Come check out our table in Sandburg every other week. And join our garden crew for the growing season!

It’s so exciting to start perusing the seed catalogs and dream of the day when you see those tiny, succulent seedlings pop through the soil. But It’s important to have a schedule for starting because if you start plants too early, you’ll end up with stretched, overgrown transplants that will have a really hard time adjusting to being planted outdoors. 

The best, easiest-to-use seed-starting schedule I’ve found is at Johnny’s Seeds ( They have an interactive tool in which you simply put in your last frost date and the tool calculates when you should start all your seeds indoors. Our last frost date is usually between April 15 and 30 so I tend to use April 20 as my guide. Of course, any year can vary so it’s important to pay attention to the actual weather.  

Once the chart calculates dates, It gives a one to two-week window, so if you can’t get to sowing on the date suggested, you have some leeway. It also lists the safe set-out dates to help you plan your hardening-off process. Another interactive tool is found at

When you have your list, look at the set-out dates to time your seed-starting. For example, broccoli plants can be set out two weeks before the last frost. So you back up two weeks from April 20 for the plant out date. It takes about 4-6 weeks to grow from seeds into sturdy transplants, so back up six more weeks. You back up a total of 8 weeks from April 20 which takes you to the end of February. 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!

Keep in mind that not everything on the charts needs to be started indoors (beans and corn, for example) and the charts may not have every vegetable you want to grow. You may have to do a little research. 

Gather your seed-starting materials together so you’ll be ready as soon as your schedule tells you to sow. Gather pots, labels and seed-starting mix. If you plan to use recycled pots, make sure they are well-cleaned and sanitized to avoid fungal disease transmission to tiny seedlings. I don’t advise using recycled potting soil. Take the plunge and purchase high quality sterile seed-starting mix. No guarantees, but new soil will give you the best chance of success. 

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 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.

Kate Jerome