Tomatoes, Peppers, Cucumbers, Eggplant? But they grow in the late Spring and Summer. Why is it necessary to start thinking of them in January when we are having freezing temperatures? If you like to have control over what types of varieties you plant, whether the seeds are organic or not, what kind of germinating mix is used and other factors, then you are the perfect candidate to grow your vegetables, herbs and flowers from seed.
Planning & Ordering Seeds:
Consider your garden area to make sure you have the appropriate space for everything you want to plant. If you want beans and have a small space, choose pole beans instead of bush beans so you can trellis them and use less space
Choose varieties that are recommended for Spring planting.
Find seeds that are resistant to disease and possible pests.
Seed Order Catalogs/Online Ordering: Johnny’s Seeds, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Seeds of Change, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds,Territorial Seeds, Landreth Seeds (historical information on seeds)
Order seed trays/flats & label markers.
72 cell plug trays are versatile especially for a home gardener
128 cell plug trays are recommended for onions, lettuces, flowers, herbs
Acrylic domes can help with moisture & heat retention
Obtain potting mix
Make your own: One part Peat Moss, One Part Vermiculite & One Part Perlite
Possum’s carries Faford & Pro-Mix
Hyam’s carries Faford & other mixes
Germination mixes have no nutrients for growth so transplanting up once the seedlings have two to four true leaves is necessary
Now that you have found your seeds and planned your garden, it is time to start your seeds either indoors or in a covered hoophouse.
Starting seeds indoors or in a hoophouse:
Begin by sanitizing seed trays with one part bleach to eight parts water. A large tub or clean trash container works well if you have many trays and pots to clean but a clean bucket is fine for a few. Trays and plastic pots can be recycled each year but local garden centers carry seed trays or you can order online at suppliers such as; growers supply, farmtek or Johnny’s Seeds.
Sanitizing kills fungus that causes damping off in seedlings & heartache for you, as well as, diseases.
Before filling the seed trays with potting mix, add enough water to form a ball of dirt but not so much that it is soggy and dripping water. This will give your seeds a moist environment to get started but will also help keep the dust at bay.
Loosely put potting mix in the seed tray making sure not to pack the mix into the cells but rather pour on top of tray and use a ruler or the side of your hand to level the top
Begin seeding making sure to follow the appropriate planting depth requirements.
Sites such as Johnny’s Select Seeds and others have in depth information for germination and seeding of specific vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers.
Water seed trays daily to twice per day in order to keep the germinating or potting mix moist. Seeds allowed to dry out during the germination period can reduce your germination rate by 50%. Watering once per day usually suffices.
Depending on the plant, most will be ready to be transplanted into a larger pot once they have 2-4 true leaves.
When transplanting to the next size up, don’t go too large. A seedling from a 72 cell tray can go into a six pack container or a 3-4” pot but try not to dwarf the plant. It will be overwhelmed trying to fill the space with roots. Best to make small increments in sizes.
Can’t stress enough….keep your seeds and seedlings moist!
Keep in mind, germination mixes do not have nutrients so you will need to fertilize the seedlings with an organic fertilizer after they germinate (if in a 72 cell plug tray or larger) and have at least four true leaves or transplant quickly into larger trays with a potting mix which does have nutrients available for uptake.
The following chart will provide some guidance for starting seeds in trays now, direct sowing into your garden and when to transplant the seedlings into your garden. Notice beans don’t have a date range for seeding in trays and only have a direct sow date range. Beans do not like to be transplanted so they are best to put directly into the garden bypassing any space needed in the greenhouse. But other crops such as: cucumbers, squash and lettuce can be direct sown or seeded indoors or in the greenhouse–your choice. If you are running low on space for seeding, a rule of thumb (but not always) is to direct sow the larger seeds into the garden and save smaller seeds for trays. Root vegetables also prefer to be direct sown into the garden as long as the soil has been properly tilled/loosened. These dates are not definitive so you have a little wiggle room but it can act as a guideline of when to seed and when to have plants in the garden.
Garden Tasks for January to March
Seed in Trays: Broccoli, Lettuce, Kale, Pak Choi, Napa Cabbage, Onions, Perennial Herbs & Flowers
Keep Current Veggies Mulched & Watered
Cut Back Dead Plant Material
Prune Grape Vines
Order Asparagus, Irish Potatoes, Horseradish
Seed Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplant & Annual Herbs and Flowers
Start Sweet Potato Slips
Prune Roses by February 14
Prepare Beds with Compost & each time you plant
Plant Irish Potatoes-early March
Use heating pads for tomato seeds to reach 80 degrees for optimal germination
Keep grow lights 2” above seedlings otherwise seedlings will become leggy.
It is easy to get excited when ordering seeds but don’t go overboard. Only order what you will use, share or have room to store. Seeds can last many years if stored properly: dry, low humidity & at 40-50 degrees.
Do not let soil dry during the germination period.