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When to Start Seeds Indoors for your Summer Vegetable Garden

These sunny days in the winter make me yearn for spring. All the usual seed vendors on island are displaying gorgeous, mouth-watering and eye-popping packs of seeds of everything from Arugula to Watermelons.  But don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s actually time to plant seeds indoors! 

Several bloggers, garden writers and even The Old Farmer’s Almanac online have been posting links to this particular planting calendar.  Never mind that when I typed in our zip code, Edgartown, MA popped up, but I suppose the creators felt that every island off the coast of Massachusetts has the same environment when it comes to spring weather.  While it’s not completely wrong, I think our spring weather has a tendency to be more brutal than the weather over on that other island! Some years, I’ve seen more garden damage occur in April than occurs through the whole winter. However, the published calendar is just a guide, and merely suggests the first dates when you should plant your seeds inside or outside. 

The best time to start seeds indoors is directly related to date of the last frost.  Most seed packages will come with some instructions, like “Sow indoors 4-6 weeks before the last frost.”  The sow date allows for enough time for your seeds to germinate and grow to a transplantable size before it’s time to put them outside.  But when that last frost will actually occur can vary wildly from year to year.  Weather sources indicate that there is a 50% chance that we will be frost free after April 27th.  But I remember a year with an island-wide hard freeze (18 degrees!) on May 18th! Yet other years are completely frost free by early or mid-April. 

If you are an optimist (and what gardener isn’t?) go ahead and start your seeds according to the calendar.  If you do this, you may increase your chances of getting the first red tomato or the earliest ear of corn. If you are a pragmatist, start your seeds early, and then start another batch about two weeks later.  And if you are a die-hard gardener who lives on-island into the fall, start one more batch two weeks after that!  Your seeding area will be overflowing and baby plants will be residing on every windowsill until you can get those plants outside.  If all three crops survive, you will have not only the earliest tomatoes, but you will still be harvesting late in the season.  You may even have produce past the point there you say “What am I going to do with all these vegetables?”  But I have never reached that point.  Can you really ever have too many vegetables?