Sunday, February 5, 2017

Starting Seed in February

It's just about a week into February, and my garden planning is in full swing. Depending on your plant hardiness zone (which you can find here) it's time to start sowing seeds indoors, or even directly outside under cover! If you're in zone 5-6, this guide should be just about right for you! You'll have to adjust by a week or two according to your exact last frost date. Ours is May 15th just for reference.

Some of the earliest seed you should be starting indoors (or out) is onion. For us, the first two weeks of February is golden. Planting onions later is not only possible, but encouraged, but it's this first planting that you'll leave in the garden all summer long to form large beautiful onion bulbs. Any bulb forming onion variety will work, but I prefer an open pollinated seed for reasons I'll discuss later. Also, ensure the variety you're getting is of the right day-length, which I'll also discuss later, but basically, northern states get long-day and southern states get short-day.

For starting onion indoors, just dampen a 6" pot of rich soul and sprinkle seeds in generously. Don't worry too much about crowding at this point. Onion roots are very thick and tough and will separate well in several weeks for transplanting even when crowded.  Keep the top layer of soil moist until the seeds sprout and then water only as needed until it's time for transplant.

After onions, find yourself a nice cold hardy variety of lettuce. Plant these in mid-February so they're ready for planting outside in April (or March under a cold-frame). Since these will be inside for a little while, I find it's best to plant them directly into 4" pots. Of course you can plant in starters, and then transplant later, but why bother? Just like onions, keep the soil misted with water until the seeds sprout, then water as necessary. Once the seeds are well established, pinch or snip off all but the strongest seedling in each pot; pull them, and you risk pulling them all!

Once my lettuce is well established, I start in on my spinach. It has basically the same care needs as lettuce with one notable exception: spinach does not tolerate transplant all that well, so always use a larger pot to avoid excess root disturbances. Just like lettuces, these seedlings can go outside in mid March under a cold frame, or in April unprotected. Contrary to what you might expect from seemingly delicate greens, they thrive in the cold and have a much sweeter taste and crunchier texture when grown before the heat of summer sets in.

Just remember when starting your seeds, that these are my personal start dates, and are good for those living in zones 5 and 6 with an average last frost date around May 15th. You'll need to adjust accordingly if you're in a significantly warmer or cooler climate.


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