There are advantages to starting plants indoors, where they can be protected and even babied until they are mature enough to handle the rough and tumble world that awaits them outside.
How precisely to get seeds started will vary depending on a number of factors, most significantly what it is you’re growing. But it’s still possible to sketch out a general process to follow, to then be amended for one’s specific situation.
Use pots or other containers that are clean and have good drainage. Dry fiber pots can draw moisture from the soil, so if you are using fiber or peat pots, it’s a good idea to thoroughly soak them in water before adding soil.
Place your containers where they will receive plenty of sunlight, preferably a window where they will receive at least eight hours per day of direct sun. Even with that, you’ll likely need to supplement this with artificial lighting. Best are special plant or grow lights designed to simulate the full spectrum of the sun. In the beginning, you’ll want to keep the light fixture close to the soil, to provide heat as well as light to encourage germination. As the seedlings grow, you can gradually lift the light fixture away from them.
You can purchase a good quality commercial potting soil that fits the type of plants you wish to grow. You can also get the ingredients to make your own. Needless to say there are many possible such mixtures. Here’s one as an example:
4 quarts shredded peat moss
2 teaspoons ground limestone
4 tablespoons 5-10-10 fertilizer (the numbers refer to the percentages of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium)
You’re best off purchasing fresh seeds. Seeds lose viability over time, so if you have seeds left over from a previous year, the older they are the more likely they will not germinate properly. If you do wish to try older seeds, you can start by taking out a sample of ten and running a germination test on them. (Clean them with bleach. Wrap them in a moist paper towel. Put this in a sealed zip lock bag. Place the bag in an area conducive to germination. See how many seeds germinate and how long it takes, compared to the norm for this kind of seed. Extrapolate from your results to all the seeds.)
Determine the date of the expected last frost. Check your seed packet to see how many weeks’ growth are recommended before transplanting outdoors. Do the math and start those seeds such that they’ll be ready to transplant shortly after the last frost.
6. Starting the seeds
Fill your containers to within about 1/4 inch of the top with your potting soil. Level it. Water the soil thoroughly and let it drain. Make a hole in the soil for the seed. Follow the directions on the seed packet, but the rule of thumb is to plant the seed four times as deep as the seed is wide.
That should get you started. From there remember to water regularly, keep an eye out for pests, and add fertilizer or whatever else is called for in the instructions on your seed packet. When it comes time to transplant the plants outdoors, be sure to familiarize yourself with the concept of “hardening off.”
Marie Iannotti, “Seed Starting FAQ.” About.com.
“Starting Seeds Indoors.” Garden Guides.