I don't pretend to be an authority on gardening. I learn as I go and do lots of research, either by reading or asking my elders for advice.
If you're new to gardening or need some help with seeding, here's a few tips.
Seeds need warmth, moisture, and light. The sprout will find the light. The deeper you plant it, the longer it will take it to break the soil. Different seeds need to be planted at different depths depending on their root needs. Consult your seed packet or the internet/farmer's almanac for specifics.
If you're going to transfer seedlings to the out of doors you'll need to start inside in January. You can buy a seed starter kit but a big bowl or tray, something relatively shallow will work fine.
Fill your container with soil. Hard clay is not ideal. You can buy potting soil or seed starter mix at a garden store. If you're planning on transferring your seedling outside mix some of the soil from your planting destination in with your container soil so your seed won't be shocked by their new home when the time comes.
Once you have your soil in place and your seeds selected, sow your seed. Most seeds only require being sown no more than 1 inch into the soil.
Water your container. Not so much that you wash everything away, but make sure everything is very moist.
If you keep your home cool, or whatever room you're keeping your seed container in, you'll want to cover your container with clear plastic to trap the moisture and generate heat. To encourage this you have to have a light source. If you don't have a sunny window to do this use a lamp placed about 12 inches above your container. This will provide heat. Be sure to turn it off for at least 8 hours a day, mimicking night time.
In about a week your seed will sprout, depending on what type of plants you're growing. Most vegetables and fruits will sprout in 7-14 days as long as they're kept warm and moist and don't have a substantial amount of eart to work through.
That's the easy part. If you're going to transplant them you have to wait until they've grown at least 3 mature leaves per plant, about another 7-14 days. This will insure you have a root system that can withstand the trauma of being moved.
If you're moving them outside there are several things to consider. Plants are like people. They are easily acclimated to being indoors and become "spoiled." They adapt to the humidity, lack of wind, steady temperatures, and moderate light we have in our homes. Before they can survive outside they must be gradually introduced to the more extreme conditions, a process referred to as "hardening off."
To harden off your transplants, make sure your seedlings have at minimum 3 defined, mature leaves. The bigger your seedling the better.
These seedlings would be too small to transplant:
This seedling would be ready to transplant but might need additional protection:
Start by placing the seedlings outside in a fairly shady spot for 2 or 3 hours a day. This will introduce them to the difference in humidity, temperature, and wind. Bring them back inside.
After doing this for about a week, start leaving them in direct sunlight for 4-6 hours a day, remembering to bring them back inside. After another week of this they should be ready to live full-time outside.
Almost every time I lose 1/3 of my transplants. I usually plant twice as many plants as I anticipate surviving. Lots of things happen throughout the growing season. Bugs, draught, flood, unscheduled frost (thought not likely here in TX), etc. But if some of your seedlings don't make it, let them be--I had several that got frost-bitten and came back, much to my surprise.
One of the pepper plants I lost but came back:
If you have space restrictions and have to do container gardening, don't think you can't have an equally AWESOME harvest! Container gardens can often provide a much more manageable gardening experience.
Once your seedlings have matured enough to be transplanted, decide how many containers you have room for and place your seedlings in their new homes. Place 2-3 seedlings per container at first, in case you lose some. If they all survive, keep the strongest plant. You only have so much real estate and can't afford crowded roots!
Now all you have to worry about are watering correctly and bugs which I'll cover next time!