Okay, so the sun has started shining more, you actually hear birds singing once in a while. After months of drooling over gardening catalogs you have this irresistible urge to play in the dirt has come over you. No spring is not here yet, but it's just around the corner.
A lot of gardeners, especially those who live in climates that have a short growing season (like Vermont), find that they get the best results from their crops if they start part of their garden indoors. This enables the plants that take longer to produce a chance to start before they're actually in the ground.
You can go out and buy a lot of expensive equipment to do this if you really want to; grow lights, plant stands, special containers. But in my opinion it's not really necessary. A professional gardener or nursery might need these things but the home grower can find plenty of frugal alternatives.
One thing I must stress is that if you are going to reuse any containers from gardening in a previous year they must be washed in hot soapy water. Otherwise dormant bacteria that might have been in the soil will re-emerge and can destroy your new seedlings.
One definite requirement is a sunny window. If you do not have one (or one that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight a day then you will need a light for your plants. However, a grow light is a specialized, fancy fluorescent light. I have had success in the past with buying shop lights (ugly metal things with two long bulbs in it) for approximately $5-7 each and using those instead to make sure that my plants got the light that they needed.
Containers for your plants can be anything (and I mean anything). I've used cut down milk carton containers, egg cartons (those little cups are great for individual starts), yogurt containers, anything that will hold dirt. Another option that I've mentioned in the past is the pot-maker from Gardener's Supply Company. Basically it takes strips of newspaper and turns them into little pots. These pots are very useful because you start the plants in them and then just put the entire thing in the ground when it gets warm enough. This avoids any transplant shock.
You need to make sure that your plants get enough water but not too much. If they don't get enough water then they won't germinate, or grow. If they start to grow and don't get enough water then the seeds won't continue to grow and the plants will die. Alternatively you can't let them get too wet either. If the seedlings get too wet they can rot, mold or just stop growing because the roots rot out. I generally try to pay more attention to the seedlings. Houseplants get watered once a week. Garden starts however get looked at every day to see if they need more water or not.
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