It’s now mid-February. If you live in one of the colder regions of the country, you might not be thinking about gardening yet. Temperatures are still below freezing and snow covers the garden. But you can get a jump on your spring planting by starting seedlings indoors. I suggest getting started about 6 to 8 weeks before the date you intend to transplant your seedlings to the garden.
Some plants are frost-hardy, and can be transplanted before all danger of a night-time frost has passed. Other plants must wait a little longer for transplanting, since they are not frost-tolerant. So start the more frost-tolerant plants indoors first, and wait a few weeks to start the rest of the plants. Frost-tolerant plants include Brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, etc.), carrots, lettuce, and some varieties of peas.
You can find the average last spring frost date for your area from this database: U.S. Climate Normals. Choose your State, and then, on the subsequent page, choose the city closest to your location.
1. Earlier Harvest: By starting the seeds indoors, one to two months before transplanting, you will benefit from an earlier harvest in the spring. If you are growing food for prepping and survival purposes, this early harvest can be crucial.
2. More Uniform Spacing of Plants: When you plant a crop by direct seeding, some of the seeds will not germinate. This makes for an uneven spacing of plants, and a less efficient use of soil and space. Direct seeding sometimes also puts plants too close together, resulting in competition for resources and slower growth. But when you transplant seedlings grown indoors, you can space the plants to as to make most efficient use of soil and space in the garden.
3. Stronger Plants: When it is time to transplant your seedlings, choose the largest and sturdiest plants. This results in a crop of stronger and healthier plants. You have culled the weaker seedlings out of the crop, and you have protected the plants from weeds, weather, and pests.
4. Faster Growth: The controlled temperature and moisture of indoor growing brings your plants from seed to seedling more quickly than if they were grown outdoors (especially in cool weather). So you not only get an earlier harvest, in terms of the calendar date, you also get a shorter growing season, from seed to harvest.
5. Higher Yields: All of the above factors result in higher yields. A stronger more uniformly planted crop offers a higher yield of produce. And the faster growth combined with an earlier harvest allows you to plant a second crop on that land sooner, obtaining more food per year on the same amount of land.