Indoor Seeding to Win This Midwest Gardening SeasonFeb 01, 2023 ● By Tiffany Hinton
Photo credit Tiffany Hinton
It is the time to plant
this year’s summer garden seeds indoors. In zone 4 and 5, February is the
perfect time to start seeds for cool weather crop plants like broccoli and kale
to be ready to transplant into the backyard garden or pot after the last frost
of the season. It is also a good time to start tomato and pepper plants, so
that they can be easily transplanted in May.
This year, the last frost is
predicted to be April 25, according to The Farmer's Almanac for the
Chicago area. Easily check the last frost date prediction for your zip code at Almanac.com/gardening/frostdates.
On average the last frost day for zone 5, which is where Chicago is located, is
May 15; therefore, the last frost date can change from year to year.
If indoor seed starting
is new for you, these tips will make the steps simple and achievable. The
biggest thing to keep in mind is that growing seedlings is fun, and not a
perfect science. Enjoy the process, get the kids involved and prepare for a bit
of a mess. Put on some play clothes and let’s get to planting.
Prepare ahead of time
by having seeds, planting trays and seed starting soil gathered.
Step 1. Read the seed
packets to understand time to germinate, if light or heat is required to
germinate, along with how many weeks to plant prior to last frost date. If you
do not have a grow light, placing the seed trays in a windowsill is a great
alternative. Similarly, if a heat is required to germinate, place the seed tray
by a heat vent to replace the need for a heat mat. For example, celery, peppers
and roman chamomile require heat to germinate. All seeds will require even
humidity and moisture.
Create the Soil Mixture
Step 2. Moisten the
soil mixture using water. The soil needs to be wet, although not the
consistency of mud. A good way to test for appropriate moisture is if the soil
packs together easily. One cup of water to one quart of soil is a good
estimate. Gently and firmly pack the soil into each seed cell of the tray.
Using a pencil, chopstick or other tool, poke a hole in the soil in each cell
to the depth suggested on the seed packet. Add one seed to each cell and gently
cover with soil, making sure the seed makes good contact with the damp soil
mix. Some varieties of seeds will require more or less of a soil cover, always
read the packet. Label trays using a permanent marker. Gentle water or mist and
cover with plastic dome. Plastic wrap can be used in replacement of the plastic
seed tray dome to create the humidity required. Place trays in a warm place
above 70 degrees F for tomato and pepper seed germination. Refer to the seed
package for the proper temperature.
Keep the Seedlings Watered
Step 3. When the first
two seedling leaves appear, remove the plastic dome or plastic wrap to prevent
the seedling from molding or “damping off”. Move to a location with light and
temperatures between 60 and 65 degrees F. Water from the bottom if possible to
encourage the roots to grow down. Watering should only be done when the soil
feels dry, not looks dry. If you are using a window for light, once a week
rotate the seed tray so that the plants to do bend toward the light. A grow
light directly above is a good investment as it can be adjusted in height as
the seedlings grow helping to prevent spindly stems.
Harden Off the Seedlings
Step 4. When plants are large enough and two weeks prior to transplanting outside, it is time to start hardening off the seedlings by placing them outside during warm days for four to six hours, extending the time as the transplant time comes closer. In the case of the seedlings growing quickly and tall, or gaining robust roots the plant can be transplanted into a 4 inch cup or large Solo cup with holes poked in the bottom for drainage until it is time to plant outside.
The three biggest needs for a seed to be successful is proper temperature, water and light.
Additional gardening and seed starting information can be found at CultivatingGuts.com. Author Tiffany Hinton offers a free gardening planning online class and helpful gardening education. The next class for Hinton’s kids gardening club, the Little Witches Moon Gardening Club, is February 11. She invites you to register your child for the garden club by visiting CultivatingGuts.com.