Its time to start planting for spring, and the cheapest way to grow your own vegetables is ito start from seeds (and even cheaper if you save those seeds yourself), rather than buying seedlings. Here are a few tips for starting seeds.
Plant into small pots in a dish rather than directly in the soil
For all my seedlings, I use shallow trays, and then depending on the size of the seedling, I may also put the seeds into toilet rolls and small pots for easier transplanting, or straight into the tray to be separated later. I prefer to use the shallow dishes so that there is always some water in the bottom of the dish to keep the seed-raising mix moist, otherwise a small pot may dry out too quickly. As the seedlings grow, I separate them and plant them into larger and larger pots until they are ready to go into the garden. I prefer this method to planting directly, as I find that slugs eat many of my direct planted seeds. I only plant root crops directly in the soil, as they don’t do well transplanted.
Use a decent seed-raising mix, but top it up with compost
Seed-raising mix is expensive, but it is nice and light and seedlings do so much better in seed-raising mix that in garden soil. You actually only need a thin layer of seed-raising mix around the seed, and below that you can fill up the pots with compost. This will also give the seedlings a good start and save you money (because you are of course making your own compost for free right).
Use a greenhouse so you can start seeds earlier
In my part of the world, spring is hot days and cold nights, we can still get a frost that would kill seedlings, so I keep mine in a small greenhouse. You can buy a small one pretty cheap, or make something from anything transparent, glass, fibreglass, Perspex, heavy plastic sheeting, whatever you have available.
Plan your garden and prepare your planting area before you get the seeds out of the packet
Its much easier to handle the seeds if you have clean hands, you can put excess seeds back in the packet wihtout them getting dirty or wet, so they will last longer. I draw out a rough plan of my gardena nd what I want to plant where. Then I sort through my seeds and work out which ones I want to plant at that time. Then I have a look how many planting trays I have and I set up the trays ready to plant, with compost and seed-raising mix already filled in, and then I figure out how many seeds I can plant and get the packets out ready to go. That way I can get everything ready, then wash my hands and open the seeds.
Leave the seeds on top of the soil until you’ve put them all out, and then cover them with seed-raising mix
I always leave the seeds sitting on top of the soil until I’ve finished the tray. Otherwise I have a habit of forgetting where I’m up to and putting seeds in the wrong place.
Make notes of what you planted where
I draw a rough diagram of each tray and note where I’m putting each variety of seed. Then if some don’t come up, I know that those seeds are no good and I won’t waste time planting them again. Also remember to put a marker in the tray, because if you turn them around in the greenhouse you will forget which end is which!
Use a spray bottle to water (and remember where the beans are)
I find that a watering can is just too splashy and can wash the seed-raising mix off your seeds. I use a spray bottle to gently mist the seeds instead. Don’t forget that beans and peas will rot if they are over watered, so they just need a good soaking when you first plant them and then leave them alone until you see spouts. It’s a good idea to keep these seeds separate, so you can water the ones that like water, and leave the beans and peas alone.
Some seeds need pre-soaking
You can improve germination of some seeds by pre-soaking them in a little water. Beets and chard (silver beet) are the main ones that I remember to soak, but apparently you can soak most large seeds and they should germinate more quickly and evenly. Honestly I often don’t do this as I plant seeds on the spur of the moment rather than having 12-24 hours to plan and pre-soak, but if I do remember, it does seem to work.