windowsill gardening, planting seeds indoors
(Image credit: Yulia Naumenko / Getty Images)

It’s nearing that time of year again. Soon enough there will be seed starting trays covering my kitchen table until it’s warm enough outdoors for them. There will also be trays of seedlings lining the shelves of my greenhouse, where they’ll be well protected from any late spring frosts. And that’s where they’ll stay until it’s time to transplant them in the garden.

A War is Raging: Growing Seedlings Inside

Flats of herbs and veggies and flowers galore, at least the ones that don’t get directly sown into the garden, including some seed bombing here and there. Besides houseplants and the occasional vegetable regrowing project or herbs, that’s pretty much the only indoor gardening I do. I’d much rather be outside. It’s often difficult for me to grow anything inside for too long, aside from my trusty houseplants, but even those spend spring through fall outdoors. It’s not easy keeping my indoor environment just right.

When it comes to starting seeds indoors though (or anywhere really), there’s just something magical about it. While this, too, can be a battle, my anticipation and excitement heightens in seeing those first signs of germination, when tiny slivers of green slowly emerge from the soil. Like a little troop of soldiers popping up one by one from the trenches, many with their protective helmets still visible, I can’t help but smile. They’re readying themselves for battle, as each must fight to survive in the coming weeks.

Soon after, the little seedlings will begin to sprout their first leaves, getting taller and stronger with each passing day. Provided they’ve been given enough light and are rotated accordingly, the seedling soldiers greet me with full attention, standing upright and happy. There will be stragglers, of course. Those that haven’t quite performed as well as the others. Unfortunately, I’m the one tasked with letting them go, carefully plucking them from their unofficial ranks. “Sorry, guys! It’s nothing personal,” I say with a slight quiver in my voice. It’s hard not to get choked up or teary eyed. I tend to think of them like children in a way. But I know there is a war raging and I must suck it up in order to carry my little troops to victory in spring. Keeping seedlings alive in my house isn’t always easy.

Caring for Seedlings

I’m filled with hope knowing the great things yet to come. But there will no doubt be bad days along the way too. As I continue watching them grow, I’m well aware that just like parenting, it’s up to me to give them everything necessary to be strong and healthy enough to flourish. While I do my best to keep them fed, watered and warm, my heart aches each time a seedling soldier has fallen, usually a victim to damping off. As heartbreaking as it is, I must carry on and encourage the troops to do the same. “We will not surrender to defeat,” I tell them. My growing seedlings inside must make it to feel the warmth of spring outdoors, leaving their cramped indoor quarters behind for good. That is when their next battle will begin…

In the end, everyone will be rewarded. There will be herbs and veggies and flowers galore. I will grieve for those lost but honor their memory. They fought a good battle. Next year, I’ll go through it all again with a new troop of soldiers. And it all begins with starting seeds indoors.

Nikki Tilley
Senior Editor

Nikki Tilley has been gardening for nearly three decades. The former Senior Editor and Archivist of Gardening Know How, Nikki has also authored six gardening books.