Eating well lends itself to vegetable gardening. I’ve yet to meet a gardener who didn’t like to talk about gardening and hope to encourage a newbie to “just try it”. Meet Warren Bender. A true teacher, gardener, writer, and fellow cyclist. Follow our website to check out Warren’s column each week.
Making a Seed Starting Schedule
If you have gotten prepared as I suggested last column, the next thing to be considered is a schedule for starting them out. This schedule is made based on knowing the vegetables setting out date and how long the seeds take to germinate.
The All Important Setting Out Date
The setting out date is based upon the veggie’s preference for warmer or cooler temperatures and its tolerance for frost. In our area, here on the south shore of Long Island, we are under the influence of a Maritime sub-climate. As the surrounding water is slow to cool down in the fall and slow to warm up in the spring, our area is subject to frost until early May and will not see its first killing frost until Halloween in the fall. Here are some general setting out dates I use for plants you can start indoors:
April 1-15: Lettuce, parsley
April 15-May 15: Beets, Brussels sprouts cabbage, onion and leek seedlings
May 15-31: Tomatoes
Early June: Eggplants, peppers, basil, cucumbers, squash
The second thing to consider when developing a seed starting schedule is how many weeks the seedlings need to mature into garden size. This knowledge is gained by reading the seed packet and your own experiences.
Finally, you need to know how long the seeds take to germinate. This is very variable, dependent mostly upon temperature. Generally speaking, the later the setting out date, the warmer the temperatures required. The range is between 70 degrees for the earlier plants to about 85 degrees for eggplants, peppers, cucumbers and squashes.
My Seed Starting Schedule
Without any prior experience, this can all seem confusing, so here’s where your garden buddy, Warren, comes to the rescue. This is the handy dandy seed starting schedule I follow, based on my experiences in this area:
February 1: Onions, leeks, parsley, dill
March 1: Cabbage, Brussels sprouts, collards, broccoli, beets, lettuce
March 7: Eggplants, peppers
April 1: Tomatoes, basil
May1: Cucumbers, squash
My Direct Seeding Schedule (Spring)
You will notice that quite a few vegetables are missing from the above list. These veggies are best grown by planting the seeds directly in the garden. Because they grow so easily, this is also a list of plants not to be bought as pre-grown seedlings from the nursery:
February, early March (As soon as the soil can be worked): Spinach
March 17th (yes, St. Patrick’s Day!) Peas of all types
Early April: Onion sets, parsnips, carrots, lettuce, radishes
Mid April: Beets, dill
Early May: Bush beans, corn
Late May: Cucumbers, squash
For more information on direct seeding, plant supports, feeding, etc., please take a look at last year’s “Hi Gardener” missives, found below.
Okay, Let’s Get Started!
Whew! Lotsa stuff, no? Not to worry, here’s where we actually do something. Gather up your nursery containers, seed starting mix and seeds.
First, you need to moisten your seed starting mix or potting soil. As they come from the bag, these mixes are dry and will repel water. They will need to be “pre-wetted” before use. I usually cut the top off the bag and dump about a quart of warm water into the bag of mix. The mix I use comes in eight quart bags, so adjust the amount accordingly for yours. Close the bag with a twist tie and sort of massage the bag until the water is absorbed and the mixture is moistened. Scoop out some of this with your hand and pack it into your nursery container, about ¼” from the top.
Next, lightly sprinkle your seeds on top, spreading them out as best you can. Keep in mind that not every seed will germinate, so add about half again as many as you need. Now cover this with about ¼” of mix. Pack it down and attach a little label showing what it is you’ve planted and the date. I make my own labels from strips of plastic cut from the sides of yogurt cartons. I write the pertinent information on the blank side with a Sharpie.
Set this container in a slightly larger bowl or tray and add about ¾” of water. As I mentioned in the last column, I like rotisserie chicken trays for this because they come with a clear cover to keep things moist. If you don’t have a container lid, place a clear plastic food bag over the works to retain humidity. Put the covered tray on or near a heat source of about 75- 80 degrees and stand back!
Well, don’t really stand back. You will need to check for germination every morning. Strangely enough, the little plants only seem to appear during the night. Shy, I guess. Anyhow, on that morning when you see the first of your plants appear, you must (as in: not optional) put the tray into the sunlit space you have for it. At the end of the day, put it back by the heat source to encourage any dilatory seedlings to appear. Keep this up for a few days, or until enough plants have emerged. After that, they can just be put by the window; your normal house temperatures will be fine. If you should forget to put them by adequate light during the day, you will notice your seedlings getting spindly and thin as they stretch toward light that isn’t there. This should fill you with remorse.
This is about it for this week. Next session, we’ll talk about transplanting your robust little veggies into their next home before they go into the garden and become nutritious and yummy food that even Nancy would approve of for you and your family. Remember, if you have any questions; address them to “Hi Gardener” at: http://inmotioncyclingstudio.com/about/suggestions/
Have a good week,
In case you missed previous editions: