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Former Extension Educator, Horticulture
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Wednesday, March 25, 2015
It has happened to all of us. After a brutal winter that seemed never ending, we look down at the calendar and realize the frost date is rapidly approaching. At this point, we have two options: 1.) we can get it in gear and go acquire some seeds and get them started or 2.) We can wait until the frost date is over and purchase plants from a local reputable garden center.
People grow vegetable gardens for many reasons. One reason may be the reward that comes from cultivation of produce. Others claim that homegrown veggies and fruits taste better. Then there are those who have a goal of saving money in mind.
It is undoubtedly more cost effective to grow food when the plants are started from seed (or cuttings). However, in our chilly Chicago climate it makes it tough. Starting seeds outside once the frost date has pasted may not give you enough time for your plant to reach maturity/ harvest. For this reason, you may choose to start seeds indoors.
For example, if you are starting a cool season plant from seed such as cabbage, you will want to check the length of time is generally takes to get the plant from seed to transplant ready (roots hang on to soil as you remove them from the container). In the case of cabbage, it takes about 4 weeks. Next, you need to check when the frost date in your specific area is. You never want to transplant things prior to the frost date. Therefore, you would start the cabbage seeds 4 weeks prior to the projected frost date.
As you can probably guess by this point, you may want to do a little research for every crop to plan to grow. Luckily, most information is available on the labels of the seed packets.
Different crops have unique requirements for germination (sprouting). Generally, I recommend seeding directly into a light and airy potting mix. Often, I choose to purchase a seeding mix. I wet the mix prior to putting into a container. Containers can range from flats with inserts, to peat pots, to small pots. It is really up to you as the gardener. Next, I place the seeds into the mix. I check the label for the germination rate to determine how many seeds I put in each cell. This helps to ensure I get enough plants. I also check the label to determine whether or not to cover the seeds with soil. As a general rule, I leave the seeds in a dark area for about 2 days (ensuring the soil mix stays moist the entire time). On day 3, I either move the container to a bright window or utilize a supplemental light. Most florescent lights will do. They are not very intense, so they usually need to be positioned near the container.
Humidity can be an important factor when starting seeds. An easy way to ensure high humidity is to cover your container with a clear plastic dome or bag.
In order to keep from scrambling, it is a good idea to check you frost date and then make a schedule of what seeds need to be started when. It is also possible to do a second round of seeding for additional harvest later. My next post will discuss succession planting.