Ok... I know I should've posted this two months ago, since now is too late to start MOST veggies, but maybe you can take advantage of this season's clearance and be ready for next year!!
I can still start watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumber and few more things...
First of all, you need to find out when is the last frost date in your area. You can find this info here. When you open the page...
1. Under “Select a State(PDF)”, click on your state. This will bring up a list of locations and frost dates.
2.Search for a location near you, preferably one at a similar elevation, with similar weather conditions.
3. The MIDDLE date is the best (middle column, middle row).
Now that you have the date, just look on the back of your seed's packet for the suggested date for indoor start, or better yet, you can sign up for weekly reminders/schedule at My Square Foot Garden.
Let's start now...
1. Gather your supplies.
The best way to decide what and how much to plant is to look at your grocery list. What you don't usually buy, you probably won't eat! Only if you are like me, and rather not buy something because of the price!! Every year I try something new. Last year was eggplant - I loved it! This year I'll try brussel sprouts. I think is fun to try something new. If you like it, you do again next year, if you don't... at least you tried!!
Note: You can store "leftover" seeds for next year, just make sure to store them in a cool place. This year I'm using seeds from 2008 or even older.
B. Containers. Something to hold the soil and seeds. Here are some options:
* Jiffy Pellets: These start as a small hard disk, when added with water they pop right up and you can place a seed in them. These are nice because they are easy to use and small so they don't take up a lot of space.
You can place them right into the soil when you are ready, you do not need to peel off the netting around them. The disadvantage is that they are quite small and I always have to plant them in something else (last year I used plastic cups and this year I used the Jiffy Peat Pots) before planting them outside.
*Peat pots: These are nice because they are a little larger. I will use only this (instead of the pellets next year). You can also place these right into soil and do not need to worry about damaging roots by pulling them out of the container. The disadvantage of these is that there is an extra step involved, they do not come with soil, so you have to fill them.
*Flats: You can use flats that once held flowers. Make sure that you thoroughly clean a container that you are re-using. There could be a disease lingering on the container that would kill your starts. Fill with a seed starting mix, and mark with popsicle sticks.
*Recycling. You can use yogurt containers or any other used container for seed starting. It makes gardening more economical that way. For even more creative and frugal seed starting containers, check out this article. If you are recycling something like a cup, be sure to poke some holes in the bottom for drainage. About 5-6 with a thumb tack should do the trick.
C. Soil. If you bought the Jiffy Pellets, you can skip this step, just hydrate your disks.
If you didn't buy the disks or if you have to transplant your seedlings to a bigger container, don't go out and buy a 50lb. bag of potting soil. Look for a seed starter mix. It will be very light and fluffy. You can now find this at major big box stores as well as garden nurseries. This year I used my garden mix (peat moss, vermiculite and compost). Any will work!
2. Fill Your Containers
Fill your container with the seed starting mix and make sure to mark what kind of seeds you have in!! I use toothpicks and a little paper with the name or you can use popsicle sticks.
3. Plant Your Seeds
Soak the seeds with warm water for a few minutes - this will help with germination time. I use yogurt containers. Again, make sure to mark what kind of seeds they are. Bury the seeds down about 3 times their width.
Fill the bottom of the pellets tray with water, and the soil sucks up the water from the bottom. For containers you can use anything that will hold water, and do the same thing.
5. Keep them Damp and Warm
If you bought the Jiffy Pellets, they come with a greenhouse container, so you just put the lid on and stick in a warm area - you can put on top of the fridge or under red lights (warmer). If you didn't, that is okay, just use a piece of plastic wrap to cover your seeds, this will help keep the humidity in, another good option is a tupperware with lid. At this point, you don't need to stick them in the sun, you will want to keep them damp and warm (about 70 degrees).
6. Stick Them in a Sunny Spot or Under Lights.
Once your seeds have sprouted, you will want to move them to a sunny spot or under lights. If you are lucky to have a sunny spot in your house - a window sill maybe and kids that won't "explore" the plants, go forth, but if you don't (like me) you can use a shelf and hang lights just a few inches from the tops of your seeds.
If using regular fluorescent lights, use one 'warmer' and one 'cooler' or 'growing lights' (these will cost MUCH more). Last year I used the warmer and cooler and this year the growing light, I'll let you know which I liked better...
7. Harden Off
Once your plants are big and beautiful, you just stick them in the ground and water them, right? Wrong.
This part can seem scary, but don't let it intimidate you. When in doubt, take longer to harden off.
Your plants up to this point have had a cushy life. The temperature, humidity, and moisture, has been closely monitored. They have not experienced full sun, wind, or changing temperatures. Hardening off is the process of slowly getting them used to the environment they are going to move to. First move the plants outside in the shade for 2-3 hours in the morning then bring them back in. Do this for a week, each day increasing the time and sun exposure.
Once your plants are properly hardened off, you can plant them in the ground just like you would had you bought them from the nursery. Congrats!
Enjoy the bounty that is sure to come!