Many gardeners prefer to start their garden plants from seed rather than purchasing actual plants. The main reasons for starting plants from seed are; more choices of plant variety, lower cost, and better adaptation to your location. While the internet may offer more plant choices than your local garden store, a seed catalog or seed saver group will yield even more choices. If you save seeds from the best heirloom (non-hybrid) plants in your garden each year, then over time you will produce plants better adapted to your soil and climate.
When starting plants from seed it is important to use a soilless mix, not dirt from your garden. Dirt doesn’t drain well and seedlings will get a fungal disease called damp-off. You can make your own soilless mix using peat moss, compost and perlite or just purchase a bag of potting soil. Place the soil in small pots or fill a flat with soil blocks (soil block makers can be found in garden supply catalogs). Drop a seed in each pot or soil block; lightly cover with soil and then water. Be sure to plant a few extra seeds because not every seed will germinate (germination rates drop off with seed age).
Seed germination is a function of plant type, time, temperature, light and water. For example; a tomato seed will germinate in about a week at 80 degrees, but require more time at a lower temperature. Tomato seeds germinate over a temperature range of 50-90 degrees, while lettuce seeds germinate between 35-85 degrees. Seeds can be germinated in a sunny windowsill. Once the seedlings start growing, they will need lots of light and regular watering. If the plants get “leggy”, tall and skinny, it is a sign of light deficiency.
Before transplanting plants to the garden, set them outside each day for a week to get them used to the outdoors. When transplanting plants to the garden, it is important to cover small plants with row cover to keep the birds away.