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Garden Tech: How to Start a Garden Indoors For Under $40

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Garden Tech: How to Start a Garden Indoors For Under $40

Starting a garden indoors may not seem very high tech, but like anything else, technology can actually be used to make the (seemingly) simple task of growing flowers or vegetables both easier and faster. It also allows for a garden to be started during any time of year, and during any weather situation. The garden technology used for this is quite simple, in fact it’s like having a tiny greenhouse in your home.

How do you start an indoor garden or start growing seeds indoors? All you need is a heating mat, growing tray, a lid / dome and grow light. With these items (bought separately or in a kit) the process of growing seeds to the point that they can be potted or transplanted to an outdoor garden in days and not weeks is not only possible, it’s probable (when done with care). Not only that, it also has a higher success rate of the seed germinating than simply planting it in dirt and watering it, or even using a real greenhouse.

So, how do I know all of this? I tried it out firsthand this year when starting my own garden. Below I share what I purchased to start my garden indoors and tips on what to do and what not to do (from my own learning experience). I’ll include pictures of the process as well.

*This can also be considered as a review of the Hydrofarm CK64060 Hot House. I give it 5 out of 5 stars and purchased the Hydrofarm Grow Light with it as well and also give it 5 stars. Note: I used the Hydrofarm kit with soil, however, you can use it with any medium you wish.

How to Grow Vegetables (or other plants) Indoors:

seeds for indoor gardening

Starting my own vegetable garden this year, my first actually, I read a lot of books on the subject and came to the conclusion that growing my seeds indoors was going to be of great help. It was especially needed since I was starting a bit late in the year and needed to get them into their outdoor raised boxes quickly. So, after much research I decided to give a hydrofarm hot house (name of the kit) a try. You do not necessarily need anything with “hydroponics” in the name, you can quite simply put together a kit yourself of a low heat heating mat, a seedling grow tray and plastic dome, or you can do as I did and find the kit already put together online (I found mine on Amazon) and adapted it to use soil or try it without soil and use another medium as suggested with the kit.

Note: A true hydroponics process is done without any soil. Plants are instead grown in liquid, sand or gravel. You can use this method, or you can adapt anything called “hydroponics” and use it as you would normally, with soil.

Supply List:

*I included links to each of the items I personally used and that are shown in the photos.

A seedling tray (preferably with holes in the bottom and a water tray beneath it), a plastic dome / lid with vent holes, a heating pad that can be set to very low temperature and that can be set to stay on.

Also you will need a plastic spray bottle, plant markers, good soil for seedlings, a grow light and a clamp lamp for the light to go into. I got these as well on Amazon, except for my spray bottle which I just repurposed a cleaning spray bottle that was empty and cleaned out.

Hint to save money: You may already have a light clamp in your garage or may find one at a second hand store very cheap. You can make your own plant tags or plant marker stakes using popsicle sticks instead of buying them. Using your own compost can be used instead of purchasing soil (I used this method), and if a grow light is out of budget, just make sure it gets enough sunlight each day.

*In case you’re wondering about the cost of running this indoor garden kit, each of these things are advertised to cost only pennies a day (ten cents or less) during full usage. I watched my electric bill carefully for any changes during my first month of trying this process, and running the light and mat pretty much 12 hours – 24 hours a day for a month did not show up on my bill, or at least was not noticeable.

Super Simple Steps For Sowing Seeds Indoors

 

Place seed tray on heating pad and turn on grow light

 

Once you have your indoor seed growing kit or indoor garden starter kit together, it’s time to set it up. Put it someplace that won’t be too cold and that you’ll be sure to not forget about it. I placed mine on my dining room table and clamped the grow light to a chair. You won’t need your grow light for the first day, but have it ready by day two.

Step 1: Once you have your mat plugged in and tray ready you can fill your tray with a small amount of soil. It doesn’t take much for the seeds to root, you can fill it as little as a third full.

Step 1: Plant your seeds

Step 1: Add soil

 

Step 2: Next, place your seeds into the individual cups. Do this according to the seed package directions, as some say to place more than one seed per hole or cup. This is because not all will take and if they do all take you can save the one or two that is the strongest.

 

 

Add seeds

 

 

Step 3: Now it’s time to cover your seeds with your soil. Again, follow the directions on your seed packet, or if there are no directions just put about ¼ inch to ½ inch of soil on top of the seeds. They shouldn’t be covered with too much soil. Also, at this time make sure to label your seeds so you’ll know where to plant them when they’re ready (such as mostly sun, little sun, etc.).

 

 

 

indoor garden tech

Step 3: Cover seeds with dirt and label

 

Step 4: Last step is to now water your seeds. Use a spray bottle and gently mist each cup until they are nice and wet all the way through. You can also add a little water (about half a cup) to the bottom tray and it will keep the mini greenhouse nice and humid and wet all day long. Don’t put too much water in the tray, and you shouldn’t have to do this again since you’ll be keeping your plants moist by spraying them.

 

 

Water / mist seeds

Step 4: Water / mist seeds

Once your seeds are sown / planted, set your tray on the plugged in heating mat and make note of the time so that you can monitor their growth. Mist them a few times a day and keep the dome lid vents closed on your mini indoor garden unit for the first few days.

Grow light:

You can turn the grow light on now or you can wait until you see little seedlings sprouting up. For me the seeds usually sprouted up between 48 – 72 hours later. Once your grow light is on, make sure it’s shining on the entire mini garden. If it’s not big enough to light it all up, you can have it shining on one half for the first 7-8 hours and then rotate the mat and dome or move the lamp to shine on the other half for the next 7-8 hours.

Note: Make sure to shut the light off each day after 14-16 hours of light. Plants need sleep too, so having it run 24 hours a day won’t make them grow any faster and will actually be bad for them.

Seed Watch

Day two of seeds in hyrdrofarm kit

Day two of seeds in hyrdrofarm kit

Most seeds should have sprouted in your little indoor garden starter within seven days. For me, most burst through their little soil topper in 2-3 days, but some were stubborn and waited 6-7 days. If they don’t spring up after 7 days, don’t give up. Keep them moist, keep the light on to see if that may encourage them. Not all will germinate and so after about 10-14 days you can give up if nothing happens.

All of my seeds had sprouted within 3 days and this is taken on day 6

All of my seeds had sprouted within 3 days and this is taken on day 6

If you’re planting different types of seeds, you’ll also have some growing at much different rates than others. This can be tough to handle so try to grown the same or similar seeds (similar growth) so that you can remove them all at the same time.

When to Transplant Seedlings

growing seeds indoors

When to transplant your seedlings is the only difficult part to growing your plants indoors. You’ll have to watch for them to be big enough that they’ll survive being transplanted into a new pot or into a garden bed. For me, I transplanted most of the seedlings by the time they became about 12-14 days old.

 

Transferred seedlings to larger pots

Transferred seedlings to larger pots

Outside: If your seedlings, also called starters if they’re vegetables, are going outside you’ll want to harden them off. This process is done by taking them outdoors for a few hours a day each day for the first couple of days (if the weather is above any frost temperatures) and then finally leaving them out all night. Once they can survive a night outside you can plant them in the garden. *If you have a greenhouse you can usually skip this step by just placing your seedling starter cells in the greenhouse and keeping them well watered.

 

My garden 6 weeks after seedlings started indoors

My garden 6 weeks after seedlings started indoors

If it’s warm outside you can skip some of this by allowing them to adapt indoors at first. Just remove the dome or keep the vent open for the first few days and then let them sit outside for a day and night and if they seem sturdy, plant them.

Using a Greenhouse can help with hardening plants or transitioning them

Using a Greenhouse can help with hardening plants or transitioning them

Indoors: If you’re going to be keeping the plants indoors you can start venting the dome within a few days of the seeds sprouting. When they’re looking nice and strong you can unplug the mat and take the dome off and allow them to adapt to the room temperature of your home. After a day or so of adjusting, you can pot them.

Broccoli at 6 weeks. Started indoors.

Broccoli at 6 weeks. Started indoors.

Whether your plants are going to stay indoors or go outdoors you need to pay constant care and attention to them for the next few weeks after transplant. You can do this by making sure they are watered often, misting is still fine and make sure soil stays moist. Adding mulch around them (if outdoors) will also protect their tiny roots from getting too cold and help keep moisture in.

Final Tips for Starting Seeds Indoors or Growing an Indoor Garden

 

View of seedlings through dome

View of seedlings through dome

With an indoor garden starter kit you can start your vegetable garden as early as February or March so that you’ll have little starters ready to plant outdoors by May. Using a hydroponic kit, or your own seedling starter kit, you will get the seeds growing within just a few days and then you can keep them growing quickly with the grow light and mat for as long as you want to keep them in there, or till they outgrow it (which can happen in a few weeks with their roots growing into the bottom tray).

Final tips to make sure you have healthy plants and veggies include:

 

Leggy plants

Leggy plants

*Make sure that all of the little cells in the tray stay wet, they dry out very quickly from the heating mat

*Rotate the grow light so that all the seeds get the same amount of light: You can see from some of my images that I kept the light on too long at times as some are very tall with few leaves. If the seeds look too “leggy” (very tall stems), they’re getting too much light.

*If there’s more than one seed in a cell, remove others that are not as strong

*Set a timer for your grow light so that it isn’t on more than 18 hours at most

*Set a reminder to spray seeds several times a day

*When transplanting, make sure to be very careful and try to push the plant up by the bottom of the cell and not by grabbing it by the stem

*Use plant label spikes or popsicle sticks to identify each row of seeds or you’ll forget where to plant them (I did this)

*Purchase an extra seed starter cell kit so that you can be growing a second group of seeds / plants while the first one is being hardened off (removed from heat source)

Growing your plants indoors or just starting them that way is an excellent way to get a boost in your garden. I had great success with growing all of my seeds indoors and then transferring them into my raised garden beds outside. Within two months of planting we had more vegetables than we ever imagined we’d have and had to invest in a vacuum saver machine so that we could start preserving them longer or freezing them. I hope that this article helps you to have just as great a success with your garden.