When I lived in the northeast, final frost came late (especially when I was housed in the mountains). Here in Southern California, we don't have frost time, really.
But most of the nation will fall somewhere in between these two.
For those with a shorter growing season (or simply if you're the impatient type - like me!), get a head start on Mother Nature's calendar by starting your seedlings indoors. Then when the ground (and day and nighttime temps) are ready, you will be, too, with strong little seedlings and a jump start on your eventual harvest.
1. Buy, Make or Repurpose Your Containers
What do you plan to start your seedlings in? Containers are inexpensive and can be found at any large-size multi-goods store, your local nursery, or Home Depot/Lowe's (or a similar venue). Generally, these are plastic, but some are recycled chips, cardboard or pressed paper; you can even find pressed peat seedling containers that you can then break apart from one another at planting time and place directly into the ground, without disturbing the roots.
Another option is to repurpose materials you have at home. Egg cartons are ideal; so are egg shells (break in half, wash carefully in JUST water, and add your potting soil...see below). Toilet paper tubes are also great for this; cut the tube into thirds and fold the "bottom" of each cut section inward to create the bottom of the container. Then simply fill with soil. A third option: sections of rolled newspaper, tucked under at one end.
2. Buy or Gather Your Potting Soil
Potting soil made just for seeds and seedlings can be obtained at your local nursery. However, you can use nearly any soil that has an acidity/Ph level appropriate to what you're growing, as well as nutrients (which may need to be added as fertilizer).
Many gardeners make their own compost. Start now and in six weeks you can have at least some usable compost for your li'l babies.
3. Obtain Your Seeds
Purchase seeds, or gather and dry seeds from the best of last growing season's crops (if you didn't do this, plan on in it for next year and save yourself a few dollars!).
4. Find a Sunny Spot
MOST seedlings need a lot of sun (even plants that will later need only partial sun). Find a sunny locale where your seedlings can grow undisturbed, or purchase an inexpensive growing light.
5. Moisten the Mix
Moisten but DO NOT SOAK your soil mix/bagged soil/compost. Add to your containers.
6. Add the Seeds
Place seeds into containers at the depth recommended on the seed packet.
7. Keep the Soil Damp
Again, do not over-wet, BUT don't allow the soil to get completely dry during these beginning weeks. Keep checking your seedlings. If the spot isn't sunny or warm enough, move your little growers to a better locale.
Depending upon what exactly it is you're growing, your seedlings will be ready to be transplanted anywhere from four to ten weeks after you start them.
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