It's now mid-February and time to take the plunge and start my seeds for the tomatoes that I want to grow. I'm excited because I found quite a few unique varieties this year like Black Krim, Paul Robeson, Tasmanian Chocolate, German Stripe, San Marzano, Pruden Purple and Brandywine (I love these!).
To get started, a few supplies are needed: seeds, seed starting mix (not soil, it's usually a mixture of peat, compost and vermiculite), plastic containers to use, a plastic cover (plastic wrap can work), a marker and painters tape or masking tape, a shelf in a warm spot, and preferably a heat mat used for starting seed (or you can make your own heat mat like this one). You don't have to run out and spend a lot of money on containers. Lots of people have success using old margarine or yogurt containers. Just make sure to sterilize them well and drill some drainage holes.
Before I start plopping seeds into the seed starting mix, I soak them in water for a bit to help them "wake up". To germinate, seeds will need warmth, water, and to be cozy in the seed starting mix. They don't need light at this point. Some people soak them for a while, I find just an hour or so is sufficient. I then prepare my trays- I make sure to scrub them clean if I'm reusing them and soak them with a water/bleach combo to sterilize them. I then give them a good rinse and let them air dry.
This year, I decided to use old toilet paper rolls cut in half to hold the mixture and seeds. I laid them out in the plastic trays, filled them 3/4 of the way to the top then dropped a seed or two on top.
In previous years, I have seen growth after a week or so. Little tiny seedlings pop up and it's one of the most rewarding sights ever! Once they've all sprouted, I remove the plastic lid to let air get at them and then re-position the shelf so it's near a sunny, south-facing window. I secure a fluorescent light about 3" above and keep it moderately moist. As it grows, I make sure to haul out any multiples that are growing so there is one seedling per plant. I also fertilize with compost tea or a seaweed emulsion mixed with water every couple of weeks. Once they've grown a bit, I set up a little fan to blow air on them to help strengthen the seedlings and make them stronger.
Stay tuned for more updates as I track their progress! Happy 2014 gardening season!
Disclaimer: I am not a gardening expert, just outlining what has worked best for me when seed starting. There are lots of great resources online if you're looking for expert advice. I suggest: