Don’t let this winter weather fool you. Spring is right around the corner and it’s time to start planning your garden. Stop by the 5th Annual Seed Swap at the Carbondale Community Farmers Market this Saturday, February 28th, from 9-12. There will be presentations and information about starting seeds, sprouting, planting with the moon and more! Members of the community are encouraged to bring extra seeds to swap and share. All are welcome!
Are you new to gardening? Have you always relied on nurseries for getting your starts? Starting seeds at home is fun way to get your hands in the soil early and to experience the full life cycle of your plants. If you are new to starting seeds indoors here are some important garden terminology and dates to help you get started:
Frost Date: The last frost date refers to the average date on which a killing frost is likely to occur. For southern Illinois this date can range between April 10-May 10: April 25th is the date that we use as it indicates a 50% probability of frost occurring at that point.3 “The actual date varies from year to year. For tender plants, add two weeks to the average date in the spring to protect against the possibility of late season frost. In the fall, subtract two weeks from the average date to be on guard against an early frost.”1
Starter mix: For best results should be started in a starter mix rather than directly in soil or a potting soil mix. Starter mixes are often composed of peat and sphagnum moss and vermiculite and other select ingredients such as compost or organic fertilizers.
Damping off: Damping off refers to diseases that attack seedlings in the early stages of their development. “Visual symptoms of damping-off include the sudden collaspe of a seedling, and the constriction and discoloration of the stem at the soil line.”2 Damping-off is often the result of various fungi that live in the planting containers of your seed trays. In order to prevent damping-off you should: 1. Thoroughly clean any containers used to start seeds; 2. Use a serile seed-starting mix; 3 Don’t over crowd seeds when sowing and thin seedlings if over crowded; 3. Avoid over watering and make sure containers have proper drainage; 4 Grow seedlings in well-ventilated and well-light area. 2
Hardening off: Plants started indoors need to be eased into their outdoor environment. This is done through a process called hardening off. Harding off can be done by moving plants outdoors to a partially shaded location for a few hours each day or by using a cold frame.2
Cold Frame: A cold frame is a structure that can be used to harden off seedlings. Though there are some commercially available cold frames, you can easily make one with straw bales or cinder blocks and an old storm window pane.
Here’s a summary of which crops to plant early, and which ones not to plant until after your last spring frost date:4
Very early spring (as soon as the ground can be worked)
After last frost date
1. Angel, Jim. Illinois Frost Dates and Growing Season. Accessed February 16, 2015. http://www.isws.illinois.edu/atmos/statecli/Frost/frost.htm
2. Kujawski, Ron and Jennifer Kujawski. 2010. Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook. North Adams Press: Storey Publishing.
3. NOAA. Free Frost Data. Accessed February 16, 2015. https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/climatenormals/clim20supp1/states/IL.pdf
4. Long, Cheryl. 2008. “Know When to Plant What: Find Your Average Last Spring Frost Date.” Mother Earth News. Accessed February 16, 2015. http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/how-to-find-average-last-spring-frost-date.aspx