In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
These are my tiny basil seedlings, ready for transplanting!
I saw my first robin yesterday. I know there are robins that don't migrate, so this is not such a big deal anymore, but my soul is programmed so that the first robin means the start of spring. Even with a foot of snow on the ground, the sun is different now, and it's time to start thinking about the vegetable garden.
Most importantly, if you intend to grow transplants indoors, it's time to set a schedule because some seeds need to be started now. When deciding when to sow seeds indoors, you will need two bits of information in order to make a plan.
Setting Out Date
First, figure the setting out date for each transplant, the date it is safe for transplants to go into the garden. Many books and online resources will give you this information.
Then find your average frost-free date. Wisconsin has an On-Line Almanac (http://www.wisconline.com/almanac/gardening/springfrost.html) that gives this information. County Extension offices are another good resource. However you find it, put it on the calendar.
Then you will need to find a seed-starting chart that will tell you how many weeks you need to count back from your set-out date for your sowing date. It sounds complicated, but charts are widely available in garden books and on-line. In fact, many sites on line will allow you to simply plug in your last frost date, hit enter, and voila! A seed starting chart will be automatically calculated. One of my favorite sites for this is You Grow Girl (http://www.yougrowgirl.com/grow/seedstartingchart_lazy.php). Then you simply need to record the dates on your calendar.
Prepare for Late Frost
Many gardeners in the upper Midwest prefer to use Memorial Day as the frost-free date just to be safe, but some of us really can't wait and like to push the season. If you decide to try to get a jump on the season be prepared to protect tender plants in case of frost.
Why Grow My Own Transplants?
You may ask, exactly why would I want to go to all this trouble to grow my own transplants when the garden centers are filled with them? Well, you certainly will find plenty of wonderful vegetables at garden centers, but ordering seeds or even buying seeds locally will give you many more choices in varieties. You will be able to experiment with types that may be unusual or hard-to-find. Garden centers tend to sell varieties that they know people are familiar with.
Growing your own transplants will save you money because a packet of 100 seeds will cost from $.99 to about $2.49 (more for specialty plants), where six tomato transplants will usually cost between one and three dollars. But perhaps most important is that you get to start gardening now! Who can argue with that?
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