Are you seeing signs of spring peeking through the winter days, or are you in an area where spring is in full bloom? We’ve had a taste of warm and sunshiney days, but some nights are still dipping below freezing. Spring isn’t here – or on the calendar, for another three weeks or so. As much I would love to start planting and working in the garden, it is still just a bit early here to begin too much.
Starting Seeds Too Early
If your home has great southern exposure or you have a greenhouse, you may already be starting seeds for later transplant. Another option is a set-up with warming mats and grow lights. Our house position is lousy (we have a carport on the whole southern side) and there is no space inside our ranch home to set up a space for starting seeds indoors. This is only one of the reasons I long for a basement. The concern with starting seeds too early is the seedlings being ready for the outdoors before the outdoors is ready for the tender, young seedlings. Watching your leggy seedlings die off due to lack of real sunshine is discouraging at best.
How do you know when it will be safe to plant outdoors? It is not as easy knowing your USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) Plant Hardiness Zone. This map tells you what the average minimum temperature is. This is great to know for permanent plantings, trees, bushes, etc. They have more to do with winter temps and extremes than anything. Many seed catalogs will use these zones for recommendations, but know that annual plantings don’t have much to do with this specific information. They are very important when it comes to choosing fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, and other perennials like asparagus.
Frost Dates by Zip Code
So, what information should you use for annual seed sowing and transplanting? We search last and first frost dates by zip code rather than USDA zone. The Old Farmer’s Almanac has a chart for a few cities, and a search based upon your ISP, though you can change this to reflect your actual location. We get placed all over this region due to our rural internet ISP, sometimes as far away as 100 miles from our actual location. This is not nearly as fine-tuned as the interactive guide found here. It will be much more accurate and better for not only spring seed starting and planting but fall as well. I almost enjoy fall crops more than spring ones. Yes, we are often growing the same things, but many things improve with taste as the temperature cools. Some even improve after a frost. Pests are usually out in full force, but we find the plants tend to be stronger so are less bothered by them.
You may need to adjust your dates. You should always be observing and recording the happenings on your homestead. I encourage you to keep track of your frosts in the spring and fall months. By using a gardening notebook you can see if your own little micro-climate trends early or late. Our homestead is about a full week behind our neighbor’s to our south-east. After keeping records for a few years, I found our average last frost date was 6 days later than what the guide indicated. Now, we are even better prepared to get a great start to our garden.