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Getting Ready for Spring by Garden Planning & Seed Starting

Here in the Mohawk Valley of upstate New York, where the winters are long and the growing season is short, seed starting for vegetable gardens is a great way to insure gardening success and expand your harvest. With a climate characterized by chilly springs and unpredictable frosts, starting seeds indoors offers gardeners a head start on the growing season. It also offers the advantages of the ability to grow rare and heritage varieties of vegetables as well as being more economical than purchasing started plants from nursery stores.

Depending upon what crops you chose to grow, seed starting can start as early as mid-February for onions and continues through late Spring to make sure that you have a succession of healthy plants to put into your garden.

seeds sprouting in containers.

If you have a stock of seeds from years past, take them out and make an inventory. If any are over three years old you will need to do a quick germination test to make sure that they are still viable. Click here to watch a demonstration of how to do that.

Create a plan! Make a list of the vegetables that you most like to grow and that your family likes to eat. With some graph paper and a ruler, make a diagram of your garden space and plan how much space you will need for each variety and where you will grow them. A great resource for choosing the best varieties of vegetables is the Cornell Varieties for New York Gardeners. Click here to download it for free.

If you didn’t clean up your garden in the fall, now is the time! Put most plant materials in your compost except for tomatoes. Because tomato plants often carry diseases, it is best to dispose of them separately.

Prepare for starting seeds indoors by gathering supplies and setting up a place to grow your plants. The seedlings will need light, warmth and containers to grow in.

  • Light is the most important factor. Even sunny windows do not provide enough light for successful growth. Grow lights or basic shop lights suspended about 4 inches above the growing plants will insure proper growth.
  • Seed starting temperatures need to 65-70 degrees to insure germination. Seed starting mats that warm your plants from below are available in home centers and on-line for low cost.
  • Obtain containers to grow your seeds in. There are a number of options including peat pots that can be planted directly into the soil, upcycled plastic containers and other options. Chose the type that best suits your garden needs.


Before beginning your seed starting adventure, create a calendar of when to start each variety of vegetable keeping in mind the date that you want to plant them in the ground. The chart below will help you keep yourself on schedule.

Happy gardening and be sure and check back here for more garden tips and if you have any questions or concerns about your garden contact Cornell Cooperative Extension at herkimer@cornell.edu