking about growing isn’t shown on the chart below.

You can also look up how many tomato plants etc. are needed to feed a family of four or two or twelve on the internet. That will give you a base line for how many plants you might want to try to strive for of each variety. Keep in mind again, if you like green peppers, but not that much, you can adjust any of the quantities based on your preferences. Here is a great reference to get started. 

Our Garden Plan:

Here is our garden plan for this year. We are a family of four. Before determining what would go where, I took a look at the plan we implemented last year and decided that there were some things we would have liked more or less of and adjusted accordingly. Each square represents one square foot. The numbers inside each square are the quantity or each plant that fits within each square according to the principles above. 

We also do crop rotation here because certain crops tend to take more nutrients from or enrich the soil more or less than others. In short, you don’t want to plant the same kind of plant in the same area of your garden year after year or you’ll end up with deficiencies in your soil that will make it difficult for new plants to grow and thrive. Here is the basic gist from one of my favorite resources for vegetable gardening called the Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook. 

Implementing Your Plan:

So after you have your plan in place, you can get to business starting your seeds. If you don’t have seeds at home already, and are nervous to go out to your local greenhouse (and who could blame you) check on these two resources for purchasing online. 

It is also possible to save seeds from regular grocery store produce. Some of the easiest items to save seeds from are tomatoes, peppers, squash, and melons. Check out the videos below for how to if you’re unsure. If you want to grow organic produce, make sure that you are purchasing organically grown veggies from the store as starters. 

Once you know what you want to grow and have obtained your seeds, you need to know what zone you are gardening in. Not sure? Google it. The zone you live in will determine when to plant crops out in your garden. We currently live in Zone 5. Here is an article from that lists when to plant each type of vegetable in your garden in Zone 5. 

Keep in mind that not all seeds need to be started indoors. Some plants like squash, lettuce, carrots, peas, corn and beans do better when directly sown into the dirt. Follow the guide above and package directions for direct sown crops like these. At this time of year, some of these can already be planted out. We’ll be posting a video shortly on direct sown crops so be on the lookout for that one! 

This year I’m starting tomatoes, several varieties of peppers, eggplant, cilantro, basil, oregano, rosemary and broccoli from seed indoors.

The great thing about starting seeds indoors is that you don’t need a whole lot of fancy equipment to do it. Here is a list of items you’ll need to get started. 


  1. Potting Soil
  2. 5 Gallon Bucket
  3. Water
  4. Small Shovel or Spade
  5. Seeds
  6. Mini Greenhouse (See below for alternates)
  7. Seed Markers and Permanent Marker
  8. Small Spray Bottle
  9. Gardening Gloves (Optional)

Ideally, you’ll use potting soil to start your plants. It’s generally looser than what you’d find out in your yard which makes it easer for tiny seeds to send out roots and shoot up through the dirt. If you don’t have access to potting soil, don’t let that stop you. Go dig a hole outside and bring in a bucket of dirt. Make sure to break up any clumps in either variety and add a small amount of water to the soil to make it moist but not totally muddy and saturated. It should not be crumbly or flaky at all but you shouldn’t be able to wring a bunch of water out of it either. Room temperature water is best as it won’t freeze your hands or your plants. You can use a spade, other small garden shovel, large kitchen spoon or your hands to mix everything together. Don’t have a bucket? How about a big soup pot or plastic storage tote? Now is the time for ingenuity people.

We like to use the mini greenhouse kits from Jiffy for starting our seeds. We found them at the dollar store about 3 years ago. They hold up well and are pretty inexpensive.

If you can’t get out to purchase something like this right now, you can use alternatives that you can probably find around your own home. In the past, we’ve started seeds in egg cartons, yogurt and applesauce cups for little seedings, and solo cups for larger transplants. You just (carefully) punch a little hole in the bottom of for drainage with a skewer, pair of scissors or sharp knife, and set them inside a larger vessel so that they don’t leak all over the place. If you’ve got one of those tin pans that come with the plastic lid that people like to use to take food items to potlucks in, those are a great alternative. You can place an open egg carton or other short vessel inside the tin pan and cover it with the plastic lid. Same effect as the ones from the store. If you haven’t got a tin pan, just use whatever you have on hand and cover the makeshift pots with some cellophane wrap.  Place the pots on a plate or in a 13 x 9” pan to prevent leaking.

Okay, so we’ve got our soil ready, our pots ready. Take a look at this video from our YouTube channel to see how to get started.

FYI, later in the season, after the danger of frost has past, it is also possible to regrow some of your kitchen scraps. Lettuce, onions, potatoes, celery and some herbs can all be sprouted for replanting out in the garden. Check out this video below for how to. 

Stay tuned to our blog and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more gardening info and adventures this year! Please feel free to comment with any questions! Happy gardening everyone! Stay well!

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