It's winter, and I am covered in mailorder catalogs. I often have two or three open at a time, carefully making my selections of what I think I can grow this coming year. I also know some of the stores will have seeds for sale, very soon.
About 20 years ago, after my dad died, my mom encouraged me to learn to grow plants from seed. We didn't have a greenhouse, but we had each other, and books from the library. My mother let me drill holes in the ceiling of a south facing room. We put a table near the window, and there was a furnace duct underneath that table. I hung a four foot fluorescent light fixture with chain from the ceiling. We put one warm fluorescent bulb, and one cool bulb in the fluorescent light fixture. I layed newspaper out on the living room floor, and carefully put potting soil in several trays. Then I put paper towels, plastic on the table, and moved the trays to the table, and carefully put water in the trays. I let the soil soak up all the water, and checked the next day to make certain they weren't too wet or too dry. Then I very carefully put one seed in each spot on the trays, and slightly covered them with the soil in the trays. I made certain the light fixture was hung about a half an inch to an inch off the trays. I also had a clip on light fixture that people might use on headboards, and I put a plant light in it, and attached it to one side of the table.
To my astonishment, glee, and surprise, within a couple of days, some of the seeds had started to sprout! I nursed those seed trays, and if I saw any sign of green fungus, I just scraped it with my fingernail, then washed my hands. As the plants grew, I used the chain to raise the fluorescent light above them. I will never cease to be amazed at the germination of seeds. We never had a greenhouse, we used a south facing window in one of the rooms of the house, and suddenly I was transformed into my mother's good gardener. I used a spray bottle to keep the seedlings moist, without overwetting them, which can cause damping off.
One time, after this success, I started a tomato plant from seed in February. By the time I was able to plant it out into the garden in May, I had to transplant it into a huge 10 inch pot, and had to water it twice a day. It used up all of the soil nutrients I had planted it in, and in keeping it alive, when I planted it out, it was humongous! There was almost no soil left in the container. The tomato survived, and we had to give away tomatoes to everyone we could, besides the fact we had 18 more tomato plants.
If you can, till the ground. If you can't till the ground, leisurely spade, hoe, and shovel the ground. Pretend you are giving the ground a facial. I have seen people rush through this process like its rocket science or a microwave dinner or instant coffee. No! Give yourself at least a few days to get the ground ready. Enjoy it. Feel the soil on the shovel, the spade. Work it. Put everything and everyone else out of your mind, and just be with the shovel, the spade, the hoe. Feel it. And pull all of the grass and weeds and large rocks out. Then, use a garden rake, and once again, with the garden rake, feel the tilth of the soil. Know if you step on it, you will sink deeply into the soil. and that you will have to reshovel, and rake to get that soil back to it's glamour stage. I can't stand walking in a garden that doesn't have it's rows marked out, because all of that ground will have to be reworked.
Once you have the ground ready, then add the proper soil amendments, known as fertilizer. and work them in the soil. I once had an argument with my mother. She believed in top soil, and it worked for her. I don't know why. I believe in working top soil into the ground so the roots of the plants can utilize it. If top soil is sitting on top of the ground where the plant roots can't utilize it, and it just looks pretty, what good is it? Plants cannot survive without their roots, and I believe top soil should be tilled into the ground, or dug, spaded, or forked into the ground so the roots of the plant can benefit. Unless someone used too much fertilizer, that would kill the plants, then the top soil could slowly go into the lower soil instead of all at once.
I believe in the use of soil test kits, and have used them most years. I find the soil where I live is usually lacking in nutrients, and the soil test kits prove or disprove that fact, then I know what kind of fertilizer I need to amend the soil.
Also, make certain you know your zone hardiness. Last year, moving, I got started late on gardening, and several people told me I was too late for beets, but I wound up with good beets, and I'd never grown them before. That is when I truly discovered the idea of succession planting. One day, I sat down, and drew out on a piece of paper an ideal pumpkin patch garden for myself. It just came out of my mind.
Learn as much as you can about the veggie/fruit, trees, shrubs, whatever you want to grow, and when you think you learned it all, websearch, and find out more.
Source: I give credit to Nancy Bubil, "The Seed Starters Handbook," for helping me successfully start plants from seed.
By Carol from SouthBend, IN