It's March here in the Northland, but don't let this warm weather fool you. The temperatures can and WILL fluctuate and nightly freezing is still happening throughout most of the state. (It's actually snowing as I write this). While we northern gardeners are busy dreaming of dirt, gathering supplies and planning our plots, we are mostly just waiting. Waiting and waiting. Waiting for our seeds to arrive in the mail and waiting for the ground to thaw.
The good news is, you don't have to wait any longer to get your garden on! The end of March and beginning of April is the perfect time to start your seeds indoors. No matter how many times I start seeds, I never tire of this yearly ritual. It pleases me to no end to transform my kitchen into a mini-greenhouse for an afternoon and then watch my little babies growing happily on a sunny shelf. I just love to get my hands dirty once again and to smell that soil and to... oh, I'm sorry, where was I?!?! Oh right! If you’d like to try your hand at starting seeds, or have tried it before with less than stellar results, I'm here to tell you: YOU CAN DO IT.
It can be a real drag to live in Zone 4 but we love our home state and I won't trash talk her. Here in Minnesota we straddle Zones 3 and 4 according the plant hardiness zone map . This means, our growing season extends from mid May (last frost date) to mid September (first frost date). That means, we need to give tender plants and plants that require a longer growing season a head start. But let's get right down to it.
It is way more economical to purchase your seeds, a few trays and soil than it is to purchase plants that have been grown in a greenhouse. You can get an entire seed packet for the same price as a single tomato plant at the market.
If you look at any seed catalogue, or even the seed stands at coops or nursery's, you have much more choice in what you plant. Cherokee purple tomatoes? Velour green beans? Hansel and Gretel eggplants? Hello?
If you're into organic gardening (and I know you ARE), then it makes sense to know that the veggies and herbs you'll be planting have been planted in organic material and come from organic seed.
Don't worry. You don't have to start all your seeds indoors. Many plants can be direct seeded into the garden. Greens, such as spinach, lettuces, sorrel, and arugula; root veggies such as turnips, radishes, beets, and carrots, (their roots do not like to be disturbed); snap peas; green beans; and herbs can be direct seeded when the ground warms up.
The veggies we northerners are wise to start indoors are those heat-loving plants such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, and plants that simply need a head start indoors because they require a longer time to mature. These include the brassica family: brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, cabbage and cauliflower. This is not an exhaustive list so if you're unsure, check the back of the seed packet for detailed seeding information.
With that in mind, think about what it is that YOU actually want to grow. My advice: Don't bite off more than you can chew--literally. I am notorious for planting way more seeds than I have space for! Think about the things that you would really like to have in your garden. What do you like to eat? What does your family/ partner/ roommate (if you like them) like to eat? What things tastes better fresh from the garden? What do you have space for? If you have access to a seed catalogue, page through it and mark the things you’d like to try.
I strive for variety in my garden, so I purchase several varieties of tomatoes and peppers and make notes about which ones my family likes best. My goal is to have a tomato tasting party this year because it is my personal belief that one can never have too many tomatoes. They can be eaten fresh, canned, salsafied, roasted, frozen, and sauced (if you need me in August you know where to find me). We pickle jalapenos every year, so I know I need at least six jalapeno plants. For most people, one or two of these is enough. My boys eat broccoli like it’s candy, so I make sure I have enough of these too. This is very subjective and personal, so I won’t tell you WHAT to plant, but I will tell you HOW.
Once you have your list, it's time to get some seeds. Most seed vendors can be found online and once you order from them, you will likely be on their mailing list and receive future catalogues.
These online sources are great places to find seeds:
Seed Savers Exchange
Seeds of Change
Choose high quality seeds and organic when available. It is possible to reuse seeds from year to year if they are stored properly. I have had excellent luck reusing seeds over from previous years. Here is a quick reference guide for how long you can expect seeds to last. Again, don't order more than you know you can use, or plan a planting day with friends and share seed packets!
Now that you have your seeds, get your supplies together and we will see you next week to walk you through each step.
Containers: Seed trays or pots and covers
Squirt bottle or small nozzled watering can
Sunny window (south or southwest facing)
Soil: Seed Starting Mix (do not attempt to use soil from your garden)