Starting Seeds on a Budget: 9 Easy Steps

With a bit of creativity, starting seeds on a budget indoors is easy!

When I first started gardening, I didn’t want to start seeds because I felt like I had to purchase all of this special equipment that was going to cost me too much money. I’m cheap, and I’m not embarrassed to admit that.

However, as our garden grew, it became too expensive to purchase the seedlings directly from the garden nursery. I knew I needed to figure out how to start seeds at home cheaply.

You DON’T need special equipment to start seeds in your home. In fact, gardening doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby you can garden when you’re broke! So, let’s take a look at how to start seeds on a budget.

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What Do We Need to Start Seeds on the Budget

Starting Seeds Supplies
  • Seed Starting Mix
  • Styrofoam Cups
  • Permanent Marker
  • Baking Sheet or Trays
  • Knife
  • Paper and Pen
  • Plastic Wrap (optional)
  • Water

Starting Seeds at Home: The 9 Steps

Ready to get started? Here are the 9 steps to start your seeds at home cheaply.

1. Decide How Many Plants of Each You Want

The first thing you want to do is decide how many plants of each type you want to have. You can use a calculator or just decide randomly how many of each you need. It’s better to overestimate than underestimate, in my experience.

Planning Plants

I write out each variety on a piece of paper and how many seeds to start. This also helps me keep track when I go to plant and when I want to determine how many plants I successfully started.

2. Pre-Moisten Your Seed Starting Mix

Now, this is something I finally figured out this year. See, gardening is a learning experience, and I’m constantly learning more garden lessons each year!

So, anyway, pre-moisten the seed starting soil in the bag. It makes it easier to fill cups and then you don’t need to worry about overflowing the cups. I’ve done that dozens of times.

3. Fill Your Cups

Then, fill your styrofoam cups with the pre-moistened soil. I suggest that you only fill the cups halfway. I tend to add more soil later as the plants get larger.

4. Label Each Cup

Using your permanent marker, label each cup with the variety that you picked. For some, I just write – broccoli – or – cauliflower – because I only start one or two varieties, at most.

For tomatoes and peppers, I write the actual variety name. That makes it easier when I go to plant them because I try to plant varieties together.

5. Add Your Seeds

Adding Seeds to Sytrofoam Cups

Once labeled, you can add your seeds to each cup. I do put 2-3 seeds per cup. Not every seed will germinate, and if more than one germinates, I pick the strongest one to keep.

Plus, some seeds are so darn small it can be hard to just put 1 or 2! Then, cover them with soil, but most seeds don’t need to be buried too deeply.

6. Water a Bit More

Now, add some more water. Don’t overdo it since you pre-moistened the seed starting mix. You just need enough to wet the soil on top along with the seed.

I use a knife to poke a hole in the bottom of the cup. That lets all the existing water drain out. If your seedlings end up too soggy, they’ll die.

7. Wrap with Plastic If You Want

Depending on where you will keep your seeds, you might want to wrap the cups or containers that you selected in plastic wrap. The reason you might want to do so is to keep up the humidity.

You should only keep the plastic wrap on your cups until the plants germinate. Once a little sprout emerges, be sure to remove the wrap.

8. Keep Up The Warmth and Humidity

In order to germinate, seeds need to be kept between 68-86 degrees F as well as humidity. Some seeds need up to 95% relative humidity, which is why seed companies provide a dome over the seed trays.

Starting Seeds in the Oven

Remember the plastic wrap does the same thing. You need moisture and a way to trap that moisture or you’ll spend a lot of time watering your seeds.

I keep my seeds in my oven – seriously. No, it’s not turned on, but I keep the light on and the door traps in the humidity. I keep water in a bowl or on the tray under the seeds.

Once the seeds germinate, I move them to my DIY seedling growing table where they stay until it’s time to move them outside.

9. You Don’t Need Grow Lights

Here is an important tip – you don’t NEED grow lights to start seeds. Instead, look for the right amount of lumens. In general, you need around 2,000 lumens or more per square feet. The way I designed my table, we have 2-3 lights per square feet, and each lamp uses a 1,200-lumen bulb.

Seed Starting Bulbs

That means my plants receive between 2,4000 to 3,600 lumens. That’s sufficient and cheap! A pack of 1,200-lumen bulbs only costs around $4 and if you grab a few lampshades with clamps for $7, you can start seeds cheaply.

Seed Starting Table

So, How Much Do I Spend to Start Seeds?

Let’s have a rundown of the prices to show you how much I spend to start seeds.

Cost of Starting Seeds Supplies

I assume that you have paper, a pen or pencil, and trays to set the seed cups on. I used baking sheets and don’t plan any cookies for 2-3 weeks.

  • 3 packs of styrofoam cups = $.98 each x 3 = $2.94
  • 2 packs of organic seed starting mix = $4.96 x 2 = $9.92
  • Permanent marker 2-pack = $2.98
  • 2 packs of bulbs = $3.96 x 2 = $7.92

The total is $23.76.

Cost of My Seed Growing Table

Now, I won’t include the cost of the bulbs because I added them to the seed starting supplies. I assume you have a table. It can be basic, an old desk, or whatever you find!

  • 7 lamp shades = $7.96 x 7 = $55.72
  • 1 2×4 cut into pieces = $3.96
  • 1 box of nails = $2

The total is $61.68.

Do I Need a Seed Starting Mat?

No! You don’t need a seed starting mat, even though they can be handy. The purpose of a mat is to keep your seeds warm, which encourages germination.

Instead, as I mentioned above, I keep my seeds in the oven. My oven is right around 70-72 degrees, so it’s in the middle of the acceptable range for temperatures needed to germinate seeds.

If you can find a warm area in your home that doesn’t have a draft and has some provided light (seeds don’t need tons of light to germinate), you don’t need a seed starting mat.

Watering Seedlings

How Long Does It Take for Seeds to Germinate?

Before you worry that you made a seed starting mistake because your seeds have yet to germinate, remember that it takes time for seeds to sprout.

Some seeds take so long that you’ll assume you messed up, then it pops up through the soil. So, don’t believe all is lost too fast.

Here is the average germination period for each veggie plant you might start inside.

PlantGermination Period
Basil5-10 Days
Broccoli4-20 Days
Brussels Sprouts5-15 Days
Cabbage4-20 Days
Cauliflower4-10 Days
Chard5-21 Days
Cilantro5-10 Days
Kale4-9 Days
Lettuce2-15 Days
Marjoram8-10 Weeks
Okra5-12 Days
Peppers, Hot14-28 Days
Peppers, Sweet7-14 Days
Spinach5-21 Days
Tomatoes5-14 Days

Get Started!

Now that you know starting seeds on a budget is possible, don’t waste any time. Now is the season to get started!

What are your best tips for starting seeds on a budget?

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