With the recent warmth we are experiencing, it feels just like spring, but remind yourself to look at the calendar. It is still very much winter and only January. However, you can get a jump on spring planting by sowing seeds indoors. Start preparing the seed containers and get soil mix and the location where you will be putting those containers all in order now. That way, when you sow your seeds, everything will be ready and quickly expedited once you sow those seeds and water them in. All sorts of things can be sown now. Many flowers and veggies can be sown. Things like parsley, which are slow to sprout, may be sown first. The warm season plants like many annuals, tomatoes, basil, etc. can also be sown now if you have some kind of warming apparatus (and the use of grow lights) will assist in this. Heating cables, etc. will provide additional warmth and increase the percentage of germination success. In almost all seeds, a higher humidity environment situation is necessary for high germination, so consider plastic covers over the seed pots/flats. I like to do a test of seed viability before I sow the main amount of seeds. This is easily done by wetting a papertowel, squeezing it sponge dry damp, then sprinkling a few seeds on top. Roll up the towel and place in a zip lock plastic bag and place in a slightly warm area with the bag sealed and out of direct hot sun(this would cook those seeds if you did that). In a few days, to several weeks, you will see sprouting and that will give you a good idea of how viable your seeds are. If you have a high percentage of sprouting, then by all means, go ahead and sow them into the soil containers. If there is little to no sprouting, then you can sow that seed, but do not have high expectations about later sprouting. That test will help you decide on how good the quality of the seed you have really is and help save time and efforts later on.
When sprouting begins, move the seeds to more light to help prevent them from getting too leggy. More sunlight and ventilation at that time will produce stronger, sturdier seedlings. You want stocky plants. Keep them well watered and in a warm environment. You can leave them in the sprouting containers for a week or two, but you do not want them to crowd themselves too much as they grow. The next step is to prick them out and repot them into slightly larger individual containers. Most often this is a 2″ pot, or six pack, or larger nursery growing flat. It all depends on what you want, have or like to handle as those plants grow. As well, the quantities you wish to eventually have. Seeds are one of the most economical ways to get many plants, and sowing a packet of seeds can produce a large amount of plants for a very small cost compared to larger plants. The downside to this, is that you may have too many plants for your needs, but they make wonderful gifts to other gardening friends.
‘Pricking out’ simply means to transplant seedlings to larger individual containers. You unpot the seedlings, (try to do this in a shady area), then gently break apart the soil ball, releasing the seedlings and their roots slightly. Now, hold the young seedlings by their small leaves only (the young stems are too tender and bruise very easily, and if you grasp them, you can seriously damage the stems). Have your pot ready with soil and make a depression into that soil mix. Try to get the root straight down into the soil and then slightly tamp the soil down around it. Setting the plant upright in the process and making sure you are planting at the same level will help insure good future growth.
Water in well and use a gentle spray. Place the seedlings in a shadey location for a few days until they acclimate and then move to more light and air. Then care for them as regular plants, keeping them warm if they are warm season growers, and shaed from intense sun, until they grow large enough to transplant out to larger sizes or the garden (when it warms up more). This process will take several weeks at least. Some annuals grow fast, so see the individual recommendations for each type of plant on the back of the seed packet to use when you plan your sowing date.