Her Honor:  March Judge Amy Goldman
Her Honor: March Judge Amy Goldman




AMY GOLDMAN, author of the bestselling The Heirloom Tomato, The Compleat Squash, & Melons for the Passionate Grower joins the Garden Party this month to help us decide which of you has the best seed starting tips.  (Other than having someone else do it for you.)

Amy, nearly singlehandedly, brought the heirloom vegetable movement into the American mainstream. Her books, which are both invaluable reference books and works of art, have inspired many Americans to put down that supermarket tomato and pick up a spade. She showed us that there are hundreds more types of melons in the world than the crunchy pale orange cubes we get in our fruit salad cups. We might have to work a little to get them, but they’ll be worth it.

Green Zebra
Green Zebra

Part of that work is growing them ourselves – from seed. Chances are you aren’t going to find a Metki Painted Serpent Melon, or Green Zebra Tomato at the supermarket.

It almost goes without saying that starting one’s own seeds vastly broadens the varieties of vegetables one can grow in a garden. But for those with little gardening experience – or even those of who have been buying seedlings from garden centers for years – starting seeds at home can seem a little daunting.  And if you believe everything you read online, you’ll need all sorts of expensive equipment and more precise control over your home’s temperature and humidity than the Louvre to start your own seeds.

It’s simply not true. While being careful and precise with your seed starting can certainly help guarantee stronger seedlings, seeds can be pretty resilient things. Decent light, warmth, water, soil, and timing are all any seed needs. Everything beyond that is simply insurance.

We’ll have more more information about seed starting in our many party pages, but we know you’re here for the prizes. So how do can you win this month’s prize? Simply submit your best seed starting tips in the comment section below. Include a picture if you wish.

We’ll start things off with one of our favorites. It’s not our original idea, but let me tell you…it saves a lot of aggravation and wasted seed, and gives us something to do during the long winter months. Check it out here.

Amy Goldman will decide which of your tips is most inventive, instructive, and helpful. The winner will receive a BEEKMAN 1802 All Natural Bug Repellent Bar and a Set of 12 Notecards featuring Landreth Seeds Vintage Seed Packet Illustrations. We’ll announce the winner on April 1st, when we announce our new contest for April. (Be certain that you enter your email information when you enter your tip so we can contact you. Complete contest rules are here, just in case lawyering is your other hobby.)

Ready? Give us your best tips below….

by Josh and Brent

Reader Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


When I started working at a garden center years ago, my parents couldn't believe that people would buy plants for squash, pumpkins, watermelon, sunflowers etc. That place even had 6-packs of peas, beans and corn! I've found that by planting these seeds at the appropriate time right in the ground, they "catch up" to those started ahead, are strong and healthy, and you can even avoid most of the insect infestations (squash bugs and borers) as they won't be up and ready when they attack.

Barbara Bernhardt

Super suggestions. I have some added comments about starting new raised beds and the walkways in between. I also used rough cut hemlock, but I used 4 x 4's not boards, and they are just now rotting after 14 years. I just replace the rotted ones, and put the old wood in the stove next winter. I should have filled them up with soil, but I didn't. They never fill up, no matter how much mulch, manure, etc. you add. If you want them filled up you have to do it deliberately. Raised beds really don't need a weed suppressor underneath them. New weed seeds come all through the summer anyway, so mulch your plants with grass clippings or whatever, and just pull out what weeds appear. As for the walkways, well, I tried everything I could think of and nothing worked. I had landscaping cloth covered by gravel. Weeds came, in large numbers the third year. I pulled them. They got to be too much by about the fifth year. Flame thrower? The hay mulch caught fire and I almost burned my whole place down! Weed killer? The slightest little zephyr blew it around and killed the vegetables. (Served me right. I knew I was doing wrong to put poisons on my soil.) Finally, it dawned on me to mow the weeds, over the gravel, and now I have very nice looking pathways that never get muddy. My walkways are 36" wide, just right for a hand mower, and not too big for a weed whacker if you let it go too long.


Seed starting tips: I recycle the plastic containers strawberries are sold in as mini window seal greenhouses to start my seeds. First I line the container with gentle used paper towels, feel with seed starting mix, plant seeds, water and find a warm place until the begin to comp up. Once up, I move to a sunny window seal and enjoy the first of my gardening season. To water my seedlings, I use a rinsed out dish soap bottle. This is a nice size, is easy to get the water when you want it and handy to store. You can also stack your strawberry greenhouses on the window seal until your plants start to outgrow the containers. This is an easy, environmentally friendly way to get your garden started!


5 tips in all–I couldn't select just one!

1. Use cups to start seeds in that you can plant right in the garden

2. Use grow lights. You don't have to rotate everyday like you do when using a window

3.When seedlings are just emerging, water using a plastic bottle that you have poked holes in the caps. It sprinkles the seedlings instead of a gush of water that can disturb the soil

4. Don't start too early. I'm learning the hard way and have cukes and pumpkins that are flowering much too early

5. Plant what you like to eat


1. Start early. Smaller seeds like tomatoes, peppers and tobacco take time to germinate.

2. Use peat pots and a porous soil mix for proper breathing.

3. You can use the cardboard egg cartons if you have saved enough of them

4. Create a little greenhouse by covering with plastic in a sunny window

5. Be careful not to over water–as so many of us are "overcaring"

Mary Poppins

This will seem terribly old fashioned, but it always worked for my grandmother and she had an amazing year-round vegetable garden. I mix my seeds with a little soil, sprinkle them on a wet paper towel that sits on a sturdy paper plate, slide it into a large zip bag, and set the plate on top of a hot water bottle filled with very hot water. I refill the bottle twice a day. I can see which seeds are germinating and plant those. My grandmother always thought the gentle heat of the water bottle was better than a heating pad. She also said that the seeds needed "time from the heat" as the bottle cools, just as soil naturally cools each day when the sun sets


I start seeds in biodegradable recycled cups that I make out of paper towel and toilet paper rolls. They are free, easy to make, and work great for sprouting seeds under a grow light. I started my seeds this way last year with good results, and I plan to do even more this year. Here is a link to my step by step instructions


Ever wonder what to do with the endless refuse from your coffee machine? I start seeds in those little individual coffee/tea containers that my coffee maker (a Keurigs) use. Just peel the foil top off and stick the seeds into the coffee grounds or tea leaves. It is just the right size and the hole in the bottom works well for draining. When you are ready to plant I use the extras (we drink a lot of coffee and tea) for compost (taking them out of the plastic and recycling that part). I don't have pictures, but you can imagine

Alabama Gardener

I use damp paper towels sprinkled with vermeculite and seeds to germinate my seeds. I keep them in a warm place in a gallon Ziploc bag. Checking them every 4-5 days to make sure they are moist and to check germination. This way there is no wasted time planting seeds that won't germinate. When ready, I place them in starting pots. Enjoy…


I have a great planter tip for large planters one would set on the patio. It hasn't failed me yet for keeping sow or potato bugs and earwigs out of my planters. Line the bottom of the planter and about 1/3 of the way up with fine wire mesh (screen) or landscaping cloth. Then put a layer of pebbles for drainage and then your soil on top.


Very interesting tips that people are providing!! I use toilet paper rolls to make crafts for kids, so I won't be adopting that one, but I think it is a great idea. Recently a friend gifted me with a hydroponic seed starter set and although it pops up the seeds 8 in a tidy row, it is more to educate the kidlets with. When it is seed starting time in my garden I soak them overnight and take them out to the garden. I plant them in a circle and put up little center sticks made out of cut up blinds with permanent ink information on them, date I planted, height of plant expected so I know what they are when they show their stuff. Living in the lower mainland of BC we generally have to start our seeds inside but the snow this year might have be taking up some of the great suggestions I have read here. Thank you for this informative site.


To protect your seeds from cats and birds disrupting the soil you can lay some fine craft mesh over your pot or garden until the seeds are sprouted. The mesh can remain in place either staked down or made into a tent with poles indefinitely


Here's my tip: Keep grow lights close to seed trays to reduce etiolation of seedlings. Soon after germination point a small fan at the seed tray and turn it on low speed. The breeze promotes production of ethylene and strengthens the stems–no gangly seedlings flopping over the seed trays!