What You Need to Start Your Own Transplants


Tips on Starting Your Own Transplants from Black Fox Homestead

When I first started out as a new gardener the concept of growing my own transplants was somewhat intimidating.  I’d seen Martha Stewart do it, but I wasn’t Martha.  I also didn’t see the need.  In my opinion it was a bit like making your own crackers.  Is it rrrreally that necessary to start completely from scratch?

I don’t exactly recall the first season I started a tray of transplants, but I do recall that the first time I was successful ~  I was hooked (and I’ve since started to consider making my own crackers; so I think there is something to starting completely from scratch).

*Growing your own transplants gives you much more control over what goes into your garden.   Unless the nursery or sales representative is able to vouch for them,  you have no idea where those transplants have been raised or what sort of diseases or pests you may potentially be introducing to your garden.

*Growing your own transplants gives you more variety.  Seed catalogs offer so much more than what you can purchase at a nursery.  While some merchants may be starting to offer heirloom varieties they are more than likely just a small sample of what is available.  And vegetables are just the start.   You can grow your own herb, annual, and perennial transplants as well.

*Growing your own transplants is much less expensive.  A packet of 100 seeds can cost as much as a single store bought transplant or less.  If you grow heirlooms and learn to save the seed, it will eventually cost you nothing at all.

*Growing your own transplants gives  you greater flexibility.  You can start what  you want when you want it without having to rely on what the store may or may not have and  you can be prepared to set them out on your own time.

Here then is a very basic list of supplies and a just a few tips to get you started.

1. Pellets or peat pots ~  I really liked the Jiffy Pellets  when I first started.  They were small and easy to store, and they came with their own lidded containers. The pellets are simply immersed in water until they grow to full size. Once the seedling reaches the proper size the pellets or pots can be set directly into the soil. Both of these items can be purchased at a general hardware or home improvement store. If you prefer to shop Amazon like me,   I’ve also included them in the resources below.

2. Growing medium ~ If using the pots.  This will come in a large plastic sack in the same area of the hardware store as the pellets.  If you want to mix your own, you can and there are several tutorials out there telling you how.  I would suggest you buy the medium ready prepared. If you are a new gardener some of the required ingredients can be a bit intimidating. A decent growing medium really isn’t that expensive or hard to find. I personally found it to be messy and for that reason preferred the pellets.

3. A heat mat ~ For such crops as tomatoes and peppers that need warm soil in order to germinate.  These can be purchased through any gardening supply but do not use a heating pad.  The temperature gauge is different.  These are not expensive but I personally don’t think you need one right away.  My pepper and tomato seeds germinated just fine when they were set on top of my water heater.

4. A good south facing window ~ seedlings need up to a good 12 hours of light in order to germinate.  If you aren’t sure your windows get enough light, my advice is to try anyway. You’ve really nothing to lose.  One year I managed to start several tomato seedlings, lettuces, and annuals for my flower beds just by setting my Jiffy pots in sunny windows throughout the house.  They grew just fine.

5. Grow lights ~ This would be what I would consider a splurge item.  My husband got me a very lovely set one year for our anniversary (only a farm wife would ask for grow lights for an anniversary gift).

6. Seeds ~ Obviously.  This post gives more information about what to buy and where.

7. A good resource ~ When I first started out I found Square Foot Gardening to have a lot of helpful information.  I also found several fact sheets through my County Extension Office and used their hotline from time to time.

8. Patience ~ Consider  your first few tries a learning experience.  You may end up with a great harvest ~ wonderful!  You may end up having to purchase your transplants from the hardware store ~ wonderful!  Take all sorts of notes on what worked and what didn’t and don’t give up.  You will get the hang of it eventually.

Tips and things to remember

*Start with seeds that are easy to germinate such as lettuces, kale, zinnias, parsley, etc.

*Vegetables such as beets, carrots, and peas don’t take well to being transplanted and are best sown directly in the soil.

*The general rule of thumb is to plant your seeds at a depth equal to 4x the size of the seed more or less.

*Keep the pellets, medium, or soil covered until the seeds germinate.  This creates a humid, greenhouse like environment that is friendly for germination. I use the clear plastic lids that come with the pellets or plastic wrap.  Check on them every day, and remove the lid when the seedlings start to peek up through the soil.

*Keep the soil consistently moist.  If the soil dries out it will interrupt the germinating process.

*Keep in mind that seeds such as tomatoes, peppers, Swiss chard, and spinach take a long time to germinate. In my personal experience these took anywhere from two weeks and sometimes even four before I saw any sprouts.

*Always sow 2 seeds to make sure you will get a sprout.

*A gentle fan on young transplants will help develop strong stems.

Do you enjoy growing your own transplants?

Resources (I apologize for the wonky alignment but wordpress and our rural interweb connection aren’t cooperating with one another at the moment):

Jiffy Pellet Indoor Plant Greenhouse ~ I really enjoyed using these when I first got started. They are easy to use and easy to store. The trays can be reused with available refills.

Growing Medium ~ If you prefer. I found that it was messy and difficult to use; but some growers may prefer it.

Peat pots ~ these can be filled with the growing medium and the pot itself can be planted directly into the soil.

Seedling heat mat ~ To use for such seeds as tomatoes and peppers that prefer a warm soil for germinating. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend one of these unless you plan to grow a lot of transplants. I was able to germinate my tomatoes and peppers just fine by setting them on top of the hot water heater.


Grow Lights ~ Again, because of the expense, I would only recommend these if you are planning to grow a lot of transplants. I have a large two ~ tier system on wheels that I absolutely love and use often.

Find this post and others like it linked to: Homestead Barn Hop, Homemade Mondays, The Backyard Farming Connection Hop, Wildcrafting Wednesday, The Homeacre Hop, Simple Lives Thursday, Farm Girl Blog Fest

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What You Need to Start Your Own Transplants — 15 Comments

  1. I started my heirloom tomatoes yesterday in pots I had saved from last summer’s flower purchases. I don’t have a heat mat, but am putting together an idea I saw somewhere that uses the rope lights as the heat source. I did score what I think is an excellent deal on a 24″ grow light from ‘wally-world’ for $10 (complete kit). It is currently balanced on top of the plastic storage bin my pots are sitting in. Let’s hope it works! Thanks for the tips!

    • Let me know how the rope lights turn out for you Teresa. We just have the one mat right now but I think we’ll have to get a few more, or something like it as we are going to significantly increase the size of our garden this year. $10 for the grow lights is a great price!

  2. We started ours yesterday- the early stuff at least. I have always used, and had good luck with, peat pellets. This year I didn’t want the expense so I am reusing seed trays that I have had hanging around for awhile. Great tips for those just starting out!

    • I really loved those peat pellets. I have since switched to using soil cubes and use larger trays under my grow lights but I had dozens of those little mini green houses that I used over and over again. They really worked great.

    • Really? I did fine using my window sills but have always gotten much healthier results from my grow lights. I hope you have better luck.

  3. An also recommend newspaper pots. Take a sheet of paper and fold down the centre fold then in half again the same way. Wrap it around a can or jar and fold the bottom down and tape it shut. The pots will rot down given the right conditions but I found that my newly formed beds had enough rotting down to do and the pots didn’t. You can just untape and unfold the bottom before planting out or tear the pot off completely.
    I started all my veggies from seed but at our old house. It faced east west and got insufficient light sadly. We then moved from temperate to cold climate so my poor seedlings weren’t too happy with me. Lessons learned though as you say. My tomatoes are flowering (Australia is mid summer) although many won’t fruit before the cold weather returns. My marigolds are flowering and corn, zucchini and pumpkin all going well. Even should I get little to no crops (not holding out a lot of hope) then so be it. It’s been a steep learning curve.
    Well done with your seedlings too. It IS exciting seeing your first seedling peeking through the soil. In fact I think I did a jig and took photos! *blush*

    • Yeah, after I plant those seeds it is always hard to discipline myself not to check on them more than once a day. It is sooooo exciting to see them poke through. I had seen molds for those newspaper pots but didn’t know you could make them yourself. Great to know! We’ll have to give that a try. I’m really sorry that you’ve had a difficult time with your tomatoes. That sounds like our fall garden. We had some beautiful blossoms on ours but got NO tomatoes last fall. We had a cold snap that destroyed the vines before we could harvest much of anything. I hope that you will have continued success with your corn, zucchini, and pumpkin. Always hard for me to picture ya’ll over there in the middle of summer while we’re freezing here on our end. :D Have a great week.

      • I’m finding it hard to get my head around planting garlic at any other time of year than Easter! I just love the different seasons we have and reading all my northern hemisphere blogs at Christmas time is always special with white Christmases.
        Yes, checking for seedlings multiple times a day is also something I’ve done. JUST in case it pops up since we last looked. ;)
        I read a blog on the newspaper pots and made them and they worked fine. They hold together above ground surprisingly well too.

  4. Great informative post! Just what I need to give myself a refresher before we get our seeds going. The last couple years we have moved more and more towards growing everything from seed. Last year we did buy a few plants because the seeds didn’t work out, but we try to start as much as we can from seed. We have a couple of grow lights because our house doesn’t get enough sun and they work out really well. I’m so excited to get my seeds ordered and going!

    Visiting from Backyard Farming Connection Hop :)

    • Thank you Tammmy. I’ve tried to grow more and more from seed too; even some of our annuals and perennials. Once you get the hang of it, it really is fun and it does save you some money.

  5. Great article! Thanks for the great tips and for sharing what you’ve found works best! I love how organized and easy to follow this is! It’s printable for easy reference (which I will do)!

  6. Great tips! I use shop lights to start my seedlings. Just use one cool white and one warm light fluorescent tube in each light and you will have the same basic spectrum as sunlight.

    Thanks for sharing this on Wildcrafting Wednesday and The HomeAcre Hop! I love reading your posts each week!

  7. Great blog, love the variety of posts that homesteading practices offer. Trying soil blocking for the first time this year. Relatively inexpensive initial investment that pays off in time, money and from what I understand transplanting issues.

    • I have a soil blocking mold that we use from time to time. We’ve been pretty happy with the results for the most part.