The days are getting a little longer. In our Zone 5, Western New York neck of the woods, the sap is running. The arrowwood shrubs are red. The willow twigs are bright yellow. Snowdrops have been peaking through. It can only mean one thing. Spring will be here soon.
As long as people have been gardening, they have been chancing it, pressing their luck with the weather, sometimes with great success and sometimes not so much.
The important thing about being a “seed gardener” is you can experiment, set your own timetables and next month, if you’re like me, four new packages of seeds will appear in your mailbox. If you have a package of 30 or 60 seeds, you can experiment with 10 or 20 and still have plenty left to use.
There are two ways to stretch the front-end of the season: Indoors and outdoors. Today, we’ll talk about indoors.
Indoors, recycled containers and a sunny windowsill are a fine place to start. Also, don’t start tomatoes too soon. They will get leggy and not be as hardy. If you do make that mistake, turn them sideways at planting time and bury the stem.
The home improvements stores have eight and 10-quart bags of seed starting mix available for about $3.50. Use it for planting indoors if you don’t have soil ready to go. You can even splurge on little peat pots and seed starting trays with plastic covers. You still will end up economically ahead.
There is something awesome, however, about using your own compost, containers and soil and growing a bounty for the cost of the seeds (less than $2.50 per month).
Many seeds do fine in cooler temperature, but they will be slow to germinate, so after you have planted a container, set it somewhere warm until you see signs of growth. Artificial lights can be a great help, too.
A warming coil, available in many stores and catalogs, can offer a good assist but is not totally necessary.
Starting things indoors like broccoli, spinach and lettuce will give you a small jump. Follow the seed package instructions about how much before last frost to start, but don’t be afraid to push the limits.
Also, if you’ve decided to take a shot at a longer-season plant, like artichoke, plant now and try to get it going indoors. It may take 180 days to produce and in many areas, our growing season is too short. Still, it can be done.
The important thing is there is little risk in experimenting. Keep a garden diary with dates and specifics so you can refer back and remember what worked and what didn’t.
Joe Genco is a contributing writer to Mike the Gardener Enterprises, the exclusive home for the Seeds of the Month Club, and an avid vegetable gardener himself, who works for New England Financial as a financial services representative. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.