As we look out the window on a 5 degree sunny, snowy day, it may be hard to imagine containers or gardens filled with abundant vegetables and fruit. But the promise of spring is on its way. Now is the time to prepare for the growing season.
When planning your container or outdoor garden, it’s best to start small and grow what you love.
For example, if you love salsa, plant a salsa garden of tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, and onions. Growing seedlings is fun, exciting, and rewarding. You can use seeds you saved from your garden last year, compost soil from your pile, or purchase seeds and dirt from your local garden center or farmer’s market. You can also purchase seeds from sustainable companies such as Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Renee’s Garden, High Mowing Organic Seeds, and Botanical Interests. Reuse plastic and cardboard containers as suitable makeshift greenhouses. Egg cartons can be planted directly into the soil and will disintegrate into the ground as the plant grows.
Once you have your seeds selected, check out your last frost date to determine when to begin sowing your seeds. Enter your zip code at almanac.com/gardening/frostdates to determine the best time to transplant your seedlings outside.
Take these five steps to prepare for the growing season:
1. Fill your containers within 1/2 inch of the top of the containers with soil and wet with warm water. Use the eraser end of a pencil to make a small hole to drop in two seeds. Cover the seeds with a light layer of soil and sprinkle with warm water. (Make sure to check the instructions on your seed packet for the exact amount of dirt required to cover your seeds.)
2. Cover your makeshift greenhouse. If you use egg cartons, cover with a plastic lid from another container to keep in the moisture. Be sure your soil does not dry out during germination. Mist or sprinkle your greenhouse with warm water. It is best to maintain a 70-degree temperature inside for germination.
3. Once the seeds have sprouted, remove the plastic covering and move the seedling to a sunny area, preferably a south-facing window. In many instances, an LED shop or grow light (which you can purchase at your local hardware store or online) will be required to support photosynthesis. Seedlings will need between 10-16 hours of light each day. Plants should be 1-3 inches from the light source. Raise the lights as the plants grow.
4. After the danger of frost, acclimate your plants outside by gradually increasing daily exposure to outdoor temperature over two weeks. Begin with one hour the first day, then increase by an hour each day until they are always outside. Ensure that temps outside are at least 40-50 degrees before exposing your plants.
5. Begin your vegetable seeds 4-5 weeks before the outdoor planting date of your area. You should sow flower seeds 8-10 weeks before transplanting outside.