It might still be winter outside, but inside it’s time to plant.
It’s hard to believe when you look outdoors, but it’s less than two months until May, when the danger of frost finally disappears and growing season officially begins — although it will probably feel like 50-some long, excruciating days of torture if you are a gardener.
So yield to temptation and purchase a few of those alluring seed packets at the store.
Planting from seeds isn’t hard, said John Porter of Nebraska Extension. He loves it, although he has a head start after doing his master’s work in plant propagation.
“One of my favorite parts was starting new plants,” he said.
Apparently others like it, too, because seed sales are thriving.
“The number of people growing fruits and vegetables is increasing,” Porter said. “It’s actually a generational thing. The number of millennials who are gardening has increased, but they’re growing mainly fruits and vegetables.”
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Planting seeds not only gives you a jump on the gardening season, it can be cheaper than buying plants and offer greater variety.
Just don’t go crazy buying equipment until you are sure this method is for you. It can be challenging for rookies.
Porter took some time from his seed planting to answer a few questions.
A: The first thing is to buy your seeds. Check out the packet for information, such as how many weeks before the last frost date you need to start. Count back from that date, and proceed if it’s in the ballpark for when you need to start. If you have too many seeds to plant, the freezer is the best place to store them. It is dry, as well. Or get together with friends and neighbors and share seeds. I see that a lot in the farming community.
Q: Are some seeds easier to plant than others?
A: Some of the easiest stuff would be like squash and cucumbers. Tomatoes aren’t too difficult. They are usually people’s first seed-starting adventures. People grow way more tomatoes than anything else.
Q: What do I plant the seeds in?
A: I always recommend using the seed starting mix because it’s sterile, which is important. If you use potting or garden soil or compost, there can be some fungal diseases in there that will kill the seedling or cause it to decompose. You can use lot of different containers. Some like to buy black plastic trays with individual cells. Or you can use yogurt containers or takeout containers. I recommend people not start their seeds in individual containers, but sewing multiple ones in bigger containers. You transplant to individual containers after they have come up.
Q: When would you move them to an individual container?
A: Once they get their first set of true leaves. The first two little leaves, those are the seed leaves. Once they get their second set — it looks more like a mature leaf — that’s when you transplant. Work it loose from the soil, using a spoon or chopstick. Pull it up by the leaves. Leaves can regrow, but if you crush the stem, it cannot. Move them over to a smaller container with potting soil at the same depth. It can be a process that requires some skill and a gentle touch. But they are not as delicate as some people think they are.
Q: Why do you need to move them anyhow?
A: You can leave them in a seed starting mix, but there is no fertility in there. There’s not enough nutrition. You would have to really heavily fertilize them. If you start more than you need, share them with friends and colleagues. We do that here at the office all the time.
Q: Why is temperature so important?
A: Starting them at the right temperature gets them germinating faster. The faster you can get them germinating, the faster you get success. Around 75 degrees is the temperature you want to get going at maximum speed. Going warmer doesn’t mean more success. After you’ve transplanted them, putting them at 65 degrees or less will keep them from getting as leggy. You want the growth to be slower so they’ll be stronger and more compact.
Q: Do you have to have a light source to be successful?
A: Most things germinate without light. Wait until they are going to give them light. In the beginning, the key factor is temperature. It can be a darker place, but it but needs to be a warmer place. The warmest place in your house is actually on top of your refrigerator. Or you can invest in a seed warmer. It’s basically like a heating pad for plants. Once they’ve been transplanted, make sure they are getting light.
Q: How do I move them outside?
A: Once it’s getting closer to planting time, you want to move them outside to harden them off. It’s a very stark difference between inside and outside. Inside is low light and high humidity, and outside is high light and low humidity. Evenings are too cold to leave them outside. Take them out during the day and bring them in at night. If you have a protected area up against the foundation of the house that releases heat overnight, you could leave them out in that protected area. Do that for a week or two.
Q: Is there anything that is critical to the success of your baby plants?
A: How often you water them. Keep them moist, but not wet. I guess that’s one of the arts of seed starting. If you keep the soil too wet, that can result in root damage and disease. Let the soil dry slightly between waterings.
Q: How do you finally plant them outside?
A: Once you’ve determined that the temperatures are stable and warm enough not to damage your plants and you’ve hardened them off, feel free to plant them. You’ll want to break up the roots so they’ll expand outward — but that action plus the transition will cause your plant to undergo a little shock.
You’ll want to water them well and keep an eye on them for a week or so — they’re especially sensitive to drying out, extreme temperatures and even high sunlight levels and wind until they’ve had time to establish their roots. You might notice a little wilting or yellowing, but keeping them watered can help get them established and growing in no time.
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Rain clouds and a bit of a rainbow roll over the sky in the Millard area of Omaha on Aug. 16, 2016. RYAN SODERLIN/THE WORLD-HERALD
The sun sets behind a center pivot located north of Red Cloud, Nebraska, on July 27, 2006. MATT MILLER/THE WORLD-HERALD
Storm clouds hide the sun as it sets over Nebraska's Sandhills on July 7, 2009, near Thedford, Nebraska. JEFF BEIERMANN/THE WORLD-HERALD
A summer storm passes north of Rose, Nebraska, on June 10, 2007. MATT MILLER/THE WORLD-HERALD
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Icicles form on vines in downtown Omaha as winter weather returns to the area on Feb. 24, 2017. RYAN SODERLIN/THE WORLD-HERALD
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The sunsets behind Chimney Rock National Historic Site on May 3, 2017, east of Scottsbluff, Nebraska. RYAN SODERLIN/THE WORLD-HERALD
Members of the Boats, Bikes, Boots & Brews group head to shore as the sun sets after an evening out on Lake Zorinsky in Omaha on April 22, 2015. The group came together through the meetup.com website. REBECCA S. GRATZ/THE WORLD-HERALD
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A layer of fog covers the Missouri River near the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge on Feb. 5, 2015, in Omaha. RYAN SODERLIN/THE WORLD-HERALD
A setting sun creates a pink haze on a windmill and the Sand Hills on a late summer day southwest of Rushville, Nebraska, on Sept. 22, 2007. MATT MILLER/THE WORLD-HERALD
Pigeons scatter at sunset as the St. John's steeple is silhouetted against the Woodmen Tower in downtown Omaha on Oct. 3, 2014. MARK DAVIS/THE WORLD-HERALD
The sun bursts behind the clouds over the North Platte River east of Bridgeport, Nebraska, on July 26, 2006. MATT MILLER/THE WORLD-HERALD
Steve Jobman, a farmer south of Minatare, Nebraska, cuts alfalfa after sunset on June 2, 2004. MATT MILLER/THE WORLD-HERALD
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From left: Melody Borcherding, Kseniya Burgoon and Michael Beltz scoop out a vehicle on Jan. 23, 2018, in Norfolk, Nebraska. A blizzard pounded Norfolk with high winds and heavy, wet snow. RYAN SODERLIN/THE WORLD-HERALD
Jeff Bachman harvests soybeans and prepares to transfer them as the sun sets on a field near Ayr, Nebraska, on Oct. 19, 2008.
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A pair of sandhill cranes pass in front of the moon shortly after sunrise at the Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary near Gibbon, Nebraska, on March 13, 2012. Sandhill cranes, which mate for life, can live between 20 and 40 years.
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The moon rises above the corn as farmers harvest the last of their fields in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa on Nov. 5, 2014. MARK DAVIS/THE WORLD-HERALD
Two riders help round up part of the 750 head of cattle branded at the Lute Family Ranch, located south of Hyannis, Nebraska, on May 12, 2005. Mick Knott, who runs the ranch, owns about half the cattle, and the Lute Foundation owns the rest. The work started about dawn and finished about noon. MATT MILLER/THE WORLD-HERALD
The rising sun illuminates a tree and a windmill in a snow- covered field along U.S. Highway 20 between Rushville and Chadron, Nebraska, on March 1, 2017. RYAN SODERLIN/THE WORLD-HERALD
The College Home Run Derby was held at TD Ameritrade Park and was highlighted by The World-Herald's annual independence day fireworks display on July 2, 2015. MARK DAVIS/THE WORLD-HERALD
Fog rises from the Missouri River and covers the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge on Jan. 5, 2010. Temperatures were close to 20 degrees below zero as the area remains in the middle of a cold snap. CHRIS MACHIAN/THE WORLD HERALD
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Deer chill out at Chalco Hills Recreation Area on Feb. 22, 2018, in Omaha. RYAN SODERLIN/THE WORLD-HERALD
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A runner emerges from the edge of the rising sun on Sept. 11, 2015, at Zorinsky Lake Park and Recreation Area in Omaha. RYAN SODERLIN/THE WORLD-HERALD
Nearly 45 minutes after sunset an orange and blue glow is seen setting behind the Omaha skyline flanked between trees in Council Bluffs on Jan. 11, 2018. BRENDAN SULLIVAN/THE WORLD-HERALD
Raindrops collect on a flower following early showers on May 10, 2017, in Millard. RYAN SODERLIN/THE WORLD-HERALD
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A crescent moon sets behind the UNO bell tower in Omaha on Nov. 6, 2013. MARK DAVIS/THE WORLD-HERALD
Ralph Remmert is depicted in the mural "Fertile Ground" near 13th and Mike Fahey Streets in north downtown Omaha on June 19, 2017. MATT MILLER/THE WORLD-HERALD
Ralph Kohler, 94, keeps his eyes to the sky for ducks and geese as the sun rises over his hunting pond east of Tekamah, Nebraska, on Nov. 30, 2011. Kohler has been a professional guide for most of his life, and he is preparing for the spring season. MATT MILLER/THE WORLD-HERALD
The sun rises over St. Paul Lutheran Church, located three miles north of Republican City, Nebraska, in March 2004. JEFF BEIERMANN/THE WORLD-HERALD