The growing season in the Chicago area encourages the Chicago gardener to start seeds indoors before the season begins. It can take three months for tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables to grow and ripen enough to eat, so it makes sense to start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost date. It’s also fun to watch seeds germinate and grow inside as you plan your garden.
You can use advanced growing systems, greenhouse kits, cold frames or even a greenhouse in which to start seeds. You can also use inexpensive plastic flats or paper or plastic cups on open trays. You can use grow lights on garden carts or place your open trays in a light, warm room. You decide. You will need good quality starting mix in which to plant your seeds and a clean, spray bottle to water the seeds. A transparent cover and a small quantity of sand will be helpful.
The Farmer’s Almanac recommends starting broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, pepper and tomato seeds February 22 to March 8. Start lettuce seeds March 8-23. Start cucumbers, melons, pumpkins and summer and winter squash March 23 to April 6.
To plant, fill pots or cups having drainage holes with moist starting mix. Sow two or three seeds to a pot. Mix tiny seeds with a small amount of sand to make the seeds easier to see. Spray lightly with water, but don’t allow the pots to become waterlogged. Prop up the transparent cover about two inches above the seeds.
The last frost date in Chicago can occur between April 20 and May 1. Note the low temperatures for a month. If they remain at 40°F., it’s safe to plant your seedlings outside.
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