Does winter weather have you anxious for spring? Are you ready to start digging in the dirt and growing tomatoes, peppers, squash and other warm season veggies? Even though we still have chilly days ahead, seasoned gardeners can plan now for their spring vegetable gardens.
Shop from catalogs
Start by reading seed catalogs and ordering several different varieties. Try some familiar varieties, but also include some you can’t get at a local nursery. Experimenting with new and new-to-you vegetables is one of the advantages of starting plants from seed.
You can plant seeds in peat pellets on planting trays with clear lids. Peat pellets are those small round discs that expand when watered. You can buy them at most big box stores or garden centers. Read the seed package to determine how deeply to plant the seeds in the pellets for optimal germination.
You can plant seeds starting right now to mid-March. This gives the seedlings six to eight weeks to grow before outdoor temperatures are safe for planting them outside in the vegetable garden.
Warm soil, not just warm air temperature, is crucial for summer vegetable plant roots to begin growing. It may take longer for soil temperatures to warm up to between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the optimal planting temperature.
Provide water, light and warmth
To start seeds indoors before the temperatures warm outside, you may wish to utilize a lamp system. This provides light in the spectrum that plants need for optimal germination and growth.
If possible, use one cool fluorescent lamp paired with one warm incandescent. This combination of light provides enough warmth and light to get the seedlings to germinate within a few days.
To provide moisture, add water to the bottom of the pellet-filled trays. The water will be soaked up from the base and this prevents early problems with root rot and disease. Seeds and seedlings need to be moist, but not wet.
Seeds will germinate and produce their first cotyledons (new seed leaves) under the tray covers. Once the first true leaves appear, remove the tray covers and transplant the seedlings to 3- or 4-inch diameter pots. Larger pots give seedlings room for root expansion.
When the plants have three or four true leaves on the stem, you can move them outdoors during the day. Take plants outside a few hours each day, but bring them back inside at night.
The immature seedlings need to harden off gradually outside. They won’t withstand cold temperatures or even intense sunlight at this point, so monitor the weather closely during this time. Again, be sure to bring them in at night to protect them from temperature extremes.
Plant in the garden
Once spring temperatures are consistently above freezing, the new plants can be moved into the garden. There is nothing more satisfying than knowing you can produce a productive vegetable garden from just some tiny seeds.