Starting plants indoors
I've purchased different sorts of contained, lidded plant-starting contraptions and used them in the past, but never with satisfactory results.
I always ended up with the cotyledons, and, if I was lucky, one or two pairs of real leaves before the seedlings got too leggy to support themselves, fell over, and died. Some of the deaths may have been caused by damping off, but I usually worked with sterilized potting soil in a sterilized container, which should eliminate that problem.
Yet, undaunted, I think I'll try again this year. I may start the seeds in vermiculite instead of soil, but I think the biggest change I can make is a stronger light source.
Instead of starting plants in the third-floor east-facing bedroom, I'll use my office at work. Although located on the west side of the building, its aspect is more west-south-west than true west. I hope that will spell the difference between success and failure. I have many plants in my office that seem to be thriving (although they are pretty undemanding in terms of sunlight required: 2 spider plants, 5 ferns, and an African violet; they made it through the dark days of winter). I hope it will be a good spot to start seeds.
I think I'll try two types: sweet peas and foxgloves. I want both in the back yard and they are supposed to be pretty easy to grow from seed. One for sun, one for shade: if nothing else, they should help me determine the sun tolerance extremes of my window sills.
One piece of gardening myth/trivia: plant your seeds before the morning of St. Patrick's Day for best results (this tidbit came from Birds & Blooms Magazine -- it's completely ad-free, and they're on the web at www.birdsandblooms.com.