Finally, it’s that time of year again. Starting seeds indoors gives you a headstart to your spring garden. Starting seeds indoors also helps to get rid of the winter depression that sets in around mid January. I live in Zone 5, around Chicago, Illinois. The world around here takes on this grey color for about four months that’s kind of depressing. St Patrick’s Day marks the near end to winter for me and starting some seeds indoors means I’m ready for spring.
Hardiness zones is something to think about when you start your garden. The US has 11 hardiness zones. Zone 1 is the coldest with the least amount of frost free days. Zone 11 is the warmest with the most frost free days. Some plants need a lot of frost free days to grow so they can only grow in the hotter zones or you have to start them early indoors.
Vegetables and fruits have different requirements concerning cold days and hot days. For example, apples need aproximately 300-1000 hours of chill time below 45 degrees Farenheit AND 100-120 warm days to produce an apple. Requirements vary according to the species of apple tree.
Green peppers need aproximately 120 frost free warm days to produce a pepper. When the temperture starts to drop, the green pepper plant stops maturing fruit. This is why people in the colder zones start seeds indoors. If you want to mature a crop that takes 120 days to mature and you only have 120 frost free days in your zone, you need to start the seeds in a protected frost free environment to get a head start and produce more fruit.
Why do you need to know all this? Because when you make your list of plants you want to grow in your garden you need to know how long it takes to produce the crop. Then you will decide if you want to start them early with seeds or just buy already started plants from the store.
You will be able to grow more vegetables if you extend your growing days by starting seeds early. I always start the seeds of certain heat loving plants in January through March to get a good head start on those plants. Green pepper is one of those plants I love to grow but don’t have enough grow days to get a good crop.
I find that the plants offered around my home are limited in the varieties they offer. The variety I want is usually not offered as a plant so that’s another reason for me to start the plant with seeds indoors.
What Seeds Should I Start Indoors?
What seeds to start indoors depends on three things: 1) What do you want growing in your garden; 2) How long does it take the seed to grow and produce; 3) How many frost free days do you have in your growing zone. Chicago is Hardiness Zone 5. You can adjust any of my advice according to your hardiness growing zone.
So if you are in Zone 4, you are colder than me and your spring starts a little later. Zone 4 has less frost free days than Zone 5. If you are in Zone 6, you are a little warmer than me and your spring starts a little earlier. Zone 6 has more frost free days than Zone 5.
You can learn more about growing zones here. This is a map of the US growing zones:
First, what do you like to eat? What do you want to grow yourself rather than buy at the store? This is your first place to start. Make a list of the plants you want to grow in your garden. Maybe something you like to eat is expensive and it’s cheaper to grow your own. For example, green and red sweet peppers can be extremely expensive by me. I like to grow my own, chop them up and freeze them. Then I have a supply during the winter and I don’t have to pay those high prices.
Second, check how long each plant needs to grow and produce. Some plants need a longer growing season than I have in Zone 5. If I have a plant that needs 3 months to mature and produce then I need to start that seed earlier so my plant has a longer time to produce. I will get more food from that plant if I start it in the winter and have a 1-2 month plant to set out in the spring after the last frost.
Third, how many frost free days does the plant need to produce. Using the green pepper example, I know it takes aproximately 120 days for a green pepper seed to produce a pepper. So if I start my green peppers March 1st, and grow indoors until my last frost date (May 15 in Zone 5), my plants will be growing 75 days already when I plant them. I should have some peppers in aproximately 45 days later which is around the end of July, rather than late September. If I start those seeds February 1st, I should have some peppers by the end of June or early July. All this is taken into consideration when starting seeds indoors.
These are tomotaes and medicinal herbs growing in March. Here’s a list of ten medicinal herbs I start from seeds indoors.
My indoor growing area is in the bathtub in my bedroom. That’s all I have so that’s what I use. Someday I’ll have that greenhouse! I put my lighted grow shelves in the bathtub and place my trays of seeds on the shelves. One time I started pumpkins a little too early. The vines started roaming around and had no place to go. My bathroom was a jungle! The plants ended up dying so now I remember to not start them too early.
Here is my dining room:
Soon these shelves will be full too. My house is being taken over by cups of seeds!
Start your seeds indoors today!