On seed starting

The usual way: direct seeding

Last Sunday I got out the gloves and began to move dirt. It’s the first week of February, you’re probably thinking, aren’t you being a little hasty? Well, for stubborn alliums it’s not too early. I planted leeks, two types of short-day onions, and scallions. So far, these seeds’ requirements are relative warmth and wetness; no light is needed, so they’re sitting tucked under a radiator on the kitchen floor.

There are other things that need an early start, too. These are mostly perennials who’re long to come to seed but also long to stick around once they’re up and going: artichokes, cardoon, angelica, sea kale, and Italian parsley. I also am seriously considering planting the pepper seeds, too, though I am resisting the idea: these nightshade-family plants also like having hot feet, and I feel it’s too early to mess with the grow lights and the cat-free room required to grow them. But I may need to just get over it and get them planted. I will probably start these items next weekend.

Our last frost here can be anywhere from March 30th-April 30th, but a May 16th frost last year wiped out my in-the-ground tomatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, romanesco, cauliflower and okra…all lovingly coddled under grow lights for weeks inside then two protected weeks outside then one week in the ground and whammo. Not much you can do (and it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature). I was able to salvage some tomatoes, but everything else died. Sigh. Not my happiest gardening week, that…

If you are interested in learning when you should start your seeds, first find out the date of your average last frost. You can look this up generally on the web, but the best sources I have found tend to run through the local branch of your state’s agricultural school or through your county’s extension agency. Google “average last frost date in My State” and you should get close, though. There are helpful seed-starting guides out on the web; for veggies, Organic Gardening has a decent chart that you can find here.

7 responses to “On seed starting

  1. I always try and push the envelope though. Supposedly our last frost is mid-May. But I have yet to see that and can safely get tomatoes in the ground the end of April. They don’t do much because the soil is too cold, but it pleases me to have them in. Strange. I have also been resisting the urge to start more seeds. I bought basil in the grocery store the other day (the kind that is a plant with a soil plug, wrapped in cellophane). I used the leaves for my recipe and then decided to split the soil plug into two and pot then up. Now they are in the bathroom with the tomato, the lettuce, and the stock seedlings. Ha.

  2. The County Clerk

    Good lord… I can’t even SEE the dirt. And I’m sure it is frozen.

  3. I should be more specific: I got the seed starting kit out, Hank!

  4. farmer, vet and feeder of all animals

    March 30th to April 30th? They “say” that our last frost here in North GA is about the second week in April. Depends on the charts and I find I can plant out tomatoes with a watchful eye by the 2nd—way earlier when they have really good protection. So march 30th for Michigan—is that because of the lake? I am surprised by those dates.
    By the way–I have some artichokes up and big now–my first. I am procrastinating about Angelica—maybe next year (post some of your pics of it this year please) Tomatoes got started yesterday. I think I would have started them last week or maybe earlier but I ordered late soo…they don’t grow well in the mail you know 🙂

  5. Monica, yes, it’s the lake. We get our local news from a station about an hour south of here (thus away from the lake) and ALWAYS they call out the temperature in our area as being 10-20* either direction of where it is there: it cools in the summer and warms in the winter. Thus our snow, thus our temperate zone.

    Artichokes can be overwintered with a lot of mulch and straw and thus perennialized. With luck, this will be our third year with them. I will promise to post pics of the angelica. It will go in the center plot, thus making a nice tall centerpiece of the veg garden.

    Meredith, I am jonesing for some fresh basil. I saw some in the store the other day and I may do what you’re doing.

  6. I’ve been resisting starting my tomatoes and peppers, because I don’t usually put them in the ground until mid-May. I, too, have been caught by a late frost a time or two, and wasn’t a bit happy about it, either.

  7. Carol, my theory on tomatoes is do them a month before they go in the ground. The seedlings are pretty hardy after the first leaf stage: even if damaged by frost like mine were last year, I was able to hill them up quite a bit and they rerooted quite well. Peppers, though, are a lot fussier.

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