Start Your Seedlings in February for Your Spring Kitchen Garden

With February’s surly blast blowing outside your backdoor, it may seem like gardening should be furthest down your list of priorities right now, but not so. No, I don’t mean go and work in your big fancy greenhouse—if you have that, you already know what to do this month.  But even if you don’t enjoy that luxury there are things to do in the dead of winter.

Remember back in second grade when you planted a bean in a Styrofoam cup and a few days later it turned into a plant that you couldn’t wait to show mom? That’s exactly what you need to be doing right now.

Of course you’d do well to plant on a somewhat larger scale than you did in elementary school, and beans may not be the thing you want to start with since their growing season is comparatively short,but those of us who are not blessed with the four-season advantagesof greenhouses still have some work to do for our kitchen gardens this month.

The first thing to do is plan your garden’s layout. If this will be your first year at it, then you have the advantage of a clean slate. Those with previous gardens will first want to remember wherethe perennials, such as raspberry bushes or chives, are and then designthe garden around those things unless you care to take on the chore of moving them.

With your Seed Savers catalog in hand, and at least approximate measurements of your garden space understood, draw a layout of how you want your garden to look. Don’t worry that you feel as if you can’t draw; no one has to see or understand it but you. Keep in mind thedirection of the sun, what obstacles may block the light, and what kind of soil you have (more on soil next month). Also think about whatyou and your family will eat! No point in growing food no one in your house likes.

Now that you’ve completed your drawing, go back and pare it down. One is always ambitious when dreaming of spring.

Make a list of all those plants you just said you’d grow, then look for the ones that have long growing seasons—peppers, tomatoes,eggplant, and broccoli.  Chives are good to start if you don’talready have them planted; not because they take long to grow but becausethey don’t, and they do well outdoors in the early spring.

Invest a couple of dollars in a seedling tray or two—the kindwith the clear plastic lids—and a few pounds of rich, organic starting soil. Order your seeds (I prefer Seed Savers, of Decorah,at, then choose a warm spot in your house to startyour seeds according to package directions. I have even created sucha place by putting a heating pad under a couple of towels and placingthe seedling trays on that.  Don’t worry about the light,at first. You won’t need that until they actually sprout.

When you see the little stems pop up (length of time varies accordingto each plant) and the first two leaves appear, then it’s time to move them to a well-lit window or under a full-spectrum light.

By the time weather is warm, you’ll have plenty of plants to put into your well-tilled earth. More on that next time.