As winter turns to spring, each year, the weather can be disastrous to young plants and seedlings. The evenings can still be quite chilly and the night-times often still have sharp frosts, even well into spring. Despite this unpredictable weather, advice offered by gardeners will usually be that such times of the year are perfect for getting those seeds planted. However, unless you have a fully heated greenhouse seedlings will not survive cold climates. Starting this year's crop off by planting the seeds indoors offers a perfect compromise. Try to time it so that by the time your seedlings are ready to be planted out, there will be no risk of frosts.
Choosing the right seeds for you
Remember to check the date on any packet of seeds that you buy. Cheap seeds are not always the bargain that they seem. If the use-by-date has passed your crop may be poor. Read what compost is needed for the initial planting, when to prick out the seedlings and the seedlings preferences. Some will require full sun whilst others may prosper in semi-shade conditions. The packet should also state whether or not the seeds are suitable for indoor planting to get them started.
Use old, clean plant trays, egg cartons and egg trays, or buy purpose made, cheap seed trays. It is possible to utilise old yogurt cartons and margarine tubs also, as long as they are cleaned thoroughly. Be innovative and see what resources you have to hand.
Make sure that you only use a compost produced for planting seeds, because others may be too rich for delicate, young plants.
Starting your seeds off
Place the planted seed trays in a darkened, warm room if possible. An under stairs utility cupboard can be perfect. If you do not have a darkened area lay newspaper over the seed trays in order to minimise light levels. Research your particular seeds fully just in case they have different requirements. Water sparingly at this stage and then leave for a good week before checking to see if any small shoots are peeking through the compost.
Moving into the sun
As soon as you can see small, green, shoots poking through the compost, move your seed trays into somewhere more appropriate. For many people the best spot will be on a kitchen windowsill, in a nice sunny spot.
Remember that now you will need to water your plants more regularly, but still only sparingly. Stand the seed tray onto another tray, and use this for watering. Your small plants will fair better if the water is sucked from below, as opposed to their compost being watered. This way only the water that the seedlings need will used.
Follow the sun
If necessary, move your seed trays, as the day's sun moves around, to another spot in your home. Alternatively, add artificial lighting, such as fluorescent tubes. However, unless your crop is large, this is not really necessary.
When your seedlings are large, and strong enough to handle prick them out and plant into slightly larger pots. This will help save and protect as many of your young plants as possible.
By now the frosts should have disappeared, your seedlings should have grown into small plants and it should be safe to plant your crop outdoors. If necessary leave the plants in their pots outdoors for a short while until they become acclimatised.