Growing seed is the cheapest method of getting herb plants - or indeed, plants of any type.
Annuals - such as basil - are always sown from seed or bought as a growing plant from seed sown that year.
You can sow biennials - growing parsley seed - and perennials - growing thyme seed for example.
There are drawbacks to growing seed - often, there will be hundreds of seeds in a packet and you will get so many plants from it, that you won't have enough room for the pots when they're transplanted – pots over every available surface in the house and a nightmare keeping them all watered:-)
You could either set out to sell the surplus – see Growing Herbs for Profit – and organise yourself for that - or just sow a few seeds from the packet. Reseal the packet and put the seeds in a poly box in the fridge – there is a ‘best before date’ on the packet and most will germinate after that time.
I grow basil like this – a pinch of seed into a pot every month or so gives me a constant supply of basil plants and I keep the seed packet in the fridge.
The best time to sow seed will be on the packet – they assume you will be sowing for the plants to go outside – you can sow seed for growing herbs indoors any time of year.
Growing Seed Indoors
This is probably the most reliable method of starting seeds.
You will need:-
Fill the tray or pot with compost and give it a shake and tap so that the soil settles. Then ‘firm’ the soil by lightly pressing a board on it.
Dampen the soil and leave it for a day – the soil should be moist, not wet when you sow the seeds – this waiting time also allows the soil to warm in the atmosphere a little – this will help the seeds to germinate quickly.
Scatter the seed as thinly as you can and then cover the seed with fine compost – sieve it if you can – then firm again.
Either cover the tray with a poly bag or pane of glass/Perspex and leave it in a warm, shady place – seedlings don’t like bright sun.
Check every day and when the seeds begin to come through, remove the cover – still shield from direct sun, but give the pot more light.
You can move the tray to a windowsill that doesn't get direct sun - turn the tray daily so that they don't all grow towards the light :-)
Using a plant spray, you can gently moisten the compost in the tray whilst the seedlings are growing – this won’t disturb the soil and the delicate roots.
The first leaves you see are called ‘seedling leaves’ and they are closely followed by another set of leaves – ‘true leaves’
When the first ‘true leaves’ come through, your seedlings are ready for transplanting.
An alternative method of growing seed
You can germinate your seeds on damp paper – this will speed up the process a little.
Just dampen some blotting paper and scatter the seeds on it – keep in the warm and shade and mist the seeds daily – a plant spray set on fine is great for this.
You then mix the sprouted seeds with some fungicide free mixed wallpaper paste – half strength, ie double the amount of water.
This mixture is put into a squeezy bottle or icing bag and you squeeze rows of it onto the compost – then cover with a fine layer of compost and grow on as normal.
It’s a great way of getting fine seeds sown thinly and neatly rather than scattering them haphazardly everywhere.
Instructions for ‘growing on’ are here:- Growing From Seed - Part 2The Herb Guide › Growers Dictionary › Growing Seed