It is this time of year that we start to get the gardening itch. The soil in our gardens, however, is too cold and too wet to be worked. What we can do is get a head start on the growing season by starting seeds indoors.

Tomatoes and peppers are the top choices for vegetable gardeners. Flower gardeners like to start their annuals inside too, such as zinnias and sweet alyssum. You may also want to seed some annual herbs like basil and cilantro.

Seed starting is economical. You can start with just a few dollars for a pack of seeds, a sterile potting mix (seed-starter blend), plastic wrap, and a clean styrofoam egg carton or use a clear plastic takeaway food container. You can punch a few holes in the bottom for drainage and line with coffee filters to prevent soil leakage. The take-out containers have built-in tops that come clear, so there’s no need for the extra plastic wrap step.

You can get very involved in seed starting and invest in heat pads, light tables, etc. But I recommend you begin with a few low maintenance varieties and just the basics:

  1. Wet your soil and spoon it into your seed-starting containers.
  2. Read the seed pack instructions and determine the plant depth.
  3. Insert seeds gently into the soil. Add a layer of potting soil to cover the seeds.
  4. Use a mister to water in the new seeds. Be sure the soil always stays moist.
  5. Place the container on a layer of newspaper in a very sunny window.*
  6. Cover the pot with a clear plastic top or plastic wrap until the seeds sprout.
  7. Check the seedlings daily and mist as needed.
  8. After about eight weeks, harden them off by putting them outside for a few hours each day on a sunny porch and increasing their exposure time a bit every day.
  9. After about two weeks of hardening, transplant your “babies” outside.

There are so many different complications to seed starting; we can only scratch the surface here. For instance, some large seeds need soaking before planting, and others have a tough coating that needs to be nicked. Over time you can experiment with different varieties and methods. The important thing is to get started and learn from experience.

*Note that some plants germinate in the dark. Check seed packs for detailed instructions.