In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
These lettuce seedlings will give a jump on the season.
Ready, Set, Go!
It's almost time to start seeds indoors. Why bother starting your own seeds when you can buy transplants at any garden center? Not only does it save money, but it allows you to grow some unusual varieties only available from mail-order seed companies. It also gives you a chance to push the season and get things in the garden earlier. But my favorite reason is that I can get my hands in the dirt while its still winter outside. And that's priceless for my gardening soul!
Pushing the Season
Warm-season crops such as tomatoes and peppers need a long growing season to produce fruit, so in our climate we need to give them the extra time by using transplants. Although cool season crops such as lettuce and spinach can be seeded directly into the garden, starting them indoors will give you a longer season of harvest before the hot weather.
You can find just about any type of seed under the sun on seed racks in garden stores and by mail-order. Starting with fresh seed packaged for this year gives the most reliable germination results. But you can use older seeds; many kinds retain good viability for at least a year or two. If in doubt, simply sow more heavily than usual.
Seed Starting Supplies
Gather all the seed-starting materials you need now so you'll be ready when it's time to get started. You'll need sterile seed starting mix, containers, labels and markers, and of course, seeds. You can also purchase seed starting kits that contain all the necessary supplies.
Although it's important to purchase new seed-starting mix, when it comes to choosing containers for growing, this is a good chance to do some recycling. You can use anything that is sturdy, clean, and has drainage. My containers of choice are paper pots made from newspaper, although you can use flats, compressed peat pots, plastic pots, cottage cheese or margarine tubs, the bottom halves of milk jugs, and egg cartons.
You can use commercial markers to label your seeds, but again, this is a good place to recycle. Use slats from plastic blinds, Popsicle sticks, twigs with a flat surface, or strips cut from plastic milk jugs. Use permanent marker or pencil so the ink will last. Record on the label the plant name, date seeded, and if you want, the days to germination and the days to maturity listed on the seed packet.
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