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Are you prepared for spring? There have been rumors on Facebook of the first snowdrops appearing in Central Illinois.

For many vegetable gardeners, the garden is full of warm-season vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, corn and squash. However, cool-season vegetables are grown in early spring and seed starting starts soon.

Beginning in March, vegetable gardeners can start seeds of brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, kale, collards, kohlrabi, etc.), parsley and lettuce for an ample harvest well before other vegetable gardeners even till the soil.

Seed starting steps:

  • Choose seeds, and read the germination requirements on the back of the package to determine seeding schedule for all garden plants. Some seeds germinate faster than other seeds. This information is crucial when timing your plants to be ready for the garden. For instance, cucumber, melon, squash, radish, beets, herbs and peas germinate faster than broccoli, cabbage, pepper, tomatoes, eggplant and Brussels sprouts.
  • Fill plug trays with a high-quality germination mix composed of peat moss, vermiculite and/or perlite. Tap trays on hard surface to ensure all air spaces are filled.
  • Use finger to create indention in the soil. Place two seeds per cell. The general rule of thumb is to bury the seed the same depth as the size of the seed; a 1:1 ratio. This information will also be on the seed package. Either sprinkle a thin layer of germination mix on top of the seeds or push seed down with the tip of a pencil.
  • Use spray bottle to finely mist water onto the soil media until saturated.
  • Cover with glass, clear plastic, or plastic wrap, tucking under the sides of the plug tray to ensure moist conditions at all times. Remove covering daily, and only spritz the cells that have dried out. Laying newspaper over seed will keep in the heat needed for germination.
  • Place the plug tray on heating pads, or place lights over them to emit extra heat at time of seeding. The optimal heat for germinating seed is 77 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a thermometer to determine the temperature of your rooting media.
  • Once one seed has germinated, remove cover to prevent damping off (fungal disease) of young seedlings.

Congratulations, you will have germinated seeds like a real professional.

Lettuce can be transplanted in the middle of March as soon as the soil is workable and above 40 degrees. Brassicas and parsley can be transplanted five weeks from planting seed and April 1.

Kelly Allsup is the University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator in Livingston, McLean and Woodford counties.