Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Going By The Dates

As I work on rounding up my materials for planting things, there's other housekeeping that I need to take care of as well.  One of the biggest pieces is deciding when to start things.

The biggest indicator for that is reading up on the vegetable or flower seed you want to plant.  Some varieties only want to be directly sown in the garden, others you can start early but need to pay attention to the particular likes and dislikes of that seed.  Some need to be soaked overnight, others need stratification (placed in the cold for several days), while others need light or heat or specific amounts of moisture to germinate.  And there's the timing factor as well.

If you read the back of the seed packet, or the description about the plant in the catalog, you often see notations like "start indoors 6 to 8 weeks before last frost date".  That's great advice...but how do you know your last frost date?  Now, you could go old school and look back at your garden journal from years past to see when the last frost happened in your yard.

What?  You don't keep a journal?

Don't worry.  I'm not good about that either.  I always intend to, and forget it around February...this year, though, it will be different.  I'm keeping it upstairs next to the bed, and before I turn in for the night I take a minute to write a sentence or two about what I did that day, and what the weather was like.  I'm sure it will make fascinating reading to my great-great-nieces and nephews.

So if you don't have a journal, how can you find out?  Go straight for the throat and check out the Old Farmer's Almanac website and click on their Frost Dates Calculator.  You just need to enter your postal zip code and it will pop up the information you need.  Don't live in the US?  Go to the Global Freeze Dates information, provided by Utah State University.  You just need to click on the menu, select your country, and scroll down to find the city/town nearest you.

Now that you know your Last Frost Date, break out your calendar and a notepad.  Counting backwards from the date, you can determine when to start seeds for various plants.  Here's an example:
1.  I want to plant Yellow of Parma onion seeds.  I need to plant them 8 to 10 weeks before the last frost date.
2.  The last frost date for my area is roughly May 20.
3.  Counting back 10 weeks, I see that I need to plant my onion seeds roughly by March 15th.

Since I've planted onions in the past, and taking into account the kind of winter we are having and the fact that onions can be planted when the ground is still very cold, I'm going to plant my onions by February 15th.  That way, I know I will be assured of very sturdy little onion plants when I set them outside in mid-May.  If you are a new gardener, you might not feel comfortable with making a judgement call like that and would prefer to stick to the formula of Frost Date minus How Many Weeks equals Your Date to Plant Your Seeds.  No worries--it will all work out fine.  Seeds are forgiving, really.  They just want to grow.  Now you just need to do the calculations for each of the plant varieties you are starting indoors, and map out your schedule of seed sowing.

Next Episode: How Seeds Like Light


  1. Last spring we had two frosts (one very unexpected). I won't be in such a hurry this spring.

  2. I've been going by those dates for the time we've lived here and all's been well, which is to say that plants haven't been killed by frost. I'm conservative with setting out peppers, eggplants, planting squash, etc. and usually wait until after Memorial Day. Tomatoes do fine earlier, with a bit of row cover if necessary.

    Let me know how the onions turn out ;-)

    Joyce in 54763


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