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Archive for the ‘How to Grow Veggies (in CO anyway)’ Category

Peas

Pea Plants ~ about a month old

Are We There Yet?

I know.  I said planting day wouldn’t be until at least the weekend after Mother’s Day.  I said that.  I did.  However.  This unusually warm spring has got me thinking that it might be OK to bump planting day up a bit.  This weekend looks like it might be a little on the cool side, but next week looks exactly right for planting.  If you aren’t ready, no worries!  You will still be on schedule if you wait a couple of weeks.  However, if you are itching to get your hands dirty (like I am), I don’t want you waiting on me to do it.

There are still a few plants that should probably wait.  Summer squash hates to be cold, and besides, we planted all of those cool-season greens in our squash bed, so let’s hold off on those.  Cucumbers and corn are other plants that like really warm weather—let’s wait to put those guys into the ground until later in the month.  Check the back of your seed packets—if they indicate that you should wait until 1 to 2 weeks after the average last frost, wait a week or two before planting them.  I know, we haven’t had a frost for a couple of weeks, so technically it probably already is 1 to 2 weeks after the last frost.  However, May nights can (and are supposed to) still get down into the low 40s, and some plants just don’t like the cold, even if there isn’t a freeze. (more…)

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Tomato Seedlings

Next destination: the garden!

You have babied your indoor seedlings for almost two months.  You have watered, turned, and maybe even talked to them.  They are still tiny little guys—far too small and immature to face the harsh reality of The World.  Or are they?  Those little guys might look feeble and fragile, but they are ready to take the next step in life:  Hardening Off.

It might sound just a bit naughty, but the process of hardening off is simply gradually introducing seedlings to the outdoors.  If they are thrust at once into unpredictable and varied outdoor conditions after being grown in a controlled indoor climate, young seedlings can easily go into shock and die.  You’ve spent a lot of time growing your babies from seed—don’t blow it now!

Hardening off should be done over a one to two week period of time.  Below is a timeline for one week—if you start the process this Saturday, you will be ready to plant next Saturday.  If you have more time to harden your plants off, even better.  Just adjust the timeline accordingly, letting your seedlings spend more and more time outside each day.

Day 1:  Start hardening your seedlings off on a day where you will have temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees, with little or no wind.  Put your seedlings in a shaded, well protected place for 4-6 hours, then bring them back in before it gets dark.

Day 2:  Same as day one, but leave them out 6-8 hours, or even a little longer.

Day 3:  Put them out in the shade in the morning, and bring them in when the sun goes down.

Day 4:  Start in the sun (preferably in the spot where you will plant them) during the cooler part of the morning, then move them into shade during the hottest part of the day.  Move them back out into the sun as it cools off in the evening.

Day 5:  Start them in the sun.  If the temperature gets up above 80, move them into the shade.  If not, let them get sun!  Bring them in when the sun goes down or if the temperature goes below 50.

Day 6:  Leave them out in the sun all day, and bring them inside right before you go to bed.

Day 7:  First thing in the morning, take them out to the spot where you will be planting them, and leave them for 24 hours.

Day 8:  Plant!

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Let’s celebrate Earth Day by greenifying our garden and getting some seeds in the ground!

Pea Sprouts

Pea sprouts from seeds planted two weeks ago. Yum. Peas.

We have two tasks this week:
1. Plant outdoor seeds.
2. Transplant indoor seedlings for larger plants to larger containers.

This week we are ready to plant these seeds outdoors:

Arugula
Beets
Carrots
Leeks
Swiss Chard
Turnips
Watercress

If you are doing successive planting, you can also plant some more of these:
Lettuce
Radishes

Radish Sprouts

Radish sprouts from seeds planted two weeks ago. (Despite my “no thinning” policy, I am going to have to thin these a bit–they should be at least an inch apart.)

We are done planting indoor seeds, but keep babying the ones you have planted until we are ready to get the seedlings in the ground.  If you have any seedlings that look like the are outgrowing their containers, this is a good time to transplant them to larger pots.  Larger plants, like tomatoes and peppers, are good candidates for repotting.  The more room they have to grow, the better developed their root systems will be.  The better developed the root system, the healthier the plant.  Smaller plants, like onions and lettuce, will be fine where they are for another couple  of weeks until we put them into the garden–their root systems don’t grow as large.  Think about it this way–if a plant will be large above the ground, its root system will be large below the ground.  These are the guys that can use a little more room to grow.

Transplanting is pretty easy.  Look for a container maybe twice as wide as the one your seedling is in now.  Fill it about half full with potting mix–it’s not as important to use mix specially made for seeds here (if you have some left over, though, you might as well use it up), but do use a good, moisture-retaining potting mix.  Then pop your seedling out of its current container and into the new one.  Fill the rest of the way up with potting mix.  Water.  The hard part is finding the room for the bigger containers in your already-plant-filled kitchen.

If you are transplanting tomato seedlings, it’s a bit different–tomatoes like to be buried deep in the soil, because they will develop roots all along the part  of the stem that is buried.  For tomatoes, start with an empty container.  Put the seedling in the container, and bury all but the very top set of leaves in the soil.

Happy gardening!

repottingafter

After

repottingbefore

Before

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SeedlingsUnlike planting seeds indoors, planting seeds outdoors is super easy, and it’s much cheaper than buying seedlings.  Peas, beans, radishes, carrots, corn, parsnips, turnips, spinach, squash, lettuce, other greens, and cucumbers are all great candidates for direct seed sowing.  But it’s barely April, you say, why are we addressing direct seeding now?  Don’t we have to wait until all danger of frost is past?  (Because you know we will be getting one of those nasty spring snow storms this month.)  (In fact, it’s snowing as I publish this post.)  Lots of these guys will grow from seeds planted directly into the ground even if you think it’s way too cold out to plant anything.  If you can dig into the soil, usually there is a seed that wants to grow there.

Supplies list:

  • Seeds—the backs of your seed packets will tell you which plants can be sown directly into the garden, vs. those that need to be started indoors.  (By the way—lookie what was in my Inbox this week—buy 2 get 1 free seeds at Echter’s!)
  • Plant tags—you can find little plastic tags any place that sells seeds, or get creative!  Anything that you can write on that won’t disintegrate when wet can mark plants!  Small flat rocks?  Sure.  Paint stirrers?  Yup.  Get creative.  I found a great post on making plant tags from a material which everyone has too much of lying around the house (don’t we?): DIY Plant Markers.
  • A permanent black marker to write on your plant tags.  I have used blue and purple Sharpies in the past—not recommended.  In time, they fade in the sun.  Even better, you can buy UV resistant permanent markers at most nurseries (they are right next to the plant tags).
  • A ruler or tape measure.
  • A hose long enough to reach your vegetable beds.  Even if you have irrigation installed, you will probably want to get out there and douse your little babies yourself in the beginning.
  • A nozzle for your hose with a shower setting or a garden wand.
Nozzle

Notice this nozzle has several different spray patterns. Use the one called Shower for watering your seedlings in the garden.

Water Wand

A water or garden wand is longer to make it easy to reach into gardens or to water hanging baskets. These either come set to send out a shower of water, or the are available with different patterns.

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If you have never bought vegetable seeds before, it can be overwhelming.  You have decided what you want to plant, and you head to the nursery with list in hand, but when you get there, you are confronted by gigantic racks with hundreds of seed packets.  These are usually in alphabetical order, which makes it pretty easy to find the veggie you want, but when you get to the T’s, you discover they have 50 varieties of tomatoes, packaged by 8 different seed companies…  It’s a lot.

I have recommended Botanical Interests for new gardeners because the seed packages contain all of the information you need to get your seeds started.  However, if you are going to the nursery as a rookie gardener, these packages can seem like they are written in a foreign language (oh, wait, that actually is Latin on there!)

Here are some quick little diagrams to help you decipher the mystery…

Seed Packet Front

Front of the Seed Packet (Click for a larger image)

Seed Packet Back

Back of the Seed Packet (Click for a larger image)

I used a tomato seed packet for this particular example, since tomatoes are so popular for home gardening (not to mention delicious!)  Different vegetables will have different info, for example, “indeterminate” applies to tomatoes that produce fruit for a long period of time, but that doesn’t apply to all veggies.  The important things to note for planting all seeds, though, are on the bottom half of the back:

  • How deep to plant seeds.
  • How far apart to plant them.  This is actually under the “Thinning” section on these packets, NOT the “Seed Spacing” section.  I suggest planting your seeds at this distance from the get-go, then there is no thinning later!
  • When and where–how long before the average last frost, and do you start these seeds indoors or out?  (This section will also include any odd germination quirks–if a seed likes to be cold to germinate, or if you should soak it in water for a period before planting.)

Important Note!  When you get home, don’t just rip into these packages–make sure you open them carefully, because the inside is also filled with useful info, a drawing of the sprout (in case you forget to mark your seedlings), harvesting details, further cooking tips, and sometimes even some trivia about the veg.

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Seed Display

I love seeds.  Seeds are the first indication that the gardening season is indeed returning, even if it’s currently 15 degrees and there is still snow on the ground.  Seeds say, “Yes, you will be eating fresh tomatoes off the vine in just a few short months!”  Seeds conjure memories of reading books in the Sky Chairs on the back porch.  Seeds are the promise of a delicious summer.

Hubby will tell you that, yes, I do in fact have a seed addiction.  They call to me, drawing me into their seemingly innocent display stands, and I am absolutely compelled to bring the poor little babies home with me.  It’s worse than passing by the cheese counter at Tony’s or the clearance rack at DSW.  Really.

I usually end up planting WAY more seeds that we can actually use—or that we have room for in our itty bitty house.  The kitchen becomes a mini-greenhouse, with trays of seeds on every surface near a window.  (It really is a problem.)  Luckily, I have lots of friends who don’t grow plants from seed, but are more than happy to take extra seedlings off my hands.  I can only hope they give my babies good homes.

Of course, you can just as easily (ok, MORE easily) grow a garden from plants that you buy at the nursery or the big box store (or mooch from me).  If you want to go that route, log off right now, and save yourself from reading about effort involved!  This is going to be a super-long post (most likely the longest one I will EVER write), and I will definitely not be offended if you aren’t committed to the seed idea.  Go pour yourself a glass of wine and put your butt on the couch.  But if you aren’t scared…

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This is the planning stage.  I usually start this part around January 24, right about the time we are getting that fourth snow storm since the holidays, I just finally put away that last Christmas decoration I kept not seeing, and I am completely over wearing boots and sweaters (and I love my boots and sweaters).

I might be jumping the gun just a bit, but you do want to have a plan before you get out there and start digging.

The two most important things to do before planning what to plant:

  • First, ask yourself:  What do I love to eat?  If you really don’t like the texture of eggplant, don’t plant it.  Do you eat a salad every night with dinner?  Then lettuce is a must!  Make a list, and prioritize.
  • Second, if you haven’t already, go measure that garden area.  Plants need room to grow–some more than others.  You can get over 500 carrots in the same space that one tomato plant needs.  If you have a very small space to work with, think about planting several vegetables that grow on small plants, rather than just a few larger plants.

No Rows!Traditional vegetable gardening has always been done in rows, where you dig a trench in your soil, throw a bunch of seeds in the trench, and cover it up.  Then in two weeks, when the seedlings start coming up, you have a billion little plants that are all smashed together.  Since veggie plants can’t grow that close together, you have to get down there on your hands and knees and pull all those extra little plants out.  Doesn’t that sound wasteful (not to mention kinda painful)?

Instead of the using row system, plant individual plants.  Here’s why:

  • It doesn’t take any longer—in fact, it will save you time, since you don’t have to go back through later and pull out the extra seedlings.
  • You will use less seeds (and can save the rest for next year—more on that when I cover starting plants from seed).
  • You can get more plants in less space.  Don’t we all want as many fresh veggies as possible from our garden?
  • I think veggie beds look more natural and prettier this way.  I like pretty. (more…)

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