Seedlings of vegetables, flowers, and herbs can be started indoors six to eight weeks before they are to be set outside in the garden. This is a great way to extend your gardening season and save money at the same time.
Starting seed indoors is easy and fun and you don’t need a lot of space (the basement can be a great place). All you need is fluorescent light fixtures with wide-spectrum bulbs and a rack with shelves.
You can either build a rack with shelves 18" apart or purchase a ready to use growing fixture for starting seeds. The important thing is to be able to adjust the height of the light fixture as your seedlings grow. I have my fluorescent fixtures hanging from a series of pulleys. Although light is not necessary for germination, it is very important that the young seedlings have adequate light once they emerge. Seedlings will become weak and stringy instead of compact and healthy if the light is insufficient. It is best if the light fixture is kept fairly close (within 3"-5") to the top of the growing plants.
Special soil-less mixes have been designed to start seedlings. These mixes will reduce disease problems that you might face during germination. Use brand new plastic containers for seedlings. This and good sterile potting mixes will help prevent 'damping off' diseases which damage young seedlings.
Compartmentalized trays with 72 1½ x 1" spaces work well for most vegetables including peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, and eggplant. Trays containing compressed peat moss disks that expand with water into plantable containers are quick and convenient for seed starting. Clear plastic covers come with many of the germinating trays to maintain humidity and keep moisture from evaporating. If you don’t have a plastic cover, a sheet of plastic wrap can be laid across the top of the flat. These covers should be removed after the seeds have germinated.
For the most rapid germination, seed trays should be kept at 70 to 80oF. Heat mats that slide under the seed trays can be helpful in this respect.
Once your seeds have germinated, remove the plastic covering and keep your seedlings well watered. It is best to water your young seedlings from below by gently adding water to the tray your cells or peat pots are sitting in. This helps prevent damage to the tender young stems and reduces the risk of disease.
Adjust your light source to keep the light within 3" to 5" from your plants. This will promote strong, stout stems and lush green leaves.
Liquid feed every 10 days or so.