Monday, February 16, 2015

Starting Garden Plants for the Spring

Even though it seems way too early to be thinking about plants for spring, it isn't.
There is a lot to be done before you start the seeds for next years garden.
A list:
Read seed catalogs, choose too many seeds
Dig out saved and older seeds, figure out which ones are still good
Buy potting soil or use your own compost
Beg, borrow and otherwise gather enough 2" to 4" pots and waterproof trays
Cut plant tags out of yogurt cups
Make chamomile tea for watering seeds
Set up a card table in a warm room, near a plug in
Get out the old lamp and put it under the card table
Hang and plug in grow lights, if you don't have a window nearby

It is said that the best time to start tomato and pepper plants for our growing season in Oregon's Willamette Valley is mid February. The basic rule of thumb is 6 to 8 weeks before the time you will want to set them in the ground (with tomatoes and peppers that is when the night time temps are above 50 degrees.) It isn't good to set them out any sooner. I know from experience that the poor little plants will languish in the cold soil in that inevitable cold snap that comes weeks after the last frost.
I did an experiment a couple of years ago in which I started several tomato plants in my usual method. I planted several in the garden as soon as the last frost had gone by and then I planted more of the tomato plants a month later when the soil temperature reached a solid 48 degrees.
The result was extreme. The toms that were planted early never even reached two feet by the end of the summer. They were permanently stunted and barely produced. In contrast the later tomato plants did as well as expected. What surprised me the most was that even though the early plantings received more sunlight than the ones I kept in my window, they were so effected by the temperature that they just couldn't recover.

When is the best time to plant? This can be a complicated judgment call with erratic weather patterns and late Springs, but unless you are psychic, you have to just shoot for a goal time and roll with the changes.

A nice thing about starting your own plants is that you will have plenty to make mistakes with. No matter what happens to my plants in the garden, birds, bugs or weather, I have replacements on my windowsill.

And if I don't use them all, I have several friends who are happy to take them!


  1. You make it sound so hard!! I have been following your blog for some time now and you do impress!

  2. Here is a seed starting program I developed for knowing when to start seeds before the average frost: http://simplyresourceful.blogspot.com/p/seed-planner.html


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