Hello dear friends! Since I had several comments in my last post that it was hard to start seeds, I thought I'd let you in on how we do it. We successfully start a couple hundred plants every year for the past four decades, so I guess our system works.
First refrigerate your seeds for at least a week. We keep our seeds in our garage, so they are naturally refrigerated. What you are doing is fooling your seeds into thinking they have experienced a Winter. Then when the are planted, they think it's Spring and begin to "wake up".
Next use a good quality starting soil. We use the one from Miracle grow. Starting soil is not the place to cheap out.
Moisten the soil, but don't saturate it.
Plant in one of these covered planting trays:
Use warming pads under the planting trays.
Once the seeds begin to sprout, crack the lid a bit, it keeps the plants from becoming too wet.
Once they sprout, remove the plastic cover and use a grow light for 10-12 hours a day. Place it just a few inches from the plants. We bought one of those grow light contraptions, but when the grow light burnt out, we replaced it with fluorescent lights, one is "cool" and one is "warm" (it says on the package). This mimics natural sunlight.
Mist your plants with a plant mister. Avoid getting the plants too damp.
Once the plants get bigger and leggy, transplant to 3-inch pots. Once they get this big you can begin watering them. If your plants are leggy, plant them deep into the pot.
Harden off your plants, by putting them outside, first in a shaded sheltered area, gradually increasing their time outdoors and in stronger sunlight, until the are ready to be planted. About four weeks before our last frost date, we place ours in a cold frame so they become accustomed to the cold nights.
The minor expense of a few pieces of equipment such as the grow light and warming pads net really nice plants, and the cost is nominal over the course of years. An added advantage to starting your own plants is that you get to grow the varieties you want and not be dependent upon the commercial varieties that most garden centers and nurseries offer. Hope this helps!