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Tuesday, January 10, 2017
In the throes of winter, thoughts of the summer garden may seem but a distant memory, or a future long in the distance. However, winter is a great time to begin dreaming up new ideas for next year's garden. A blustery January evening is the perfect time to settle in to your favorite chair with a hot mug of tea and a stack of seed catalogues.
The reality is that if you are going to start your own seeds for the summer vegetable garden, the time to begin planting is about two months before the average first-frost-free date for your area. In general this will be sometime in February. The Illinois State Water Survey has a great site with frost-free-date maps and data for the state. http://www.isws.illinois.edu/atmos/statecli/frost/frost.htm
You may be thinking, "Why should I go to the trouble of starting my plants from seed rather than getting them at a nursery in the spring?" There are a few advantages to starting your own seed that you may consider.
The first is that the selection of varieties and species of plants offered at your local nursery will have some limitations. Often times, plants that are common or popular will predominate the choices available, while newer varieties or other less common plants may not be available. This limitation does not apply for seed catalogues, which generally have a great variety of species and cultivars to choose from.
The second reason to start your own seeds is that you will be able to choose when you want to have your plants ready to put in the garden. This will give you the freedom to arrange your own planting season without having to worry about the quantity or quality of plants available at the garden center.
Another reason to start your own seeds is cost savings. Seed packets are substantially less expensive than plant starts purchased from a nursery. While there is an initial investment required to equip a space for seed starting, permanent fixtures such as lights and heating mats can be used year after year. The big caveat here is that starting your own seeds is a big time commitment. You will be caring for your seedlings roughly from February through May.
One final reason to start your plants from seeds is simply the experience. Despite having a scientific understanding of the process of seed germination, I still find watching seedlings sprout magical. Having this little miracle happen right in your own basement or sun room could bring a sprig of extra joy to the dreary and dragging dregs of winter.
If I have convinced you to give seed-starting a try, here are a few resources to get you started.
A live webinar on seed starting is coming up on January 31 at 1:30pm and on February 2 at 6:30pm. Sign-up to take this great opportunity to learn about the keys to successful seed starting. Register at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/hmrs/4seasons/