I'm also starting a few herbs just to see if I can do it. My herb garden is ready and waiting for new soil and transplants.
by Alice Formiga, originally posted on Renees Garden
Start lavender seeds 6-8 weeks before the last frost in your area. Space them ½" to 1" apart in a flat of well-drained sterile seed starting mix, and cover them only about 1/8", since light aids germination. Keep the flats in a warm place, about 70 degrees, and moist but not soggy-water in the morning so that the flats aren't too wet in cooler nighttime temperatures, causing the seedlings to damp off. Be patient; seeds can sometimes take a month to germinate, but I have often been pleasantly surprised to have seedlings germinate within the first two weeks. Although I haven't found it to be worth the trouble, some gardeners recommend cold-stratifying lavender seeds to improve the germination rate. The simplest way to do this is to place lavender seeds into a ziplock bag of moistened seed starting mix and leave it in the refrigerator for 3 weeks. Then sow as above. When seedlings emerge, provide strong lights so that they don't grow weak and leggy.
When the seedlings have several sets of true leaves, gently loosen the soil around the plants and transfer them into a 2" pot or 2" apart in deeper flats of well-drained planting mix. Since nutrients quickly leach out of containers, add some granular slow-release fertilizer to the soil. Snip off the growing tip to encourage branching. When the plants have grown about 3 inches tall, the weather is warm, and all danger of frost is past, gradually expose the plants to outdoor conditions over the course of a week, being careful not to leave them in full sun right away. Finally, plant them outdoors 12-24" apart into well-drained garden soil. In particularly moist, humid areas, plant them at the wider spacing recommendation, so that air circulates freely around the plants.
Finally, I triumphantly plopped the seeds into the spongy dirt and then set to work arranging the grow lights.
I put the seeds under two grow lights in the garage. Then the washing machine breaker kept turning off, so I assume the grow lights were too much for the circuit.
I relocated the plants indoors, where I think they will be much more comfortable. I rearranged the guest room and rigged a table lamp base to accomodate the grow light clamps.
Currently, my eyes are having trouble focusing after having looked directly at the 40 watt flourescent bulb, which is equivalent to a 150 watt typical bulb.
I put the lights about a foot from the seedlings and I'm planning to leave the lights on for 12 hours a day.
UPDATE~ April 2nd
For the last five days or so, since I planted my herb seedlings, I've checked on my little buddies every 20 minutes or so, to see if they germinated. It's been exhausting!
The thyme popped up quickly and has been steadily growing.
The sage has progressed at about 40% the rate of the thyme.
The basil was a little stubborn, but it finally peeked out a little today.
Half of my dirt pallet is lavender and that side, almost immediately, got fuzzy, grey mold. Internet research said that it was either good mold, or bad mold caused by "damping off." Today, I removed the lid to see what would happen and it seemed to clear up. According to some gardening forums, Lavender takes 14-90 days to germinate and often might not grow at all. That's okay with me. I'll just grab some from the nursery in a couple months if Plan A fails.
UPDATE~ April 14th
The herb seedlings looked like they could use better soil, so into pots they went. The thyme and sage will stay outside. Half the basil will go into the south-facing kitchen window and the other half will go back under the grow lights. The lavender, which is reportedly very hard to grow from seed, will stay in the seedling pots for now.
I'm excited to till up the ground, amend it and put some more herbs in. I'm thinking about mint. The fact that it self-soes is a conundrum.
More photos of the progress will follow.
*** May 24th 2012 ***
I've picked some of the burnt leaves off and new ones are starting to grow. I think that the plants will do well this summer and I'm looking forward to giving at least one of the pots to a friend.
One thing I didn't do well, was give the plants more space. I really packed the seedlings into the pots and now they are choking each other out. I don't know if I should try to divide them again, or just leave them alone. I may experiment with one of these three pots and see how it goes.