When to plant seeds for a vegetable garden

This time of year, seed racks in stores fill up and seed catalogs begin arriving in the mail. It’s one of the earliest signs of spring in many gardeners’ homes.  There are benefits of choosing your own varieties of vegetables, herbs, and flowers and starting them from seed.  First of all, the numbers of varieties of each plant are truly stunning. There are thousands of tomato varieties, for instance, that gardeners can choose for taste, color, or characteristics such as suitability for drying.  The same is true for other plants.  With some planning, it’s possible to grow most, if not all, your plants from seed, if that’s your thing.  This is the first of a two-part series concerning seed starting. In this blog, we will look at how to select seeds for your garden and how to plan for starting seeds, growing plant starts, hardening off, and planting in the garden.

Selecting Seeds

Whether you choose organic or conventionally produced seeds is a matter of your personal preference and gardening goals.  Some gardeners want a totally organic garden, from start to finish.  If that’s the case, look for seeds marked “USDA Organic,” “Oregon Tilth Certified,” or other labeling.  If you don’t see this labeling, the seeds are from plants conventionally grown, which means the parent plants which produced the seeds have been grown with chemical fertilizers and perhaps pesticides.  

Each seed packet will be marked on the back with instructions for sowing, spacing in the garden, sun exposure, etc.  In addition, there will be a “days to maturity” or similar marking.  This shows you the approximate number of days to fruiting or flowering from the time of planting.  Getting a head start on warm-weather crops such as tomatoes and melons is especially important for our Zone 4 summers.  In the San Luis Valley, depending on your elevation and location, our growing season can average only90 days.

When you begin planning, make sure you know your USDA climate zone.  The tools on https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/ allow to search by zip code and include plant hardiness maps too.  Once you have your frost-free date, begin planning seed starting.  The tables below contain guidelines for when to start seeds indoors.  NOTE: THE TABLE BELOW ASSUMES A FROST-FREE DATE OF JUNE 4.  YOUR FROST-FREE DATE MAY DIFFER.  Always check! It’s better to be safe than sorry.

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