Sprout Those Seeds

Seeds germinate best in a warm, humid, environment. If you are starting seeds indoors, cover your containers with plastic to create a mini greenhouse. Avoid letting the seeds dry out by using a clear plastic bag or kitchen plastic wrap. If your "greenhouse" starts fogging up, air it out by briefly opening it up. Use the top of the refrigerator, water heater, or clothes dryer to add the warmth that your seeds need to germinate.

At the first sign of green, remove the plastic to allow your seedlings fresh air. To keep the soil moist without damaging the fragile seedlings, set your seed tray on top of several layers of wet newspaper which will allow the seedlings to wick up the water they need through the drainage holes in the bottom of the containers.  

If you  have problems with "damping off" which is caused by fungus, try a small fan to gently circulate the air around your seedlings.

Make your own Compost

Compost is the all-purpose soil amendment for improving every type from heavy clay to sandy soil. It even works as a loose-textured planting medium for container plants. Any raw material of plant origin is fair game for your compost pile. Avoid animal products (other than egg shells), oils and grease because they'll attract mice and other pests. The greater the variety of "stuff" you put into your compost heap, the better the finished product will be. Here are some ideas...

Aim for a balanced recipe of roughly one part "green" materials to four parts "brown" materials. In other words, alternate each four inch layer of straw or dry leaves with one inch of grass clippings or weeds. If your pile begins smelling of ammonia, there's too much green material or not enough air. Fluff it with a fork and add some more straw or leaves.

The most thrifty time of the day to water is at night or early in the morning when the temperatures are cooler. Then the plants can take up the water without the added stress of excessive heat and before it evaporates in the hot air.

Plants in containers can waste a lot of water. The confined roots can't stretch out so they are dependant on more frequent watering. To help your pots hold water, group containers together so they lose less moisture on the sides. Keep them out of drying winds and during hot spells, move the plants into a more shaded area which will also cut down on the amount of water needed. 

Earthworm castings, fish emulsions, seaweed extracts, bat and seabird guanos are just some of the  organic options available. Castings are the odorless excrement of the earthworm. They are unique in their versatility as fertilizers, soil amendments, and propagating mediums. Fish emulsions and seaweed extracts are byproducts from the sea which help build healthier soils by adding beneficial bacteria and other organisms. Guano is the Inca word for "droppings of seabirds".  As it is used today, bat droppings collected from caves are also called guano. Prior to the chemical age, guano was considered an important source of concentrated fertilizer in this country. There are many sources for these easy-to-use organic fertilizers.     

Improve Your Soil!

The most important way is to increase it's organic matter content. Organic composting decomposes into humus which is a wonderful soil additive. The basic principle is to feed the soil and let the soil feed the plants. Whether you garden indoors, outdoors, or both; humus will help you grow great plants.

 Pest-Proofing The Natural Way!

Hot red pepper (specifically the McCormick brand) works better than standard chemical insecticides to protect many plants. Mix 2 tablespoons of red pepper and 6 drops of dishwashing detergent into a gallon of water. Let this mixture steep overnight and then spray.

Stop The Fungus Among Us!

Keep the overhead watering to a minimum. Instead water from below, which allows the plant to soak-up what it needs. Don't overdo it because diseases are encouraged by waterlogged soil. Your plant shouldn't be sitting in water for more than twelve hours. A good way to avoid over-watering is by using a drip irrigation system which can be adjusted to suit the plant's seasonal needs.