K-State Extension
The winter season provides necessary respite to many farmer and gardeners in this region who are so active during the growing season. It can be as important to rest the mind from garden tasks as it is with the body. When the first seed catalogs of the season show up in the mailbox, coupled with a few abnormally warm winter days, imaginations take flight and the first work of spring planting begins: planning.
Despite the fact that gardeners don’t seed most cool-season crops until early February (six to eight weeks before the last frost) there are still a few errands to take up over the holiday break to lighten the load later.
Whether it’s a fresh 2020 Farmer’s Almanac or the calendar app on an iPhone, gardeners begin pulling out those calendars. Marking seeding dates now will mean that plants are ready to transplant to the garden at the proper time. To do this work, most gardeners select a transplant date for a particular fruit or vegetable, and count back the number of weeks necessary to grow it. Onions are one of the first vegetables to be seeded for transplanting and then broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and leafy greens.
To secure seed, most gardeners order planting material early, especially for rare or new varieties. From bare root fruit trees to potatoes and beyond, supplies are limited for many favorites. Seeds can be stored in a cool, dark and dry place—in the refrigerator using an air-tight container with a dry paper towel to absorb moisture. Using saved garden seed is a great option but even in best conditions seed only remains viable for about three years. Germination decreases more quickly in the carrot family, e.g. parsnips and parsley.
Once  the garden bench, rack or shelf has been cleared off, it’s time to clean out seed starting containers (i.e. trays and flats). Used plastic containers can be sterilized by rinsing off the debris and soaking in bleach or other food-safe disinfectants for 30 minutes, then rinsed before reuse. The best soil will be specifically formulated for seed germination, usually containing a mixture of peat moss and shredded pine. A heating mat and a thermostat regulator can be very helpful to assist with germination.
Although most plants will germinate in either darkness or light, artificial light stimulates growth once emergence occurs. Even a south-facing windowsill is not enough to grow a great transplant. Most gardeners who are growing their starts are using ordinary shop lights that are available from any home supply or hardware store (T5 bulbs are recommended). Some growers will replace bulbs every couple of years as the brightness does diminish with use. LED strips can be more durable, energy-efficient and are increasingly affordable. Chains or another method can be used to raise or lower the height of the light as the plants grow.  An outlet timer can be a nice addition to ensure 14 to 16 hour periods of light each day when the time comes to start seedlings.
Planning now makes planting time more prosperous.