Courtesy of Southern Foodways AllianceThe weather outside might still be frightful, but you can start preparing a delightful organic garden for planting season. There’s more to do in early spring than just dream about your future garden flowers or bountiful harvest.

Start Organic Seedlings Indoors

Planting seedlings indoor is a great idea for many reasons: you’ll be certain that your plants are organic, save money, there’s a wider variety of seeds to choose from compared to young plants for sale in a nursery or garden center, and well established plants produce fruit earlier and have a longer harvest season.

  1. Plan Before You Plant Your Vegetable Garden

    Go to the National Climatic Data Center to research the average last frost date in your area. Then read the number of days until germination and harvest on your seed packages to determine which seed varieties to plant each week. You can plant some frost tolerant species such as cabbage, spinach, salad greens and pansies sooner.

  2. Get Potting Equipment on the Cheap

    Purchase special seed starting flats or use cut down milk cartons, chipped pots, empty plastic containers, etc. that are two to three inches deep. Fill the containers with potting soil, gently firm the surface and water until moist, but not muddy.

  3. Ready, Set, Grow

    Place seeds on the surface about a half an inch apart (tiny seeds may be spaced closer) and cover them with a thin layer of potting soil. Gently tap the surface to ensure good soil contact with the seeds. Remember to label the row or container with the variety and planting date.

  4. Keep Seedlings Covered

    Cover the container with plastic and place it in a warm spot in your house. Check the container every day and remove the plastic once the seeds have germinated.

  5. Let in the Sunlight

    After the seeds have germinated, move the containers to a sunny location. Water when the soil becomes dry, preferably from the bottom, to prevent flooding the seeds.

  6. Give Them a Taste of the Outdoors

    About a week before you plan on adding your young plants to your garden, harden them off by gradually exposing them to outdoor conditions a few hours a day.

  7. Take off the Training Wheels

    When your plants are ready to be placed in your garden, dig a small hole for each plant, insert the plant, cover the roots, and water. In a few weeks or months, depending on the variety, you will be ready to harvest vegetables or enjoy looking at beautiful flowers.

It’s not recommended to start root vegetables, peas, beans, or corn indoors since they do not transplant well.

Maureen Farmer is a master gardener and has loved plants all her life. She enjoys growing most of her own produce in raised beds. She is the owner and founder of The Farmer’s Garden, a free surplus backyard produce trading service available across the United States.

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