February is still the depths of winter here in northern Vermont, even if the gradually lengthening days hint at milder weather to come. When I need an antidote to the cold and snow, I turn to seeds! Raising plants indoors from seed for transplanting later to my outdoor vegetable and flower gardens keeps the promise of spring alive through the bleak days of late winter – and gives me lots of healthy seedlings to fill my garden beds. While it's too early to start most seeds indoors in my climate, I get a head start – and lift my winter weary spirits – by organizing my seed packets so I can easily keep track of which seeds to start when. I have seeds I’ve purchased from mail-order catalogs, and I’m likely to add more selections that catch my eye at local garden stores. Plus I usually have extra seeds leftover from the previous gardening seasons. So it can be a challenge to organize this bounty!
Keeping track of recommended seed starting times is key when it comes to successful growing. Figuring out what to plant when, both for seeds started early indoors and those planted directly in the garden, starts with the average date of the last spring frost. Then you can arrive at the number of weeks before or after this date to sow seeds of each particular kind of plant.
I’ve found that an inexpensive accordion file is a great tool for keeping track of seed sowing dates. I mark the tabs of the file’s pockets with the number of weeks before or after the frost date, as well as the frost date itself; e.g. 8-10 weeks before; 6-8 weeks before; 1 week after. I also add the corresponding actual dates for my area. Then I slip my seed packets into each appropriately labeled pocket.
For example, the last frost date for my garden is May 18th. I’ve labeled the tab of one pocket “6-8 weeks before, March 24-April 6.” Tomato seeds should be started 6-8 weeks before the last frost date, so my tomato seed packets go into this pocket. When those dates come around, I simply reach into the pocket for my tomato seeds. Eggplants and peppers are slower growing; they go into the pocket labeled “8-10 weeks before, March 9-23.” A little time spent setting up my file system now keeps my seed starting on track all spring long!
Check out these articles for help organizing and starting your seeds: