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Seed Starting Tips For Survival Gardens


If you’re a survival homesteader looking to grow your own food, seed starting is a key skill to master. Starting seeds indoors allows you to get a head start on the growing season, ensuring a bountiful harvest of fresh vegetables and herbs. In this post, we will explore the essential seed starting tips for homesteaders, from understanding the basics of seed starting to advanced techniques and maintaining healthy seedlings. By following these tips, you’ll be well-equipped to grow your own food and become more self-sufficient on your homestead.

What are the Basics of Seed Starting?

Seed starting is the process of germinating seeds indoors before transplanting them into the garden. It’s important to understand the basics of seed starting in order to maximize your success. The first step is to determine the last frost date in your area, as this will help you determine when to start your seeds. You can find this information from your local county extension office or on the back of the seed packet.

Next, gather your seed starting supplies, including seed trays, potting mix, and seeds. Finally, ensure you have good quality garden soil or peat moss, as they area the foundation for future healthy plant growth.

Best Seeds for Starting Indoors

Certain seeds are better suited for starting indoors than others. Lettuce, basil, broccoli, eggplant, cabbage, and cauliflower are all great options for starting indoors. These plants benefit from the longer growing season that seed starting provides, allowing them to mature and produce a larger harvest. Additionally, starting these seeds indoors gives you greater control over temperature and moisture, creating optimal conditions for germination and early growth. Consider starting these seeds indoors to give your garden a head start and increase your chances of both a successful and bountiful harvest.

Growing from seed offers several benefits for survival homesteaders. Firstly, seed germination allows you to grow a wider variety of plants, including heirloom and rare varieties that may not be available as seedlings at garden centers. Additionally, starting from seed is more cost-effective than buying seedlings, especially if you save seeds from year to year. Starting seeds indoors may also bolster your efforts to grow dwarf versions of fruit bearing trees

It also gives you greater control over the growth conditions of your plants, ensuring they receive the proper nutrients and care. Finally, growing from seed helps support pollinators by providing a diverse array of flowering plants in your vegetable garden, while reducing the chance of introducing weed seeds into your garden.

Sarah Rodriguez of Rod Ridge Farm shares some transplanting tips from her Appalachian homestead.

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Avoid Windowsill Gardening

While the windowsill may seem like a convenient place to start seeds, it’s not always the best option. Seedlings need enough light to grow healthy and strong, and the light from a windowsill may not be sufficient. Additionally, temperature fluctuations near windows can harm delicate seedlings. Instead, choose a warm location with enough light for seed starting. Consider using grow lights or fluorescent lights to provide the required hours of light each day. If you do choose to start seeds on a windowsill, make sure to move them to a warmer spot away from windows once they germinate. Covering seed trays with plastic wrap can help create a greenhouse-like environment, retaining moisture and warmth for successful germination.

Before you begin seed starting, gather all the essential supplies you’ll need. Potting mix is one of the most important supplies, as it provides the ideal environment for germination and early seedling growth. A spray bottle is also handy for maintaining moisture levels in the soil. Seed trays or containers with drainage holes are necessary to hold and organize your seeds. Consider using reusable seed trays or yogurt cups to reduce waste. Having these essential supplies on hand will set you up for seed starting success.

“It seems like common sense, but in the excitement of starting a new growing season we forget to plan
ahead. Before starting a single seed for the growing season it’s so important to have a gardening plan.
Take some time to truly think over what your family enjoyed at the dinner table and utilize your garden space according to what crops your family is most likely to eat during the growing season or preserve in harvest season. Unless your family will be participating in a swap or co-op where you might be able to trade your crops there is very little benefit in growing, for instance, squash or Brussels sprouts, if your family isn’t likely to preserve or eat what squash or Brussels sprouts you’ve grown.”

Barbara Walker, the creator of Fig Tree Nutrition and Wellness and a master gardener, told Prepared Survivalist

Walker also cautioned all gardeners to know their Plant Hardiness Zone. The USDA updated the Plant Hardiness Zone map for the first time in a decade in 20024.

“It is important to know your area hardiness zone so you can accurately time transplanting your seedlings into your garden or for direct sowing of seeds into your garden. You’ll save yourself a lot of loss of plant and, subsequently, hard work on your part,” Barbara added.

Stratification Tips

Seed stratification is a process used in gardening to break seed dormancy and promote germination. This technique involves exposing seeds to specific conditions such as temperature and moisture levels to mimic the natural environment they would experience in the wild. It is crucial to follow the directions for seed stratification accurately to ensure the best possible outcome. Failure to do so may result in poor germination rates or even the death of the seeds. By carefully following the recommended stratification methods, gardeners can set their seeds up for success and achieve a bountiful harvest in their survival garden.

Rick Austin a.k.a. The Survivalist Gardener, gives a virtual tour of the off grid greenhouse featured in his bestseller, Secret Garden of Survival. Inside of this enclosed porch covert style greenhouse Rick can grow non-native dwarf citrus fruit and coffee trees year round from his homestead in the mountains of North Carolina.

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Here is a step-by-step guide on how to stratify seeds effectively:

  1. Determine which seeds require stratification: Not all seeds need to go through the stratification process. Research the specific requirements of the seeds you are working with to see if they need stratification.
  2. Prepare the seeds: Start by soaking the seeds in water for a few hours to soften the seed coat. This will make it easier for water to penetrate the seed and start the germination process.
  3. Create the stratification environment: Depending on the seeds you are working with, you may need to stratify them in the refrigerator or outdoors. Place the seeds in a container filled with a dampened medium such as peat moss, vermiculite, or sand.
  4. Label the container: Make sure to label the container with the date and type of seeds being stratified. This will help you keep track of which seeds are in the stratification process and for how long.
  5. Place the container in the refrigerator: If the seeds require cold stratification, place the container in the refrigerator for the recommended amount of time. Be sure to check on the seeds periodically to ensure that the medium remains damp.
  6. Monitor the seeds: As the seeds stratify, keep an eye on them to check for any signs of germination. Once the seeds have started to sprout, you can remove them from the stratification environment and plant them in their final growing location.

Suitable Pots and Trays

Choosing the right pots and trays for your seedlings is crucial for their healthy development. Look for pots and trays that have drainage holes, as they prevent waterlogging and promote good drainage. You can repurpose yogurt cups or other food containers by poking holes in the bottom for drainage. Peat pots are a great option as well, as they can be planted directly in the ground, reducing transplant shock for seedlings. Whatever pots and trays you choose, make sure they are sturdy enough to support growing plants without tipping over.

Selecting the Right Seed Starting or Peat Mix

Seed starting mix, also known as potting soil, is specifically formulated to provide the best conditions for germination and seedling growth. It is lightweight, allows for good drainage, and retains moisture, providing an ideal environment for seeds to sprout. Look for mixes that contain peat moss, vermiculite, or perlite, as these components promote healthy root development. Avoid using garden soil for seed starting, as it may contain pests, diseases, or weed seeds that can hamper seedling growth. Choosing a high-quality seed starting mix will set your seedlings up for success from the very beginning.

Labeling Your Seeds

Labeling your seeds is a simple yet important step in the seed starting process. When you’re starting multiple types of seeds, labeling prevents confusion and ensures you know what you’ve planted. It’s easy to mix up seedlings when they’re still small and don’t have distinguishing features. Labeling can also help you keep track of planting dates, which is useful for timing transplanting and determining seedling growth rates. Use waterproof labels or permanent markers to ensure that your labels stay intact throughout the seed starting process. Taking the time to label your seeds is a good idea that will save you time and potential confusion down the line.

“Many medicinal herb seeds do not have to be coddled for the best growth or the most medicinal benefit.  Herbs like oregano, a powerful antibiotic herb from the Mediterranean, can grow quite well in full sun or shade, in poor soil and with less water.  Starting Oregano seeds, as with most any member of the mint family, is fairly simple; just scatter the seeds in a small area and lightly cover with sandy light soil about 1/4” deep.  Oregano, one of the mint family members, can be prolific, but that’s ok!  It serves as a pest deterrent in the garden as well as a wonderful soil cover.  I scatter seeds in flower beds, raised vegetable beds, and in field rows for help with pest control and ground cover, especially near berries and cane fruit.  And it makes a great tomato sauce!’

Suzanne Shires, the creator or Simple Homestead Living told Prepared Survivalist.

Advanced Techniques for Planting Seeds, Avoid Mold!

Once you have mastered the basics of seed starting, you may want to explore advanced techniques to further enhance your seed germination success. There are several advanced seed starting techniques that can help you get quicker germination and healthier seedlings, such as using coffee filters or paper towels, starting seeds in eggshells, and soaking seeds before planting. These techniques involve providing optimal conditions for seed germination, ensuring a higher rate of success. Experiment with these techniques to see which ones work best for you and your seeds.

Quick Germination Tips, Increase Humidity!

Seed germination is the process by which a seed develops into a new plant. It is a crucial stage in the growth of a plant and requires specific conditions to be met for successful germination. Precision in following germination instructions is vital for survival homesteading as it ensures that the seeds have the best possible chance of sprouting and growing into healthy plants.

Several scientific factors influence seed germination, including water, temperature, soil, and sunlight. Water is essential for germination as it helps to soften the seed coat and activate enzymes that kickstart the germination process. Temperature plays a critical role as well, as seeds have specific temperature requirements for germination to occur. Soil provides the necessary nutrients and support for the growing seedling, while sunlight is important for photosynthesis once the seedling emerges.

  • Use coffee filters or paper towels to create a moist environment for seeds to germinate quickly.
  • Moisten the coffee filter or paper towel, but don’t soak it.
  • Place the seeds on one half of the coffee filter or paper towel, then fold it over to cover the seeds. Put the moist coffee filter or paper towel with the seeds in a plastic bag and seal it.
  • Keep the bag in a warm place at room temperature, around 70°F (21°C), for germination to occur.
  • Check the moisture levels regularly and moisten the coffee filter or paper towel as needed.
  • Once germination occurs, transfer the germinated seeds carefully to planting containers using tweezers or a similar tool.

Starting Seeds in Eggshells

Save eggshells from your kitchen and use them as biodegradable seed-starting containers.
Clean the eggshells thoroughly and fill them with potting mix or seed starting mix.
Plant the seeds according to the seed packet instructions in each eggshell.
Place the eggshell seed starters in an egg carton for stability.
Water the eggshell seed starters carefully, ensuring that the soil is evenly moist but not waterlogged.
Keep the eggshell seed starters in a warm, well-lit location, such as near a window or under grow lights.
As the seedlings grow, transplant the eggshell seed starters, eggshell and all, into larger pots or directly into the garden soil.

Soaking Seeds to Speed Up Germination

To speed up germination, immerse seeds in water to soften the outer coating, aiding moisture absorption for quicker growth. Before planting the soaked seeds, ensure excess water is drained. Pre-soaking seeds enhances seedling development, resulting in improved germination rates effortlessly.

The Seed Sowing Process

Sowing seeds is a delicate process that requires attention to detail. It begins with preparing your seed tray, ensuring proper soil depth. Next, plant the seeds at the correct depth, following the instructions on their packets. Gently cover the seeds with soil and water them using a spray bottle. Place the tray in a location with ample hours of light but avoid direct sunlight. Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Soon, you’ll witness the magic of new seedlings emerging from the earth, ready to thrive in your garden.

Sowing Your Seeds: Step-by-Step Guide

To begin seed sowing, create furrows or depressions with a tool or finger in your chosen potting soil. Following the seed packet guidelines, carefully place the seeds at the appropriate depth. Cover the seeds gently with soil, patting it down lightly to secure them. Ensure even watering using a spray bottle to help moisture penetrate the soil. Monitor daily for any signs of germination, such as the seeds sprouting.

Ensuring Optimal Conditions for Germination

To ensure successful germination, it is essential to maintain ideal temperature and humidity levels. Bottom heat can speed up the process for specific plants. Use plastic wrap to keep trays moist. Regularly inspect for any mold growth. Adequate air circulation is key to prevent damping off and mold issues.

Keeping the Seeds Moist and Warm

To ensure successful seed germination, maintaining consistent moisture levels is key. A misting bottle can help prevent overwatering, while placing the seeds in a warm spot promotes germination. Regularly monitoring soil moisture prevents it from drying out, and keeping a stable temperature is vital for supporting seedling growth.

Providing Adequate Light for Seed Starting

To ensure the healthy growth of seedlings, adequate light is essential. Natural light from a south-facing window can be beneficial, but supplemental fluorescent lights are recommended for seedlings with limited sunlight exposure. It’s important to adjust the height of the light source to prevent leggy growth. Keeping the lights on for 12-16 hours a day is a good idea to promote photosynthesis efficiently.

Preparing for Transplantation

Identifying robust seedlings ready for transplantation is crucial. Harden off seedlings before moving them outdoors to acclimate gradually. Transplant carefully, ensuring roots are undisturbed and soil line matches.

Identifying Strong Seedlings for Transplantation

When choosing seedlings for transplantation, opt for those with vibrant green leaves and sturdy stems. Ensure they have well-developed root systems and robust growth, avoiding any that seem leggy or stunted. Select seedlings displaying healthy foliage, indicating strong potential post-transplantation. By carefully assessing these characteristics, you increase the chances of successful growth in your garden.

How to Harden Off Seedlings Before Transplantation

Gradually acclimate seedlings to outdoor settings by starting with brief outdoor intervals. Progressively extend exposure duration across days. Shield young plants from intense sunlight and winds at first. Consider bringing them inside during chilly nights.

Transplanting Your Seedlings Outdoors

When moving your seedlings outdoors, select a sunny spot for optimal growth. Ensure to dig holes slightly bigger than the root balls, gently easing out the seedlings from their containers. Plant them at the same depth as in the pots and water right after transplantation.

Maintaining Your Seedlings Post Germination

After your seedlings germinate, it’s crucial to know what to do next. Ensure your new seedlings get enough light, either natural or artificial, for about 14-16 hours daily. Water them carefully by misting the soil or using a spray bottle to avoid disrupting delicate roots. Monitor the moisture levels closely, ensuring the soil remains damp but not waterlogged. Keep temperatures consistent to promote steady growth, and gradually introduce them to outdoor conditions before transplanting into your vegetable garden. Proper care post-germination sets the stage for healthy plants.

What to Do After Your Seeds Germinate

After your seeds germinate, ensure adequate light levels to prevent leggy seedlings. Water them gently to avoid root disturbance. Consider transplanting into larger containers for growth. Apply a balanced nutrient solution for proper fertilization. Monitor seedling health post-germination.

Why are My Seedlings Spindly and How Can I Help Them?

To prevent spindly seedlings, ensure ample light exposure, maintain suitable room temperature, utilize grow lights for sturdy growth, water seedlings adequately for proper development, and handle transplanting with care.

When to Plant Seeds and how long to Keep them Indoors

Plant seeds indoors approximately 6-8 weeks before the final frost date, ensuring they stay indoors until their initial genuine leaves appear. Transition seedlings outdoors using a cold frame for acclimatization. Opt for quick seed germination indoors with coffee filters or paper towels. Proper storage maintains seed viability and prevents mold, aiding successful planting outcomes.

How to use a Cold Frame

A cold frame is essentially a transparent enclosure that allows sunlight to enter and heat to be trapped inside, creating a warm and sheltered microclimate for growing plants. It is typically constructed with a frame made of wood or metal and covered with a clear material such as glass or plastic. Cold frames are often built at ground level or raised slightly to improve access and airflow.

In survival homesteading gardens, cold frames are valuable tools for extending the growing season by providing protection from frost, wind, and harsh weather conditions. They can help plants to thrive in cooler temperatures and promote earlier growth in the spring. By creating a controlled environment, cold frames enable gardeners to start seeds earlier, grow heat-loving crops in cooler climates, and even cultivate vegetables throughout the winter months.

One of the primary benefits of utilizing cold frames is the ability to significantly increase the harvest yield. By protecting seedlings and young plants from extreme weather and providing a stable environment for growth, cold frames can lead to healthier and more productive crops. For example, cold-hardy vegetables like lettuce, spinach, kale, and carrots can produce multiple harvests when grown in a cold frame throughout the winter. Additionally, warm-season vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers can be planted earlier and produce earlier yields with the help of a cold frame.

To successfully implement cold frames in your survival homesteading garden, there are several key tips to keep in mind. First, it is important to place the cold frame in a sunny location with good drainage to maximize sunlight and prevent waterlogging. Additionally, proper ventilation is essential to regulate temperature and humidity levels inside the cold frame. Opening the lid or side panels during warm days and closing them at night or during cold weather can help maintain optimal growing conditions.

While cold frames offer numerous benefits for sustainable gardening practices, there are also potential challenges and drawbacks to consider. One common issue is overheating, especially during sunny days or in warmer climates. To prevent damage to plants, it is important to monitor the temperature inside the cold frame and provide adequate ventilation as needed. Additionally, cold frames may require regular maintenance and upkeep to ensure long-term functionality and effectiveness.

Acclimating seedlings to outdoor conditions is crucial. Gradually exposing them to outdoor temperatures using a cold frame helps protect plants from harsh weather. Covering the frame at night shields seedlings from frost. Regulating the opening and closing with a timer optimizes protection.

Germinate Seeds Quickly With Coffee Filters or Paper Towels

Failure to adhere to germination instructions can have serious consequences in gardening. For example, planting seeds too deep in the soil can prevent them from receiving enough sunlight to germinate properly. Similarly, planting seeds in soil that lacks nutrients or is too compacted can hinder their growth. Inadequate watering or incorrect temperature conditions can also lead to poor germination rates and weak, unhealthy seedlings.

Precision in seed planting not only leads to healthier plants but also saves time and resources by avoiding the need to replant failed seeds. By taking the time to plant seeds correctly and provide them with the optimal conditions for growth, you can create a thriving and productive survival garden that will provide for their needs for years to come.

You can bolster the germination process by utilizing coffee filters or paper towels, creating a moist environment for seeds. Regularly monitor moisture levels to prevent seeds from drying out. Secure the damp materials in a plastic bag to maintain humidity. Keep a close eye on the seeds for any signs of germination, facilitating a prompt transfer to soil.

How Long Do Seeds Last?

To ensure seed viability, always check expiration dates on seed packets. Extend shelf life by storing seeds in a cool, dry spot. Shield seeds from moisture and pests using sealed containers. Test older seeds for germination potential. Refer to cheat sheets for seed longevity guidelines.

Factors impacting seed longevity:

  • Genetics: Different seed types varying levels of natural longevity due to genetic.
  • Temperature: viability can be affected by temperature fluctuations, with cooler temperatures generally prolonging seed life.
  • Moisture: The presence of moisture can cause seeds to mold or rot, leading to decreased viability.
  • Oxygen: High levels of oxygen can promote seed aging, while reducing oxygen exposure can help preserve seeds.
  • Light: Some seeds are sensitive to light and can experience reduced viability when exposed to excessive light.

Storage conditions:

  • Cool, dry place: Store seeds in a cool, dry container to prevent moisture build-up.
  • Dark environment: Protect seeds from direct light by storing them in a dark location.
  • Airtight containers: Use airtight containers to limit oxygen exposure and preserve seed freshness.
  • Stable temperature: Maintain a consistent temperature to avoid fluctuations that can impact seed viability.

Specific seed types:

  • Vegetable seeds: Typically have a shelf life of 1-5 years when stored properly.
  • Flower seeds: Can remain viable for 1-3 years with proper storage.
  • Herb seeds: Have a similar lifespan to flower seeds, lasting 1-3 years.

Best practices for seed longevity:

  • Labeling: Clearly label seed packets with the date purchased or harvested to track their age.
  • Rotation: Use older seeds first to ensure they are planted before reaching their expiration date.
  • Germination testing: Periodically test seed viability by germinating a few seeds to determine if they are still viable.
  • Seed treatment: Some seeds benefit from stratification or scarification techniques to enhance germination rates.

Recommended storage methods:

  • Cool, dark place: Store seeds in a cool, dark location such as a basement or refrigerator.
  • Sealed containers: Use sealed containers like glass jars or plastic bags to protect seeds from moisture and oxygen.
  • Desiccants: Include desiccant packets to absorb excess moisture and keep seeds dry.
  • Regular inspections: Check seeds periodically for signs of mold or decay, and discard any compromised seeds.

By following these guidelines and implementing proper storage practices, you can maximize the longevity of your seeds and ensure successful germination when it comes time to plant.


In conclusion, mastering the art of seed starting is a rewarding journey for survival homesteaders. Understanding the basics, selecting the right seeds, and providing optimal care from germination to transplantation are crucial. Remember, labeling seeds, providing adequate light, and maintaining post-germination care lead to strong and healthy plants. Embrace advanced techniques like quick germination hacks and eco-friendly seed starting to enhance your gardening experience.

By following these seed starting tips diligently, you’ll witness the magic of nature unfolding in your homestead, yielding a bountiful harvest for your enjoyment and sustenance. Happy planting!