What's a gardener to do when they're trying to stretch a buck and the growing season? Be strategic with what crops you start from seed. For Northwest gardeners, the pre-season is too precious to waste. Start these six summer crops indoors so you're ready to plant (and they're ready to grow) when Mother Nature finally warms to the idea.
Early Bird Gets the Heirloom
Tomatoes are the most popular garden plant in America. Grow several varieties—early-, mid- and late-season fruiting—for a prolonged harvest.
GROWING GUIDE: Start tomato seeds inside 6–8 weeks before the last frost date. The "date-to-maturity" on the seed pack indicates the time from planted seedling to harvested fruit—not from seed germination to fruit. Keep this in mind and add a few weeks for your seed-starting adventure.
No More Zukes!
There's an old Seattle joke about having so much zucchini at the height of summer that you can't give it away. While it's true that zucchini plants can be prolific, I find there's always a neighbor in need of a courgette or two, or 12.
GROWING GUIDE: Start your zucchini seeds 4–5 weeks before last frost. Don't be fooled by the diminutive size of the seedlings when you're garden planning—mature plants can be can be 5-feet across by summer's end.
Popeye Would Be Proud
A whole heap of leafy greens come to mind as great seed-starting material. Spinach is a good bet for the cooler nights of early spring. Harvest continuously to delay bolting once the heat hits.
GROWING GUIDE: Spinach can be direct-sown into the garden or started indoors. If you're having trouble getting the seeds to germinate inside, consider a heat mat or use slightly warm water for the first few days after sowing.
Bippity Boppity Bloom
There's nothing quite as romantic as a pumpkin. Think of all the magic that surrounds the humble gourd! Consider, too, that you'll have a 20-foot behemoth vining its way through your garden.
GROWING GUIDE: Some people say you should sow pumpkin seeds directly in the ground. I say, our growing season is short as it is. For Jack-o-lantern-worthy pumpkins by Halloween, use a heat mat and jump-start your seeds 2–3 weeks before the projected last-frost date.
All veggies love sun but peppers absolutely need it. If you're high in energy and low on sun, consider raising your peppers in pots. Portable peppers make chasing the summer sun that much easier.
GROWING GUIDE: Start seeds indoors 8–10 weeks early. When thinning the sprouts, leave two together in one pot. The mature plants will help shade each other from sun scald.
No Ice Cukes, Please
There is a cuke for everyone: Pickling varieties are thin-skinned and short; slicing cucumbers are long, with a rind; Asian cucumbers are thin and long, with very-thin skin. Take your pick!
GROWING GUIDE: Start cucumber seeds indoors on a heat mat 2–3 weeks before the last frost. Cukes hate the cold and seedlings can die if they're placed outside too early. Use a plastic mulch once they're in the ground to trap heat and moisture.