The Spring Jump: When to Start Seeds and When to Wait

Today was one of those days in early March,

when the sun warmed the fields and that distinct spring smell of roots, mud, and grass rose into the air.  It was one of those days that, lacking a weather forecast, would trick you into thinking spring was here for good.  Of course, forecast or not, we do live in Vermont and we do still have our memories of every prior year.

All of which is to say, we know March 8th is no day to assume spring is beginning in earnest.

Still, we can be present to the sun.

While this spring-like day gets us ready to start seeds, unless you have a greenhouse to transplant into, just wait!

Right now it’s best to cultivate patience, not plants.  I’m talking to my fellow Northeastern growers now—at Good Heart Farmstead, we’re on the cusp of the USDA plant hardiness zone 4a and 4b, where the first reliable frost-free date of the year is May 26.  If you live in southern states, by all means, go ahead and plant!  (To see what zone you are in, check out this map).

Why wait?  The biggest harvests come from healthy plants, and healthy plants start off as healthy seedlings.  Timing is everything when it comes to seedlings.  When you start your seeds too early, you run the risk of ending up with root-bound and stressed out seedlings.  Instead of seeding at the first sign of spring, look ahead and plan your transplanting dates first, to be sure your garden is ready to be worked when the seedlings are ready to be transplanted.

If you do have a greenhouse, now is a great time to start spring greens like spinach, salad mix, mustards and asian greens.  These can be direct-seeded or transplanted.  At Good Heart, the greenhouse is already filled up with overwintering spinach and lettuce, so we’re starting spinach in soil blocks now.  In a month, we’ll harvest the overwintered crops and have a new succession ready to go in the ground.

So what can you do while you’re waiting to seed?

  • First, get your seeds in order!  If you haven’t already ordered seeds, now is the time to do it.  Just like with food, go for organic.  Organic seeds come with a smaller environmental footprint and are bred to grow without the use of chemicals and synthetic fertilizers.  We order almost all of our vegetable seeds from High Mowing Organic Seeds.  Other seed companies we buy from include Johnny’s Selected Seeds (they have a great variety of flowers) and Fedco.
  • Next, create your seeding calendar.  ¨ is a handy guide to timing.  Take out your calendar and note when you’re going to transplant each crop.  Then, count backwards from that date to determine your seeding date.  For example: if you plan to transplant kale on May 26, and it takes 4 weeks to get from seed to transplant, you’ll start your kale seeds on April 28 (4 weeks earlier than May 26).
  • Gather your materials.  In all your excitement, did you remember to pick up the potting soil and pull your trays from storage?  Before seeding day arrives, take out all necessary supplies; inventory, restock, and replace as needed.
  • Take a walk.  Really, go outside and breathe in the sun.  You can take a walk through your garden (just be sure not to step on exposed soil!) and say hello.  You can stroll through the woods and look for early signs of spring: opening buds, thawing brooks, bird song.  The growing season will be upon us soon, and you’ll be yearning for a cool swim while you weed and harvest.  Take a walk now, enjoy the ebb of late winter before spring really takes hold and pulls you along in the flow.

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