Start basil seeds in a sterile, fluffy, soilless mix of your choice. It’s best to make your flats four to six inches deep to insure that the plants have plenty of room to spread out as they grow.
When planting, make sure that your soil is evenly moist before introducing the seeds. Then, lightly disturb the first quarter inch of the soil surface with a fork, or your fingertips. Next, broadcast the seeds either at random, or in rows depending on your personal preference. I like to spread them in alternating rows so that they have lots of room, and are relatively even after they are thinned. This will make life easier when it comes time to transplant a larger flat.
Basil seeds are particular when it comes to their germination environment in that they like it warm, humid, and dark. The darkness is important up until the seeds first germinate, then they need to be moved as quickly as possible to a bright window. From this point on, you will treat your new basil plants as you would any other seedlings, gradually getting them ready for outdoor growth, and transplanting them into larger pots or flats as they grow.
Tomato seeds like to be planted about a ¼ inch deep in their flats. To do this, take a pencil, and draw a ¼ inch deep trough in the surface of the soil. Then set seeds about a half inch apart. Given adequate soil warmth and moisture, tomatoes should germinate with 7-10 days.
As soon as the seedlings start to break the surface, it is important to provide very bright light so that they grow strong and stocky stems supporting bright green leaves. Weak, stretched out stems and pale leaves are all symptoms of inadequate light, and will result in stunted plants. Thin out week plants, and transplant the rest into four inch pots once all of your seedlings have developed their their first sets of true leaves.
Tip: Tomatoes like it hot and humid, so utilizing a humidity dome can insure timely germination, and vigorous growth.
Provided that they receive enough moisture and warmth (80-85 F.), eggplants should germinate in 7-14 days. Because they require such high temperatures, I strongly recommend using a heating mat and humidity dome to germinate these seeds.
Make sure to warm and moisten your seed starting mix before sowing seeds, as this will give them a head start. Once the mix is hot and moist, sow seeds on the surface, and provide a very light dusting of potting mix on top. Be sure not to cover your seeds completely, as they benefit from light during the germination process. Once germination has been achieved, bright light needs to be provided right away. In terms of light, eggplants can be treated the same as you would tomatoes. Gradually harden off your seedlings, and transplant once all starts have two sets of true leaves.
Bell and sweet peppers- Bell and sweet peppers can be germinated in much the same way as tomatoes. Sow seeds on the surface of your sterile mix, and lightly sprinkle mix on top to provide about 60% coverage. Like eggplants, peppers need light to germinate successfully. Thin out week seedlings, and transplant into 4 inch pots once each start has two or three pairs of true leaves.
Spicy peppers- Speaking generally, the hotter the pepper, the more heat it will require to germinate. Treat the seeds of hotter peppers, such as ghost and scorpion peppers much as you would treat those of eggplant. Sow on surface, providing 40-60% coverage, and maintain high heat and moisture levels until the seedlings have developed their “seed leaves”, then gradually harden off over a week’s time. Transplant to four inch pots once all starts have two or three pairs of true leaves.
Tip: Since the hottest peppers tend to have low germination rates, it is worth growing these rare peppers in large pots throughout their lives. Note that peppers in general get much larger over years of growth than they do when grown as annuals, and may require winter pruning to fit in your home or greenhouse. Peppers appreciate warm temperatures with plenty of water and food throughout the growing season. Most peppers will benefit from a winter dormancy in which they will lose their leaves. During this time, you can cut back on the water to just a few times a month, provided that the plants are kept in a warm and humid environment.
Starting garden plants from seed is a very important, and fun skill for the gardener to have. In addition to saving you money on plants, starting your own seeds will give you access to a far greater variety of delicious edibles than you will ever find at your local nursery. As you become more adept at seed starting, you will gain an in-depth knowledge of what your plants need to survive and thrive in a garden setting, making you a happier, and more successful gardener. I hope that this article has answered your questions, and shed some light on the finer points of starting garden plants from seed.