The Q&A Archives: Vegetable Seed Schedule

Question: Hello,
I live in a valley, safe to say in zone 4. We always seem to have more snow than those areas closer to the fingerlakes. I am interested in starting my garden as early as possible this year and am confused about the date calculations. When should I start my seeds for a vegetable garden? When is it safe to plant outdoors, things like peas, spinach? Is it best to till the soil now or just before planting?

Answer: The best way to begin calculating is to find out when your average last spring frost date occurs. Your County Extension can help with this (687-4020) and may also be able to suggest the best varieties of vegetables for your area. The average is only a guide, but it is better than nothing. Over time you will discover if your garden's microclimate usually runs early or late or about the same.

Things like broccoli and cabbage can be started about 12 weeks before the frost date and planted out about 5 weeks before it. Cauliflower and onions, 10 weeks and 4 before. Lettuce and chard can be started about 7 weeks and planted out about 3 weeks before the frost date. Tomatoes can be started about 6 weeks ahead and planted out right after the frost date. Eggplants and peppers can be started 7 weeks before and planted out 2 weeks after the frost date. Squash, cucumbers and melons need warm soil so are usually set out or planted from seed about two weeks after the last frost.

Plants for direct sowing such as peas and spinach can be planted about 5 weeks ahead of the last frost, beets, radish, carrots, and chard about three weeks ahead, beans and corn at about the last frost date, and the cucurbits about a week or two later.

All of these dates are a rule of thumb; some years the soil will be cold later into the season than others, some springs will be gentler than others. You might want to look into some of the season extender methods such as using cold frames, floating row covers and so on as well as using black plastic and raised beds to try to warm the soil a bit faster in the spring. You might also be able to grow some fall vegetables using these methods.

It is best to work on your soil a week or two ahead so that it can settle a bit before you plant into it. Ideally, though, you will prepare your soil on an ongoing basis, working in copious amounts of organic matter and adding whatever else is needed as indicated by the results of basic soil tests. Your County Extension should be able to help you with the tests and interpreting the results as well.

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