The Easy Way to Start a Free Garden From Seeds!

Start A Free Garden From Seeds! a cantaloupe cut in half on a clear cutting board with a santoku knife on the top corner

Have you always wanted to start a free garden from seeds but didn’t know how to do it? I can help! Building on my post from last year – a garden will make your backyard an even wicked-er cool oasis!

Spring is one of the most fun seasons. Every year I look forward to planting my garden and the taste of the first tomato I pick off on the vine. Over the years I’ve started to harvest seeds as we eat fruits and vegetables throughout the year. If you’re the type of person who likes lists or enjoyed sorting sprinkles during hell week, this is for you. This is an easy and fun activity you can do with your kids to teach them the lifecycle of food (or alone for some relaxing “me time”). I will teach you exactly how to do it and it will cost you nothing!

Start A Free Garden From Seeds! a red pepper core with the seeds in focus to show they are clean and easy to remove

OK, Let’s Start A Free Garden From Seeds! Harvesting Seeds From Your Favorite Fruits & Vegetables

Harvesting seeds from fruits and vegetables is easy. You literally just take the seeds out of what you’re eating and dry them out. Peppers are my favorite because they are clean and pop out easily. Plus, one pepper will yield you so many seeds you can give them out to everyone you know (not that I do that… ok I do that).

Start A Free Garden From Seeds! pepper seeds drying on a plate next to the core of a red pepper

Other seeds – like tomatoes, cucumbers or cantaloupe are a little more involved but relatively easy as well. You just have to wash off the gunk (pulp) which adds time and effort.

tomato seeds drying out on a paper towel on a green plate

Start A Free Garden From Seeds: Drying the Seeds

Once you pull the seeds out you simply lay them out to dry for a few days. I spread them on a plate in a single layer on my table where they can get some sun. If it’s a very pulpy seed, I will add a paper towel under them to help remove the excess pulp. Every night I shuffle them around a bit to make sure they’re not sticking to the plate. I usually know they are ready when my husband asks, “how much longer do you plan to keep this plate of seeds on the table?”. Which in patient-mom-language translates to about 5 days.

Start A Free Garden From Seeds! Recycled vitamin containers labeled with heirloom tomato, pepper, beefsteak tomato and cantaloupe seeds

Once the seeds are dried out, I put them in an airtight container. I like to use old vitamin bottles for this since they’re skinny (like me). Don’t forget to label them. Extra points if you spell “cantaloupe” correctly.

Start A Free Garden From Seeds: Planting Time

Every season I play around with when I begin planting. As a rule, I usually put things in my garden on Mother’s Day weekend. If you’re growing plants from seeds you need to start working backwards. Last year I began my seedlings in April and when it was time to plant them outside, they weren’t big enough, so this year I began in February and March.

Start A Free Garden From Seeds! Plastic egg container with dirt and seeds for growing seedings

It Worked! You Started A Free Garden From Seeds! Now Plant Those Seeds

In addition to saving seeds I save little yogurt cups, individual cereal cups, egg cartons (Costco has great plastic ones), and more throughout the year. I use these cups to plant the seeds. If you’re looking for an additional activity, you and/or your kids can decorate them before you plant in them. Sharpies are a great option for this and will stay on the plastic. Stickers work great for younger kids.

Fill your container 2/3 full of dirt (you can use any old dirt from outside or “upgrade” to potting soil), stick a few seeds in the cup (making sure to spread them out and not over crowd them), cover them with a little more dirt, give it a good watering, and place them on a sunny windowsill.

a recycled yogurt cup on my kitchen windowsill with dirt and little seedlings with a plastic cover on top to create a greenhouse

If you plant them in a yogurt cup with a lid, you can loosely put the lid on top to create a greenhouse. This will speed up the growing!

Start A Free Garden From Seeds! two recycled yogurt cups with seedings growing in them on my windowsill

Watering Your Seedlings

I try not to water the seedlings too much so I don’t saturate them. This translates to when I’m cleaning off the dinner table, I spread out the water that’s left in my kids cups to my little plants. I also throw an ice cube in the pots if my ice machine shoots one out by accident.

*Side note* Ice is a great way to water plants – especially on a really hot day.

Start A Free Garden From Seeds! A recycled yogurt cup with pepper seedlings beginning to sprout. There are labeled, wooden stick markers in them

Oh My GOSH, I SEE A SPROUT!

Pepper seeds are not only easy to collect but they sprout fast. This is great for kids (and you) because it’s close to instant gratification.

This means it worked! Continue what you’re doing until May when it’s time to plant them outside.

Start A Free Garden From Seeds! many seedlings each in recycled yogurt cups in a big plastic big (the cover of a Costco cake) all with labeled wooden stick markers

Time For Your Outdoor Garden

Once my plants are sprouted, it’s May, and it is consistently warm out, they are ready to go outside!

Containers with lots of recycled yogurt cups each with dirt and plant seedlings

So… I Need An Outdoor Garden? That Sounds Hard.

There are many options depending on how involved you want to get and how much space you have. For the least amount – you can put your plants in a bigger pot and have a beautiful potted garden. This is easy and minimal effort. You just need big pots and a lot of dirt. At this point I would suggest upgrading to potting soil.

If you have the space, time, and interest, you can plant them directly into the ground in either a raised or non-raised garden.

Start A Free Garden From Seeds! my backyard garden build with bricks and closed in by a wire fence. it is filled with the seedlings I grew in my kitchen in the winter. each crop is separated by decorated recycled drinkable yogurt bottles. each plant is under a toilet paper roll to protect it like a collar.

If you have a lot of animal visitors (we border a water basin, and our yard looks like Snow White’s Enchanted Forrest) you may also want to put up a wire fence around your garden.

A great tip for either option is throwing your coffee grinds and eggshells into the soil every so often for additional nutrients.

My boys - age 6 and 3 - sitting at a picnic table decorating the bottom, of recycled drinkable yogurt containers with Sharpies as markers for our garden

In They Go!

Planting your outdoor garden is both a happy and sad day if you started your plants from scratch. It’s like sending your kid off to Kindergarten. You have become so used to them being around and cared for them every day since they were a little seed. You know in your heart they’re big enough now to go out and be on their own. But you will miss them.

In addition to saving seeds and containers, I also save toilet paper rolls. When the big day comes and I’m ready to plant outside – I take the plant, put its roots through the toilet paper roll, and they both go in to the ground. The toilet paper roll makes a little collar protecting the plant and tells animals to stay the heck back. Because it is paper it will open as it gets wet and eventually decompose (look! You’re composting too!).

You can have your kids decorate other recyclables as plant markers, so you remember what you planted.

my sunny kitchen with all the little recycled yogurt cups on the windowsill after I planted seeds in them.

Watering Your Crops

How often you water your pants will be based on how often it rains. I think I over watered my plants last year, but its hard not to water them. It’s fun to visit your little friends!

The Mint Chip Mama (Me) next to my zucchini plant in my garden last year

Success! You Started A Free Garden From Seeds! Salad City Here You Come!

One day you will go out for a visit and – bam! – you see a little baby fruit or vegetable growing! This is big fat mama pride. Be sure to compliment yourself for being the smartest farmer alive. Next is watching your little harvest grow. Then one day they will be ready! As you pull them off the vine (and relish in the fact that you did this all by yourself and for free) you can taste the pure farm to table fruit of your labor with unabashed pride.

Or – you get absolutely nothing – curse a rabbit, say it cost you nada, (except the hours of gardening that was both relaxing and cheaper than a therapist’s co-pay), and try again next year. Hakuna Matata.

Either way, you did well. Be proud. You’ve earned a pair of overalls and a big straw hat.

two month old pepper seedlings

I want to hear what happens with your gardens!

Did you find any tricks that work?

Comment below!

Start A Free Garden From Seeds! - little ziploc bags of "seeds of happiness" that I gave out containing a yogurt cup to decorate and pepper seeds

Published by Stacey Wallenstein

Stacey Gish Wallenstein created The Mint Chip Mama blog in 2013 to share her love and passion for giving children meaningful life experiences and helping moms like her navigate the challenges and benefits of raising children in the New York metropolitan area. Before becoming a full-time mom in 2010, Stacey spent the better part of the preceding decade as a high-end customer relationship management (CRM) professional for some of the most well-known brands in the hotel, luxury, fashion, and beauty industries, such as Harrah’s Entertainment, Chanel and Christian Dior, Inc. She managed customer loyalty programs for thousands of clients around the country and created social media strategies for a span of industries including healthcare services, restaurants, consumer packaged goods, specialty foods, local attractions and retail locations. After 13 wonderful years in Manhattan (the last three of which spent as a city mom), Stacey and her husband moved to Long Island in 2014, where they now reside with their three children (10, 6, and 4). There, she is a founding member of her local Parenting Center, which provides classes and coordinates events designed to educate and inform parents while fostering an environment of support and friendship within the community. Stacey is also an active PTA member (and former president) as well as a Girl Scout troop leader. Her musings on motherhood, Manhattan, the suburbs, and more can be found here and on Facebook at The Mint Chip Mama. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Stacey has been active in the New York area alumni organization for nearly twenty years, serving as a board member on the school’s University of Michigan Alumni Club of New York City. She also holds a Masters in Psychology from The New School in New York City. For more updates, follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.

2 thoughts on “The Easy Way to Start a Free Garden From Seeds!

  1. You inspired me, I started today! I bought seeds though, lol. I planted kale, spinach, cilantro, and broccoli inside, and basil and arugula outside. Wish me luck!

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