Winter in Maine this year continues to be a rather mild one. We only have a few inches of snowcover on the ground and the temperatures have been above normal. Around this time last year we had 3-feet of snow. Outside the garden continues to rest under it's winter blanket, but inside the garden planning continues with the seed starting schedule.
Once I completed the garden layout and determined how many seedlings to plan on, I developed a seed starting schedule to help keep me organized. A seed-starting schedule provides a guideline of when to sow seeds and when to transplant seedlings the garden.
The key information to establishing the seed-starting schedule is the last expected frost date for your area. This date will be used as a starting point for your schedule.
There are various sources of finding the date such as asking your neighbors, your local nursery, extension office, or enter your zip code here at PlantMaps.com. Don't become too concerned if you find that different sources provide you with slightly different last expected frost dates. It is only an estimate and may vary from different sources, year-to-year, or even from one side of town to another. Select the average date among the sources.
I use GoogleDocs and set up a spreadsheet with the following headers: Description, # of plants, Seed Starting Date, Actual Seed Starting Date, Germination Date, Transplant Date, and Actual Transplant Date. For simplicity, I round my dates to the nearest Sunday date.
Most times, the back of the seed packages will provide instructions on when to sow your seeds indoors and when to transplant the seedlings into the garden.
For example, the Tomato seed package above says to "start seeds indoors 5-7 weeks before planting outdoors." If my last frost date is May 20th, counting 6-weeks backwards on a calendar lands me on April 8th. The seed package also let you know when to transplant the seedlings, "...after all danger of frost has past." I have tomatoes scheduled to sow April 8th and transplanted to the garden on May 27th.
In my GoogleDoc spreadsheet, I fill in the name of the seed in the description column, the number of seedlings I will need based on my garden layout, the date to sow the seeds, and the date to transplant the seedlings into the garden. I continue this for each seed included in my plan.
The spreadsheet also has areas to record the seed true seed starting date (because sometimes things don't go as planned), germination date, and true transplant date (hardening off and transplanting seedlings will vary depending on the weather).
The first year setting up my seed-starting schedule was the most difficult. The following years were much easier because I used the same schedule as a starting point and easily added/removed crops and adjusted the schedule based on my notes from the following year. For example, I found that peppers took a long time to germinate, so I moved the schedule a week earlier last year and it seemed to work better.
My 2012 seed starting schedule is posted here and in my sidebar.