Seed Sense #3

originally published April 1

Door County is considered zone 5a.
That translates to May 16 as the last frost free date. Data is collected over a 7 year period and then averaged to arrive at the frost free dates for each zone..
If you go to the National weather bureau site, and look up your zip code, you will discover that on an average, there is still a 20% chance of frost by May23. My garden suffered a hard frost in 2019, killing all my Tomatoes and Peppers, coleus and various other delicate annuals I planted Memorial weekend. Therefore, for me, and this series, I am setting the last frost free date for May 31. When I start counting back the timetable for planting, it will be based on May 31 as the frost free date.
This is week 9. Nine weeks before the last frost free date and a perfect time to consider planting any cold crops and begin with indoor seeds.
50 degrees breaks dormancy, so ideally the soil temperature should be 50 degrees for outside planting. That doesn’t mean peas cannot be planted in 38 – 40 degree soil temperatures, they will just take longer to germinate.
Most annuals require the soil to be an optimal temperature of 70 – 75 degrees. Vegetables are in that category as annuals.
So why again do we want to start seeds indoors?

You may have discovered after reading various seed packets that the days to maturity/harvest can be 90 days! Most heirloom tomatoes have a 85 – 90 day maturity. By the time we are ready to harvest, the first frost date can be weeks or even days away.
Beginning your seeds indoors allows you to account for the short growing season we experience in this area and get a good head start on your garden while waiting for it to get temperatures of 75 degrees.

As we progress in this series of growing, keep this mind:
Seeds need 3 things – Water, Warmth and Light.

Let’s set up a growing station!
Choose a location that is easily accessible and you won’t forget or neglect. ( I choose my painting studio above our garage.)

You will need:
shelves or tables or even the floor ( if you don’t have pets! )

Grow light – shop light, 4ft with 2 – 4 full spectrum florescent bulbs ( 4 bulbs will give you a wider light reach but will be more expensive.

Something to hang the light from be in a low ceiling or a DYI frame

Pulley hooks. – I ordered these this year after struggling with a cord. Game changer! The pulleys make it easier to maneuver the raising and lowering of the light fixture. Important since lights should be kept 2″ above the seedlings. $6.55 Amazon

Seedling trays and lids and pots. You can use egg cartons, used Keurig pods, peat pods, paper cups etc. make sure everything has a drain hole. Saran Wrap on the pots or trays will work in place of a tray lid. If you are reusing plant “flat” trays or pots you saved from purchasing at garden centers, clean and rinse out with diluted bleach or Lysol solution to sanitize.

Soil less medium – light weight sterile potting or seedling medium. I like Jiffy because it has some nutrients and is already slightly moist. 12qt $4.96 at Walmart

Spray bottle – I love the hand pump for when there is a lot of spraying, otherwise any hand held spray bottle will suffice.
Solo pump – $14.27 Amazon

Plant markers/labelers – plastic, plastic take out utensils, wood stir sticks
anything that you can write with an indelible ink pen. 200 pc 41/2″ plastic markers $9.59 Amazon

Fan – Important for air circulation and for avoiding fungal diseases from too much moisture. The fan also simulates outside breezes and will help in creating stronger plant stems.

A plug in timer – This is for the light. Seedlings, once germinated need 16 hours of light to grow. $7.99 Amazon ( note local hardware stores are open and carry these too. Give them the business if you can.)

All purpose water soluble fertilizer or an organic fish emulsion amendment to start giving the seedlings nutrients as they are growing.

Heating mat. Seeds need heat to germinate. Most heating mats will maintain a temperature of 70 – 75 degrees. It does not mean your seeds will not germinate without this, but they will germinate faster. Before I bought a mat I placed the trays on top of my floor registers.

Boot tray or old plastic or metal tray of sorts that you can set the germinated plants on under the light to catch water spills.

Thermometer – to measure the soil temperature for direct seed and transplanting. Any meat probe will work as long as it is at least 6″ long.