IN the “you can’t be the only one who needs to know this” department, I give you the following links for successful home seed-starting. (And an apology to my international readers as most of these sites are for the U.S. It’s not my personal bias I swear!)
It all begins with the last frost, or first frost-free date. Killing frost, slight freeze, or just plain cold, if you’re planning on planting out those tender, lovingly-raised seedlings, it’s best to know when it’s safest to do so. Dave’s Garden has a link by zip code with wonderful backup information behind it.
So now you know the date. (Remember, it’s an average!!) Next up is a Seed Starting Chart put out by Organic Gardening by plant type. This should help you figure out what seeds should be started first, and there are handy little asterisks showing you what seeds are typically direct-seeded outdoors. They also have a quick list to help you succeed.
While we’re at it, Organic Gardening also has a great how-to article on starting seeds indoors. They also have good growing guides if you search by plant.
Cornell University has probably the best on-line vegetable growing guide, set up by individual varieties.
There is also your handy county extension agent. These stalwart souls are sources of great information way beyond the mere starting of vegetable seeds. They can help you get soil tests and help you with pest management, or even just hook you up with an experienced gardening neighbor. Hey: we pay these people’s salaries, and cutbacks usually come because they’re not busy enough, so use them, they’re there for you!
Likewise, your public library is also stocked with grow guides and gardening books.
Seed-starting shouldn’t be expensive; I mostly start mine in recyclable items like take-out clamshells and old yogurt containers. (Some of these containers I have had for years…yes, I save garbage, what of it? It’s not like the plants really care.) And yeah, lighting is necessary, but fancy grow lights are not. One cool- and one warm-colored fluorescent light in a shop strip fixture should cost you, in total, under $20. You might want to splurge on seed-starting mix if only because it’s been sterilized and should be free of weed seeds…the irony is that dirt isn’t cheap. With time however you’ll learn lots of tricks, trust me, that will save you money later on. What other hobby feeds you, though? Hmm?