That particular year, in January (2006), I began using a set of shelves with lights in the basement as my little greenhouse to start my plants. I decided to grow pansies, asters, marigolds, tomatoes, peppers, and a few other plants. We also had the cold frame outside set up against the garage so that allowed me to start a larger number of plants, not having to carry them in and out of the house for 5 days when the time came.
I still used the little plastic containers and mini greenhouses for my pansies and marigolds, as it allowed me to regulate the temperature easier. For the others I used the large tray bottoms you can get when you buy a flat of flowers from garden centers.
I fill the tray with a seedling starter soil, and spread out some plant seeds, then cover it with a thin plastic. After a week or so, I started seeing the little seedlings popping their heads up. I let them grow in their trays for about 4 weeks, or at least until the second set of true leaves appear before I do much thinning or repotting. Once those have appeared I choose the strongest of the seedlings for repotting. The starter soil and leftover weaker seedlings go into my compost bin.
Once the tomato plants are about 6 inches high, I transplant them again into recycled milk bags rolled down. I remove the first 3 sets of leaves, and cover the stems with the soil. As the weeks go by, I remove more leaves and add a bit more soil. By the time I can transplant them in my garden, I have a strong stem (about an inch diameter) and large root ball. I have only lost one plant using this method during the transition from house to garden, and that was due to our dog laying on it!
I use the same method for pepper plants, and it seems to help a bit. When I put those in my garden though, I try to remember to put something in front of them to help protect them from direct sunlight for the first month. They do not seem to do well otherwise for me. I am still trying to find a good way of keeping pests from those, though.
I usually end up with about 20 to 30 tomato plants ready for my garden by the time I am ready to plant my garden. I also get at least 12 or so pepper plants.
I always plant marigolds around my tomato and pepper plants. This seems to help deter pests and it just looks pretty! I also find that I have fewer mosquito bites while gardening. Marigolds do help keep those away too!
Here is a picture of my basement greenhouse.
Large Spanish Onions to the left, and my cold frame to the right.
Zucchini plants to the front, and tomato plants to the back. 3 different varieties of tomatoes, Romano, beefsteak and plum. All are wonderful frozen or canned for using in the winter months.
This spring, the new two front flower beds were dug up, sod removed and put into of of the big wire compost bins, and a heavy black plastic put on top to "cook" any remaining weed roots during the summer. In the fall I removed the plastic, forked in a good amount of compost and planted a few more bulbs (tulips mainly) and transplanted a couple peonies, a yucca plant, and a bunch of sea thrift that I had started in my basement greenhouse in them. I also transplanted my two tea roses into them and a larger rose bush. At the base of each rosebush I put in a nice over ripe banana (read Black!) for a quick fertilizer boost. I spread out more natural wood chips for the mulch and let it sit until the next year.