While it’s too early to plant outdoor vegetable gardens, now is the perfect time to start growing cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, onions, radishes, peppers and early tomatoes indoors. To prevent diseases associated with growing in a warm, humid environment, Johnson County Extension horticulture agent Dennis Patton suggests using a seed starting mix or high-quality potting soil.

We want to be very cautious, maybe not introduce any pathogens from our traditional garden soil or compost we’ve made,” said Patton. “We’d rather go with some of these sterile potting seed starting mixes.”

In order to produce short, stocky transplants, starter plants need artificial light. Fluorescent shop lights, positioned within three-to-six inches of the plants,work best. However, Patton says they need to be kept on a majority of the time.

“Some people just leave them on 24-7, which is just fine for growing a transplant,” said Patton. “Other people will maybe put a timer on their light fixtures and maybe run the lights for 14, 16 hours a day, and then let the plants go through a rest period at night, mimicking more what a traditional day would be.”

There are three phases, or stages, to starting seeds: germination, growth and hardening off. Patton says hardening off involves moving the plants outside to acclimate to real-world conditions over a seven-to-10 day period.

“Expose them to more and more sunlight, more harsh winds,” said Patton. “You get to a point where you have this more durable, sturdy transplant that will take, you know, whatever a Kansas spring throws at it, which could be, you know, wind…let’s hope for rain…whatever condition it is, these plants will just be that much more durable and ready to thrive out in the garden.”

K-State Research and Extension has a number of publications and videos available online to help gardeners of all skill levels.To find out more, go to: www.ksre.ksu.eduor stop by any county or district Extension office.