Although it's January and there is snow and ice on the ground in much of the US, it's still the right time to start planning for your spring garden. Starting seeds indoors is easy and fun. My kids really enjoy it too.
You need not spend a lot of money on fancy seed starting trays and heating mats etc. We re-use containers we'd otherwise recycle to plant our seeds. Those big clear plastic mixed greens tubs are excellent for seed starting. Just fill them half way with soil and the lid helps to create a sort of terrarium where the seeds stay warm and moist, two necessary things for seed germination.
Just about anything that can allow some drainage and is deep enough can be used for seed starting. Be sure to place your planted seeds in a warm spot (they don't need sun until their leaves start to sprout). I once kept seed trays on top of the refrigerator for it's warmth. Keep the soil moist but not wet and keep an eye out for any mold that may form. This is called Damping Off and it can kill your seedlings. You might want to place them in a sunny place and take off the lid if damping off occurs so the sun and dryer conditions can create an unfriendly situation for the mold. You can also try a spritz of chamomile or ginger tea a few times a day which sometimes works to kill the mold.
Now for the 10 seeds you should plant by the end of February to have healthy strong seedlings to transplant to the garden by spring. A word about heirloom seeds. I prefer heirloom seeds even though that might mean less disease resistance and smaller fruits and yields. I just love the varieties and love knowing I'm securing the continued existence of these wonderful plants. I get my heirloom varieties from two sources, Seeds Savers Exchange and Renee's Garden, a wonderful California company.
All the plants on this list need at least 8 hours of sunlight per day in order to thrive. A weekly feeding of a compost tea (that's another blog post) or a great organic fertilizer like Doctor Earth for example, will help them grow happy and strong.
10 Seeds to Plant Now
For tomato lovers out there, you want to get a nice variety of tomatoes started in doors. I always err on the side of planting more seeds than I might need. Tomato plants make GREAT gifts. So plant a nice variety for your garden and have plenty left over to offer as gifts. I usually choose a paste variety, a fresh slicing variety, and a grape or cherry variety. Plant two to three seeds per hole and thin to only one plant per hole once the seedlings have developed their first set of true leaves. When the last frost has passed, move the seedlings outdoors for 1 then 2 then 3 then 4 hours a day to harden them off to the climate outdoors. If the ground is still not ready for your seedlings then you should up pot them to four inch pots to keep them healthy and prevent root lock. Transfer them to their final location when the soil is warm and the nights stay above 50 degrees. If you lay a seedling on it's side and cover up to the first set of leaves with soil, it will produce many more roots to make it strong and it will stand upright over a period of a day or so. This gives the seedling a lot of strength and support.
There are a great number of pea varieties out there and they are all easy to grow. There are some bush varieties but I prefer the typical climbing varieties. I usually choose a sugar snap pea because my kids love to eat them fresh right out of the shell in the garden. Sometimes they are so fresh you can actually see the little bead of water inside each pea! Peas are pretty cold hardy and grow pretty quickly. If you live in a temperate area you can sow directly into the garden. Otherwise you can start them indoors. If stated indoors you should practice the hardening off method I mentioned above before moving them permanently outdoors. Be sure you give these guys plenty of support. I construct trellises each year from old bamboo sticks I have lying about and gardening twine.
Lettuces also deal with the cold pretty well so you can sow directly into the garden and use floating row covers if you live in a temperate climate, or you can grow them indoors. They do GREAT in containers. When you harvest lettuce you can snip the heads off close to the soil and they will actually grow back giving you another round of heads, although smaller usually. If you plant one row per week (even in containers) you'll have fresh lettuce for weeks on end.
Beans and legumes come in a dizzying variety of colors and shapes and flavors and their flowers make a lovely addition to the spring garden. If you are growing beans to replace nitrogen in your soil, be sure to cut them down at the flowering stage. If you let them produce beans, the nitrogen they've added to the soil will be taken up into the beans. Grow these guys just like you grow peas and provide the plenty of support.
Cucumbers and summer squashes, listed next, are all members of the cucurbit family. Most cucurbits do not really like to be transplanted so it's better if you can start these guys in coir or peat pots you can then plant directly into the garden. You can also fashion your own biodegradeable pots with rolled up newspaper. Cuckes will need a support to climb, even if you get a bush variety they tend to get leggy and range around. I tie them to just about anything, the porch railing, tall sticks I find in the garden etc. Keep training them and they grow tall and produce a lot of fruit for you. Having a lot of air circulation is best for powdery mildew prevention as well as pollination.
6. Summer Squash
Summer squashes include zucchini, yellow squash, crooknecks etc. They have soft skins and grow rapidly. They need all the same care as mentioned above for cucumbers.
Basil also comes in a wide variety of flavors and colors. Like most herbs it is really easy to grow. Start them indoors and you can either keep them on your windowsill to harvest when you cook or you can plant them outdoors.
Chamomile is a great herb which can treat minor aches and pains, mild anxiety, upset tummy's and insomnia. It's easy to make a tea from the flowers and it's even safe for infants. It has a great light scent and darling little white flowers. As with many herbs you'll want to keep pinching it back to keep it bushy as opposed to leggy. I dry my clippings in a bundle upside down in a dry warm place then crumble the flowers into a clean jar to use for tea.
Calendula, also known as the field marigold, is also a wonderful herb and pretty flower for your garden. The flower petals are edible and can be used in salads, made into teas to drink and used in tub teas for relaxation and easing of sore joints. I use these flowers for a light yellow color in dying yarn as well. They can be started indoors or outdoors and you'll want to pinch the flowers and leaves off frequently to make them grow bushy.
I just love nasturtiums. They are so varied in color and size and they are edible! They have a lovely peppery taste and are a great addition to salads. They are actually very hardy too and once they are established are extremely drought tolerant. The seeds are nice and big and are easy for little hands to plant.
So have fun browsing seed catalogs and start rinsing out and saving your recyclables it's almost time to sow!