Spring is almost here. Are you excited to work in the garden?
An early garden can present early harvests, so it’s time to get started.
At the beginning of May, you can successfully plant a few crops that can stand cooler temperatures, like radishes, beets, some of the leafy vegetables, and peas. Many of the remainder of garden plants need warm temperatures, and have to wait until frost-free weather. Vegetables like green beans and sweet corn should be planted by direct seeding in the garden. However, there is a way to get a head start on some of the other warm weather plants that can tolerate transplanting.
Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants will all transplant well as young plants. You can grow these plants indoors from seed by using the right planting materials and supplying the right environment. Seeds can usually be purchased from any garden center, and often right from the local grocery. Check the dates to make sure the seed packet contains seeds packed for the current growing year! The packet will also contain useful information such as the amount of seeds, planting dates for your region, and planting procedures such as seed covering, lighting needs and water requirements.
There are some warm weather plants that you might have trouble starting indoors before replanting outside later in spring. Popular fruits and vegetables like cucumbers, summer squash, wnter squash including pumpkins, melons such as cantaloupe, and watermelons do not like to have their roots handled or exposed to sunlight and air. If this happens, the plant usually dies. Some people choose to wait and plant these seeds directly into the garden after the frost date. However, there is a way to start these plants early indoors, similar to your tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.
The selection of these seeds should proceed just as with the other indoor early seeds. Do not select packets with many seeds in them unless you want a lot of plants. Read the label of each seed packet. In most cases, the label will tell you to start seeds indoors no earlier than 14 to 21 days before the frost free date. In this case, schedule your indoor seeding two or three weeks before you plan to plant outside.
Materials to start garden seeds indoors
- Peat Pots – these are pots made of a pressed peat material. They are about 3” square by 3” high. They are available in most garden sales centers in the right quantities for your project. These pots are made of bio-degradable material that will, in time, break apart and become part of the soil.
- Potting soil – enough to fill a 3 “pot for every few seeds to be planted.
- Tray or trays that will hold water without leaking onto your windowsills or counters where plants will grow. Try to find trays that are large enough to hold multiple 3” square pots.
- Waterproof tub and bucket
- Permanent marking pen with a rounded base
- Plant tags
- Watering can and a water source.
Once materials are assembled, open packages one at a time, and complete the planting process for those seeds before you open the next package.
10-step garden planting process
- Pour your potting soil into a tub. Add just enough water to moisten and stir with your fingers. The potting soil should be just wet enough to clump together without draining water out of it.
- Fill each peat pot with pre-moistened potting soil, up to the rim. Pat firmly, but don’t press the soil in hard or you may break the pot.
- Place the peat pots one by one into the trays, filling each tray with single pots next to each other for support.
- Using the rounded end of your marking pen, place two 1” deep holes, separate from each other in each pot.
- Place a single seed into each hole in the potting soil.
- Check your work so that you don’t leave a peat pot empty or make one too full.
- Once you are sure that each hole has one seed, pinch the hole shut with your fingers and gently firm the surface. A word of caution – now that the peat pot is wet it will be even more fragile.
- Water the entire set of peat pots in the tray until they are thoroughly wet. Excess water gathering in the bottom of the tray can be drained, but some water remaining is okay.
- Label a few plant tags with the name of the seed variety contained in the tray. Make sure there are enough tags for each tray to avoid confusion in the future. If you have different seed varieties in one tray, each pot will need a tag.
- Place your completed tray in a warm growing site such as a windowsill or a counter that gets a lot of sunshine, and proceed to the next seed variety.
Keep your garden growing
Now that you’re done seeding, watch the peat pots to make sure they do not dry out. Every day, keep them evenly watered, draining the tray to avoid over-watering. Keep the pots away from areas that are too hot or drafty so they don’t dry out.
In a few days to a few weeks, seedlings should begin to emerge from the peat pots. These seedlings can be treated as garden plants, watered as needed, kept warm and in sunlight until set into the ground at planting time. If your timing is correct, the frost-free date is near!
Peat pot and plant can now be directly planted into your garden in hills or rows as you have planned. Be careful not to overcrowd them (continue to follow planting directions found on the seed packet). Eventually, as the plants begin to grow, you can select the best growing vines, and remove extra plants.
By following these steps, you have gained two to three weeks in the growing process of these garden plants. Enjoy your early harvest!
Owen Lackey is the Lead Instructor of Horticulture at Shepherds College in Union Grove, WI. For more information about Shepherds College, an accredited, faith-based post-secondary school for young adults with intellectual disabilities, visit www.shepherdscollege.edu.