February is a busy month for those that start their vegetable gardens from seed. Those popular home-grown crops of tomatoes and peppers need to be sown 6 to 8 weeks before planting time. Our average last frost date falls between April 8th and April 15th, depending on the percent chance of frost accepted. Count back 8 weeks from then, and here we are!

Not all vegetable crops are created equal, so check the HGIC website to determine the ideal time to sow each species. Some crops, like beans, lettuce, beets, carrot, corn, and others, are best sown directly into the garden soil. However, for tomatoes and peppers, a good indoor set up will bring success! One distinct advantage to growing from seed is the wide selection of cultivars available. Come planting time, a seed gardener does not have to shop around to find the cultivar they really wanted, only to find out it is not available. Growing from seed also allows for greater control over planting time. A seed gardener can schedule their sowing to have the transplants ready earlier than the local nursery might have plants available. On the other hand, the commitment of resources, time, and space required to raise transplants from seed indoors is somewhat of a disadvantage.

Seeds are tiny packages of potential, but they do need a good start. The elements required to start seeds indoors are light, heat, substrate, and moisture. Adequate light is very important, and for most, that will mean using a fluorescent light fixture or grow light. Although room temperature does fall within the range of most crops’ requirements for germination, additional heat can speed things along. Using a heat mat can help seedlings of crops like tomato and pepper grow more quickly. It’s critical to use a sterile growing medium to avoid the pests and diseases in garden soil that might attack the seedlings. There are many options on the market, from peat pellets to seed starting mixes. Seedlings need an evenly moist growing medium for success. They require some attention to ensure they don’t drown in too much water or dry out for lack of it. For more information about growing from seed, see HGIC 1259, Starting Seeds Indoors and https://hgic.clemson.edu/faqs-about-starting-vegetable-seeds-indoors/.

Clemson Extension continues to serve South Carolina while observing COVID-19 precautions for employees and the public. County agents and staff are available to assist clients through telephone, email, and virtual platforms. Contact me at stepht@clemson.edu, or 864-889-0541. The Greenwood County Extension office will now be accepting soil samples via a drop box outside the office. You may pick up soil sample bags and forms located on the wall behind the drop box at the Clemson Extension Service, 105 North University Street, Greenwood, S.C. Complete the soil form and attach it to your soil bag and drop both into the box. We will contact you for electronic payment over the phone. No cash or check payments can be accepted in the drop box! Samples will not be sent to the lab until electronic payment is confirmed. Alternately, you may mail your sample, soil form, and check or money order payment directly to the lab address on the form. Call us with any further questions at 864-223-3264. Our Clemson Home and Garden Information Center is available online at hgic.clemson.edu. Visit our Facebook page at facebook.com/GreenwoodCoExtension where we will be posting timely information. Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.

Stephanie Turner is the Greenwood County horticulture agent for Clemson Cooperative Extension.