Seed-Starting: Online Help

– Posted in: Seeds and Seed Starting, Spreadsheets in Gardening

Boxes of seeds, sorted by year

Before I could order seeds, I had to see what I had on hand.

Several years ago I decided to quit starting plants (ornamental and edible) indoors from seed. It was always a great way to appease my impatience for spring’s arrival, but a seedling massacre occurred every May, as my attention was diverted to the many garden tasks outdoors needing completion. Inevitably, I’d forget to water, or take too long to pot on or plant, leaving me rather dismayed and frustrated by wilted and potbound seedlings. Not exactly a great way to save money by doing it myself. Part of what enabled me to quit was the fact that my eldest daughter was old enough–and willing–to take on the job. But now she is at a different place in her life, and I find the job falling to me again–and whoever I can press into service.
5 gallon bucket of seed starting medium

We have a five gallon bucket with a tight fitting lid that stores our pre-moistened seed starting medium.

I’ve had to relearn a lot of what I once knew. Fortunately, there are plenty of online resources to help me get back up to speed. I really like the spreadsheet available at the top of the right sidebar at Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Once you’ve got it downloaded and unzipped on your local hard drive, you just enter your frost-free date and it tells you when to start the seeds of many common vegetables, and also when to plant the transplants in the garden. I change the date depending on whether or not the vegetable can take a little bit of cold. For example, for lettuce I use a May 31st day, because that’s about as early as I can expect our frost free season to start. However, for tomatoes, basil, and other finnicky crops, I use June 7th as my frost free date, because that’s about the latest we’ve ever had a frost. Unfortunately, this spreadsheet doesn’t yet include vegetables that are direct seeded, such as carrots and beans. I’ve been told by someone at the company that these will be included in a future version.

Just about every seed company out there has helpful information on their online site. I learned about the Johnny’s Seed spreadsheet from this newsletter published by the National Garden Bureau. It has links to the seed starting information provided by member seed companies. It wouldn’t surprise me if you found some conflicting information if you compared advice from all the various firms. Growing plants isn’t an exact science, and it also varies depending on climate. That’s why I was particularly happy to find the spreadsheet at Johnny’s, whose climate is pretty similar to my own.

Seeds sown in containers

The leeks are in the back. In the foreground are columbine seeds that will chill out on the porch.

So far, I’ve only started leeks, and they haven’t sprouted yet. I’ve also sown nodding onion (Allium cernuum) and two kinds of columbine. They went out to the porch, where the cold temperatures should help them break dormancy so they can sprout.

How about you? Have any of you cold climate gardeners started seeds indoors yet?

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Debbie April 14, 2010, 8:23 pm

On the site
she has a couple of downloads which include spring, fall and herb planting schedules. She also includes when to transplant the seedlings and when to direct sow. I have found it invaluable as this is my first year to grow from seed. It is printed out as a little booklet form. I calculated my frost date counted backwards and entered it on the top. I actually cut the booklet apart, pasted it to recipe file cards and put it into a memory box with the appropriate seeds behind each. I the check each week to see what needs to be planted. Hope this helps you with the direct sowing bit.

Kathy Purdy April 14, 2010, 9:54 pm

I will have to check that out sometime. I have a similar seed file box. What I liked about Johnny’s spreadsheet is you could change the date at the top, and all the other dates change automatically.

Andrea Twombly April 6, 2010, 5:49 pm

Johnny’s was a favorite seed catalog of mine for years and years. A few years ago, however, we decided to try FEDCO. They have nearly unbeatable prices, and I like their philosophy on who they will buy seeds from and who they will not buy seeds from. I won’t name names, but you can check for yourself. We stopped buying from FEDCO because low price or not, I was not happy with the germination failure rate. We plant both seeds and and seedlings. My husband is far more disciplined about this than I am, and I am sure that if it were up to me alone, it would be seedlings all they way, which would be limited, sad to say. I have a hankering to take over a couple of beds and add some blueberry bushes. Probably just a sign of my age. This is the second year we will have gotten our seeds from Kitchen Garden Seeds, and aside from the tomato blight last year, we were happy with the results.
.-= Andrea Twombly´s last blog ..As I Passed the Magnolia Tree =-.

Kathy Purdy April 7, 2010, 8:26 am

That is interesting. We have been using Fedco for years and have never had any trouble with germination, even with older seed. Is Kitchen Garden as strict as Fedco on the kinds of seeds they sell?

commonweeder April 6, 2010, 1:25 pm

Oh yes, seed starting has started. Last week I started seeds for cosmos, parsley, zinnias, lettuce, broccoli, and stocks. I probably left out a couple of things. Yesterday I planted sweet peas and sugar snap peas out in the Potager, and lettuce and spinach in the new Front Garden. Today I have a soft rain, perfect for those newly planted seeds. Lots more seeds to start. Soon.
.-= commonweeder´s last blog ..The Color of Spring =-.

kerri April 6, 2010, 12:45 pm

Oh yes, I have 3 shelves of seeds started and more out on the covered porch. Looking after them and getting them planted is far too much work, but I can’t seem to help myself. It’s worth it though for the feeling of actually planting something! Besides, I have these wonderful shelves that my enabler….er, husband made for me last year. Can’t possibly waste them 🙂
Happy spring, Kathy!
.-= kerri´s last blog ..Easter Blessings =-.

Rose April 5, 2010, 9:20 pm

I think I must be an eternal optimist because this year I have trays of seeds all over the place, even though my indoor seed starting has been less than successful the past two years. I’m hoping this year will be different. Thanks for the tip on Johnny’s; I’ve been doing a lot of web surfing for info on seeds this year.
.-= Rose´s last blog ..Garden Muse Day: Spring Delights =-.

Dirty Girl Gardening April 4, 2010, 10:54 am

I really need to do this… and get them on a calendar or something, too. Nice post.

Rachel Greenhouse April 2, 2010, 12:24 pm

I have! And I blogged about it yesterday… ( :

Thanks for the info about the spreadsheet…I didn’t know that existed. I have a lot of shade, so I don’t have a vegetable garden, but my neighbor does! I will share the info with her.
.-= Rachel Greenhouse´s last blog ..Ready, set, grow! =-.

Garden Kneeling Pad April 2, 2010, 5:19 am

I do like Liz, always buy transplants from the store and it works fine.

Meghan: great comment. The temperature in your basement room are 50? That’s too cold isn’t?
.-= Garden Kneeling Pad´s last blog ..Quality Gardening Knee Pads =-.

Kara April 1, 2010, 5:35 pm

We’re in Zone 4a and I have a few veg and some flowers started. But there will be a lot more started in another week or so.

Melanie Watts April 1, 2010, 10:10 am

I started Tomatoes, dill, lemon balm and peppers last week. I usually start a lot of flowers, perennials and annuals , as well. But this year I’m going away. I didn’t want to leave to much for my daughter to look after. The spreadsheet sounds interesting.

Tina March 31, 2010, 5:01 pm

Started seeds yet? Oh, heck, yes. Tons.
I use this : Grow Guide
I haven’t found an easier or more accurate one yet, and it gives you harden and transplant dates besides. Plus, the site itself gives you tons of info on each veg.
.-= Tina´s last blog ..WinterSown Sprouts =-.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter March 31, 2010, 3:04 pm

Seedling massacre is precisely what happens when I try to start seeds indoors. I’ve given up and only direct sow now or sow in containers stored outdoors.
.-= Mr. McGregor’s Daughter´s last blog ..Month End Views & We Have a Winner =-.

YDavis March 31, 2010, 1:50 pm

Hi there! I’m new to your blog, I have been silently follow your blog for the past week. I am also in the upstate NY region.
Yes, I have started some of my seeds(hot peppers, onions, asian greens and some tomatoes) will be starting some more this weekend. I will probably plant some peas out this weekend.

.-= YDavis´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday from me, not June =-.

Lynn March 31, 2010, 1:40 pm

I hear you on the May seedling massacre! all too well…
I’m trying it again though, for now with all perennials that are outside right now getting their cold treatment. I use the milk jug/soda bottle method, and must have 15 or so going. I may be in trouble when it comes to potting up time without a plan and a LOT more little pots on hand. I’d really like to do leeks, but better get on that quick. The first seed starting chart I found was on, and she has many good how-tos as well. Good luck little seeds!
.-= Lynn´s last blog ..I feel the earth move =-.

Marge @ National Garden Bureau March 31, 2010, 11:48 am

Thank you for linking the National Garden Bureau’s Newsletter to your post. We hope that many readers take advantage of the information that NGB has available. Personally, I am starting some vegetables and flowers from seed this year. It is very exciting to see watermelon, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplants and even peppers starting to grow. I’m looking forward to planting them outside.

Liz March 31, 2010, 11:17 am

I’m a wimp and always buy transplants from the store. Someday I’ll get up the nerve to try starting them.

Hilda M. Morrill March 31, 2010, 8:44 am

Hi Kathy,

Your post reminds me that I have not yet taken my new mini-greenhouse out of its box. Maybe after the Easter guests leave? ~ Hilda

Dee @ Red Dirt Ramblings March 30, 2010, 8:43 pm

Great post Kathy. I feel like I have to re-learn everything every year, but like muscle memory it all comes back. 🙂 ~~Dee
.-= Dee @ Red Dirt Ramblings´s last blog ..Dear Friends and Gardeners, March 29, 2010 =-.

Meghan March 30, 2010, 6:30 pm

Way too many… I went a little nuts this year, after holding myself back to just some store-bought tomatoes and peppers last year. I started my tomatoes and sweet peppers two weeks ago, and the hot peppers 4 weeks ago (it should have been this weekend by my calendar… but our spring is 6 weeks advanced so I decided to plunge in). What’s probably saving me so far is that the temperature in the basement room they’re in hovers around 50… so cold that i’m having trouble getting the sweet peppers to germinate at all (my low-powered heat mat just can’t get them quite warm enough; fortunately the hot peppers and tomatoes were less finicky). So even after 4 weeks of growth, the hot peppers are just starting to get their first pairs of real leaves.

The onions, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower are yearning to get planted outside but I don’t have their bed ready yet. Hopefully tonight!! The lettuce I started because I needed to see something green has already been unceremoniously stuck in the mud in the one spot in the yard I had chicken wire up; I don’t know if it’ll survive but I’ll be direct-seeding more once I can get the new bed ready. So far it’s been fine through two weeks of temperatures fluctuating between 20 and 60 degrees – the early leaves wilted and died, but new tougher leaves are coming up on every single plant.

I’m afraid of April and May though… like you, it’s all too possible that I’ll be so busy getting the outdoor spaces ready that my poor seedlings will run out of space and get sickly before I get back to them. The hot peppers are already looking crowded in their tiny 1″ seed-starting space; I didn’t have enough space to start them all in 4″ pots like I had planned back in December… (and still don’t have space, what will I do? I’m actually toying with the idea of moving them to 4″ pots and then spending the next 2 months carrying them outside every day that’s warm enough so they can get sunlight… yeah, like that’ll happen…)

Anyway, at my house the runaway seed-starting-because-I-wanted-green hasn’t QUITE gone bad yet but I feel like I’m keeping my balance only by running really really fast!

Cyndy March 30, 2010, 3:20 pm

Oh yes – we’ve got some cherry tomatoes for containers, herbs for a roof-gardening son, red and black kale, salvia transsylvanica, dahlias – surprisingly easy from seed! Lots of stuff to be direct sown, like cosmos and nasturtium varieties, and new this year, borage. Also daylilies from seed collected from a bright orange variety. Even if they don’t all make it, the process is fun:)
.-= Cyndy´s last blog ..Pansies =-.