Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
March, 2009
Regional Report

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My broccoli is up!

Let's Start Some Seeds!

The best place to start is with a specialized seed-starting mix. The mix needs to be sterile to avoid disease transmission and it needs a good balance of water retention and good drainage.

Your containers can run the gamut from commercial planting boxes to recycled pots to cottage cheese cartons. Make sure your containers are sturdy and most important, have drainage holes. There are all types of containers out there, from compressed peat pots and cubes to all manner of plastic pots to my favorite, paper pots (I make them myself).

You will want to carefully label your seeds, and labels simply need to have enough space to write on and be sturdy enough not to fall apart when wet. Use a permanent marker or pencil and be sure to write on them before you get your hands and working area wet. Make sure you put on the label, the seed name, the date of planting, and the germination time.

Planting Dates
Now you need to set your planting dates. Sit down with a calendar and a list of planting-out dates. You can find these dates on the internet or in good vegetable gardening books.

You will determine the last frost date (the average in my area is April 26-May 2) and then look at your list to see where you should set out plants in relation to this date. For example, broccoli plants can be set out two weeks before the last frost. So you back up two weeks from May 2. It takes about four to six weeks to grow from seed into sturdy transplants ready to be set out, so you back up six more weeks. You back up a total of eight weeks from the beginning of May which takes you to the beginning of March. That's when you start your broccoli seeds. Put all your dates on the calendar, including the seeds you start directly into the garden. Now your schedule is set!

How to Sow
To start your seeds, moisten the planting mix with warm water and fill your containers to slightly below the rim. Firm the soil gently -- don't pack it down, and then scatter your seeds. Cover to the depth recommended on the seed packet and sprinkle the top with milled sphagnum moss to create a natural fungicide barrier. Gently spritz, cover with plastic, and put the pots in a warm place.

Check Seeds Daily
Check your seeds daily and remove the cover for circulation if you build up a lot of moisture. As soon as the seeds peek above the soil level, remove the cover and move them under fluorescent lights that are about two inches from the plants and are on for at least twelve hours per day.

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