I have been doing research on starting my seeds indoors over the past weeks and thought I would share some helpful hints I have discovered.
**Prepare the containers. Clean with well-diluted bleach (nine parts water to one part bleach). Punch drainage holes in the bottom of your container and then line with a layer of newspaper.
**Fill containers. In addition to your seed starting soil you may want to add a layer of sand to promote drainage. Fill pots or flats to within 1/4 inch of the top with your potting mix and level the surface. !!!!!IMPORTANT!!! You need to make sure the soil you are using to start your seeds actually says "seed starting soil".....if the soil is all wrong for what our doing you'll be wasting your time and money. (This happened to me last year!)
**Sow your seeds. The easiest way to avoid mixing things up is to plant only one variety of seeds per container. Seeds should be covered to three times their diameter." Read the directions on the seed packet for specific planting instructions.
**Label each container with what seed you're planting, date planted, expected date (range) of germination. Also, mark a calendar with your plants germination dates, which will make planning easier.
**Water the soil well....do not over water it! You want the soil to be very moist, but not soggy.
**Cover seed trays with plastic wrap or place them inside a plastic bag. The idea behind covering the container is to keep moisture levels constant. Seeds are very sensitive to the amount of water they receive. Too much water or too little water will greatly effect your success rate. The seeds do not need watered until they germinate. Remove the cover once the seeds have germinated (sprout up) to prevent plant diseases, such as damping off.
**Warmth. Your seeds will germinate faster when they are placed somewhere warm. I used a little trick I read somewhere last and put a heating pad underneath my trays. This helps to warm the soil temp. No totally necessary, but it helps to move the process along.
**Sunlight. Your sprouts will want sun, or fake sun, if you have a south facing window place them in the sun for 10-12 hours a day. Unfortunately for me I have NO south facing windows...bummer!! So for my birthday this past year I asked for a grow light system. I ordered one that is 4 ft long and 4 bulbs wide!! Although a grow lamp is not required to start seeds, it does help to have a very controlled stable environment to ensure successful, strong, and healthy plants.
**As soon as your seedlings develop true leaves (usually the second set of leaves), it's time to give them more room.
**Thin them by trimming off the plant's leaves at soil level. You'll want to end up with one plant for every 1 to 2 inches. ***I saw on another article that using a little pair of scissors to thin plants is best so you do not disturb the roots.
**Hardening off. Be sure that if you start your own seeds, or if you buy from a greenhouse that you harden off your plants before putting them into the garden. Start when the weather is nice and sunny, placing your plants outside for small increments. Increase the time every few days. After a week, your plants should be ready for transplanting.
Just in case you get those plants into the garden, and then we have some surprise chilly nights. I keep around old bed sheets we no longer use (keep your eyes peeled once garage sales & auctions start if you don't have any) and cover my plants at night with them if cold weather is threatening to ruin all I have worked hard on. You could also use plastic tarps, or buckets for protection. Be sure to remove them in the morning so the plants don't get too hot during the warmth of the day.
Do you have any special hints you would like to pass on about starting seeds?