How to Start Seeds Without a Greenhouse

I used to dream of owning several greenhouses. Large, beautiful caterpillar shaped vessels filled with flower and vegetable starts. Can you picture them?

I still dream about them.

But this just isn’t in the cards for us quite yet. Dreams must yield to reality. A proper greenhouse is still very much in our plans, but still a little bit down the road.

But that hasn’t kept us from starting our own seeds for transplants. As a matter of fact, every year we start more seeds indoors than the year before. And we’re doing it all in our basement on a very low budget.

Starting seeds indoors can be easy. It’s fun to be able to actually plant something when its 8 below outside! With just a few basic things you can turn almost any space in your house into a grow room.

Using Jiffy Pellets

Although we also use multi-cell trays like these we still like to start a lot of our seeds using Jiffy Pellets.

Jiffy pellets are little pods made of condensed peat. When you apply water they swell in size, making a nice little habitat for a seed. They are economical, and easy for the kids to use too. You can find them here for a decent price.

Apply water slowly over the Jiffy pellets. Don’t completely submerge them, but simply let them absorb the water. Once your pellets rise, your tray should be clear of water, otherwise you’ll promote mold. Make sure you drain off any excess before you place your seeds.

Place one to two seeds in the center of the pellet. We just barely cover our seeds to allow light to penetrate the peat. How deep you plant your seed will depend on what you’re trying to germinate.

Make sure you mark your varieties so you know what you’ve got germinated. We’re planting two different pepper varieties in this tray. The Wenks hot peppers will likely germinate later than the sweet pepper. Just for reference, there’s about 90 potential pepper plants represented on this one tray.

Cover with a plastic lid. This will trap in moisture and heat that will create a greenhouse effect. Again, its’ important not to completely saturate your pellets. Be careful when watering. Too much and your seed will rot, or you’ll grow moss or mold that will contribute to disease.

We place the trays underneath our lights. We use inexpensive shelving like these and LED lights like these. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on expensive grow bulbs if you’re working in a temperature controlled space, like a basement or bedroom.

Once the seeds have germinated and have developed their true leaves, we’ll transfer them to 2 inch nursery pots like these. We’ll remove them from the LED lights and position them so that they have access to sunlight through the window. They’ll stay in the basement until ready to harden off outside.

It’s not a fancy setup or system, but honestly it doesn’t need to be. I’ve learned that functional and economical are much more important than fancy.

We start a little over 1000 plants each winter in our little basement, both for our kitchen garden and the market garden. And while a greenhouse is still in our future plans, this setup will serve us until we can get there.

Here’s to simple!

3 Comments

  1. I have a four shelf unit that I built of wood, with 2 lights per shelf. Last year I did 4200 seedlings in my basement. Having had commercial greenhouses for decades (and paying those enormous heating bills, plus all the maintenance) I’m amazed that I can produce so many happy plants for a few pennies each in such a small space. Best of luck in your upcoming season.

  2. It’s good to hear that you’ve had success growing plants at a lower cost in the basement! Maybe that means we’re not as crazy as our neighbors think. Encouraging to hear your experience.

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