Tag Archives: seed starting

Planting the Summer Garden

20 May

When the nighttime temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees here in Michigan, I know it’s finally a safe time to plant the warmer summer season crops such as beans, squash, cucumbers, corn and tomatoes. This next week the temperatures are going to be very warm, so with a little water, seeds should germinate quickly and transplants should root in nicely.

planting bean seeds

When planting seeds, make sure you follow the directions on the package. As a general rule, you will plant a seed as deep as up to twice its diameter. For instance, you plant beans about 1″ deep. Some seeds you may just sow directly on top of the soil and barely cover. The most important part when planting seeds is that you keep the soil moist until it has germinated and is growing. If the root begins to emerge from the seed, and it dries up before it is able to become established in the soil, it’s a gonner.

loosing the rootball on this tomato plant

When transplanting vegetables or flowers to your garden, make sure you loosen the rootball of the plant and bury it in the soil at the same level it was growing in the container.

This rule can be broken for tomatoes, which when planted deeper in the soil, burying a leggy stem, will develop more roots on the soil covered stem, which is better for the tomato plant overall.

planting tomatoes to encourage additional root development

Even though we have reached our frost free date, and the nighttime temperatures are consistently over 50, I will wait another week or two to plant basil, eggplant, and some of my favorite peppers. I don’t want to take any chances and these plants really like to grow in warmer temperatures.

So when planting, keep in mind the following five tips:

  1. Make sure you know how deep to plant the seed or transplant
  2. Check the seed packet to see how far apart to place each seed  (or plant).
  3. Lightly pat the soil around the plant.  Don’t smash or compact the soil. 
  4. Water thoroughly and continue to check daily for watering.  Keep moist, but not soggy. 
  5. Label each planting with the name and date planted.  Then you can estimate the time of harvest.  Yum!

Happy Planting!

 

rAdiSh

10 May

Radishes, Raphanus sativus L. are a very fast growing cool season crop belonging to the Brassicaceae family. Originating from Asia, their flavors can range from mild to hot. The most familiar radish to Americans may be a round red radish with white flesh and a mild flavor. I don’t like them. When I was growing up, my mother would ruin a perfectly fine potato salad by smothering the top with layers of sliced radishes. I learned how to pick them off and out of things fast. I will grow them, but I really don’t like harvesting them either. Their leaves are covered with fine hairs that feel a lot like thorns poking my flesh. They are there for a reason, and just because I don’t like them doesn’t mean I won’t grow these in my garden. I just won’t eat them. They are a great veggie to grow and share.

Radishes before thinning

There are mainly two types of radishes. Like I mentioned above, the round fast growing radish that is best grown in the spring, and the Daikon radish which should be grown in the fall and is best for winter storage. There are many colors and shapes but all germinate best when soil temperatures are between 45-90 degrees Fahrenheit, with the optimum temperature being 60-65. The soil temperature in my garden right now is 55, so I will be sowing radishes without cover (cold frame) this weekend. Ideally, you want to direct sow about 1/4 to 1/2 inch below the surface in rows spaced about 8” to 18” apart. Sow the seeds in a line. After they have germinated, you will notice that they are too close together, so you need to “thin” them. You will know how much just by picturing the size of the radish when you will be harvesting it. That is how much space it will need to grow, with a little extra in between. If you continue to plant every 2-3 weeks, you will have a continuous harvest for most of the year. Radishes don’t grow very well during hot summers, but if you interplant them between other plants that may shade them to keep them cool, you might surprise yourself with how long you can grow them. For winter radishes, start them at the beginning of September and you will be harvesting through late fall. Daikon radishes are good to grow through the winter in a cold frame and also grow well in raised beds. Traditionally, radishes are the first crop harvested and the last crop sown.

Radishes after thinning

Harvest when they are about the size of a large marble except for Daikon radishes which are so large you need to loosen the soil with a garden fork. If you wait too long, they get too large and mealy. You may wonder how I know this without eating them. Well, I do have radish testers living in my house. So I get my information from them. And if you slice them, they should be nice and crisp. Remove the leaves and wash. Some people like to eat those hairy greens. Do as you choose. Store washed radishes without drying too much in a plastic bag or container in the refrigerator to keep the humidity high and temperatures cool.

Radish “Easter Egg”

Radishes are susceptible to flea beetles and cabbage root maggots. You can avoid this by rotating crops, not planting anything from this plant family in the same place for three years. Using a floating row cover can also help by deterring cabbage moths from laying their eggs on the plants.

Interesting is that the U.S. standards for radish grades hasn’t changed since 1968. It reads “Tenderness, cleanness, smoothness, shape, size, and freedom from pithiness and other defects; tops of bunched radishes fresh and free from damage.” So, if you are growing radishes for someone, these are the standards you should be following.

Want something weird. Grow the radish from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds called “Rats Tail”. It is an edible-podded radish that produces large seed pods that are good for stir fry and pickling. Maybe I would like this radish? If you grow it, let me know how you like it. For now, I’ll stick with fewer plants from this family in my garden, and learn from all of you brassica lovers.

Rats Tail Radish. Photo courtesy Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Tomato, Tomat, Tomaat, Tomate, or Pomodoro

22 Apr

No matter what common name you call it by, botanically the tomato is called Lycopersicon esculentum and is a member of the Solanaceae Family, AKA, the Nightshade Family. Probably the most favored garden vegetable grown, it was first discovered in the Andes before finding its way to Europe, then to the U.S. Worldwide production in 2005 was led by China, followed by the U.S. then Turkey. In the U.S. tomatoes are the second most consumed vegetable following the potato. California grows the most, Indiana, then Ohio. Florida may be on the rise if not already ahead of Indiana and Ohio. On average, an acre of tomatoes yielded 37.20 tons of fruit!

tomato seedling showing first true leaves

Tomatoes are an annual and need to be transplanted into the garden on or about a week after the last frost date, so now is the perfect time to start seeds indoors if you like. I use a heat mat for best germination. Soil temperatures can range from 70 to 95, and seeds will germinate within about 5-8 days. Make sure you keep evenly moist, and remember to turn on the grow lights once they have germinated. Transplant into small containers once the first true leaves appear.

There are basically two types of tomatoes. Determinate types, which don’t have to be staked, or Indeterminate types, which need to be staked. Most of the greenhouse grown tomatoes sold “on the vine” are indeterminate types grown in a greenhouse. These types are also great for Urban Farmscapes since they take up less space horizontally, and can be trained to grow up as high as you allow them. When you transplant into the garden, make sure you cage or stake your tomato right away. Pruning is also recommended, but I will show you that later in June. For now, starting your seeds is the most important thing to do. Don’t want to start seeds, no problem! Tomatoes plants are plentiful in the garden centers. Even several heirloom favorites such as a pink variety called Brandywine.

 

Heirloom Tomatoes. Photo courtesy of The Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company

 

When you transplant your tomato into a container or plant a mature plant into the garden, you can plant it deep, covering much of the stem. You are breaking all the rules of transplanting when doing this. But the tomato will form roots on the stem planted below the soil line, thus creating a stronger root zone, and stronger plant in the long run. So don’t worry if your seedlings get a little “leggy” a term used when they stretch and may fall over due to low light conditions.

Tomatoes also like a lot of fertilizer. Don’t over fertilize with nitrogen fertilizers as this will cause the leaves to grow really big and lush, but little fruit will form. Higher amounts of phosphorus are needed (remember N-P-K from previous post). Johnny’s Selected Seeds recommends using a liquid fertilizer when transplanting such as Neptunes Harvest Fish Fertilizer 2-4-1 which is certified organic and OMRI listed. Garden centers should sell this, but if not, check with your local hydroponic stores. They will most likely have it, or something equivalent. While you’re at it, look at the hydroponic supplies. Tomatoes are a great plant to grow hydroponically. Look at this one at Disney’s greenhouse in Epcot’s “Living with the Land”. Amazing! I want one!

Tomatoes are pretty tolerant of chlorine and very tolerant of fluoride so makes a good plant to grow with city water. As far as diseases go, Late blights or Early blights have been a problem for farmers. The best thing to do is to grow varieties that are resistant. If you start to see signs such as brown spots on leaves or a white powdery substance under the leaves, remove, destroy (do NOT compost), and apply an organic fungicide per directions. If the plant looks too bad, pull it out and remove it totally. This disease will spread rapidly under wet conditions (like rain). Eliminating overhead watering will help to deter also. And what about bugs? Don’t worry, you won’t have too many problems. But if you see the leaves being munched on, or black droppings on the leaves, you probably have a tomato hornworm. You’ll know it when you see it. If eggs are left to winter in the soil, they will turn into moths next spring. If you have ever seen a hummingbird moth, you may not want to kill your tomato hornworm. But then again, if it is eating all of your tomato plant, then pick it off and destroy as you wish or not.

Tomatoes are so good for you and are wonderful eaten fresh, canned, sauced, whole, sliced, or fried. This is my favorite and one that you will be reading more about as the growing season progresses. Here’s a little secret. Grow them on the dry side. Research has shown that the more you water, the less flavor the tomato will have. I’ve never tasted a bad tomato, but have had some tastless ones. What’s your favorite type or variety of tomato?

Peppers

1 Apr

Pepper, Capsicum annuum, belongs to the Solanaceae family, also known as the Nightshade family. Peppers originate from the warmer regions of the Americas and are used in kitchens all over the world. You may prefer the fresh cool crisp of a sweet bell pepper, or the spicy flavor of a hot pepper. Whichever it is, peppers are easy to grow in the garden, in containers and make a great addition to your Urban Farmscape. There are even some varieties used primarily for ornamental purposes.

If you like to start seeds indoors, now is the time. Plant seeds about 1/8 to 1/4 inch deep in a shallow container of a sterile seed starting media. Once the seeds are planted and watered it is important to keep moist at all times during germination. This can be achieved by using a plastic dome or with plastic wrap. I keep a spray bottle of water handy so I can mist the seeds as they germinate, almost daily. Peppers germinate best if you use a heat mat with temperatures ranging from 68 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, with the ideal temperature being about 86. Pepper seeds germinate in darkness, so light isn’t necessary until after you start to see them growing, and then light becomes crucial to growing great peppers. Once you see the first set of true leaves you can remove them from heat mat and transplant to a small container or a 4-cell pack type container. A 4-cell pack is the plastic container that most annuals are planted in. If you are using recycled containers, make sure you have cleaned and sanitized it with something like a bleach water solution to kill possible diseases that may be transferred from the recycled container. Don’t be in a hurry to transplant into a larger pot. Best to plant in a small container, and then save the larger container for the final planting outdoors. Transplant outside in well-drained soil after all danger of frost. This is one of the plants I put outside in the garden last. Peppers like to grow in warmer weather in full sun. They also have a higher need for phosphorus and calcium so if your soil test shows a deficiency in either of these, make sure you add something like bone meal to your soil when planting. To find out more about how to get your soil tested, contact your local extension office. Refer to the earlier post from February 19, 2012 titled Starting Seeds Indoors for more tips.

Ornamental Peppers

I haven’t experienced any diseases or insects with peppers, but they may be susceptible to a few. Watch for signs of irregular growth or discoloration on the leaves for early signs of viruses. The best thing to do is plant varieties that are resistant. Keep an eye out for any insect problems, but don’t worry about any unless they are actually damaging your plants. There are a lot of good bugs in the garden too.

Jalapeno

You can expect to harvest your peppers about two to three months after planting. Sweet peppers will ripen first followed by hot peppers. In general, harvest your fruit first thing in the morning. For sweet peppers, wash and store in the refrigerator whatever you don’t eat right away. I freeze excess by cutting in half, removing the seeds, and placing in a freezer baggy. They will be soft when thawed, but work great for sauces and stews. My dad cans jalapeno peppers every year and gives them away to anyone that will take them. I love to dry cayenne chili peppers. I haven’t made a ristra yet, I just dry them and store them in a paper bag to later grind and use when I am cooking. It’s like my secret ingredient. Dried peppers whole or ground in a jar would also make a great gift. I also make Jalapeno pepper jelly. This sweet hot jelly is great spread over the top of cream cheese and served with crackers as snack. Maybe my dad and I should start a pepper gift basket. Hmmmm, I could be onto something.

In the U.S., California grows the most sweet peppers that you see in our stores, followed by Florida then New Jersey. As for chili peppers, California is first, followed by New Mexico then Texas. China is first in world production, followed by Mexico then Turkey. Pay attention when you shop during the winter months and see where the sweet bell pepper you have in your hand is grown. Check the label or the box. You may be surprised.

Lightning Bolt Peppers-Photo courtesy Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has such a great variety of peppers with a wide range of colors of both sweet and hot. It’s still not too late to order from them. You may be able to find their seeds at some retailers. Starting your peppers a week or so later only means your harvest will be later, so if you want to grow something unique, check out their heirloom peppers at www.rareseeds.com Or if you would like to buy their book, click on the picture below.

Arugula

25 Mar

Arugula, Eruca sativa, belongs to the Brassicaceae family.  In the U.S. it is grown as an annual leafy green which provides a pungent bitter flavor used in salad mixes.  In Europe, where it is most common, it is sold as an herb. Arugula prefers to grow during the cooler seasons of spring and fall but there are a few varieties that will tolerate the summer heat and are slower to bolt.  Bolting is a term used meaning “to flower”.  Some plants will “bolt” to flower quickly when conditions tell the plant to hurry to flower and make seed.  Most cool season crops will bolt during warmer seasons.  So planting arugula in June might not be the best time unless you are growing it to collect seed.  It doesn’t overwinter, but its wild cousin, Sylvetta, Diplotaxis tenuifolia is slower growing and will grow well with winter protection such as in a cold frame.  The leaves are more lobed and tastes less pungent than arugula, but is more highly sought after by chefs according to Johnny’s Selected Seeds. 

Arugula should be directly sown in average garden soil, but you can start it indoors then transplant it outside.  Eliot Coleman suggests planting seeds directly in the soil 1 inch apart in rows 6 inches apart.  You can start arugula in a cold frame in late February.  Ideal germination is about 65-68 degrees (Fahrenheit).  Once germinated and the first true leaves are present, it will grow outdoors unprotected at 40 degrees.  The best temperature range would be 50-65.  Sowing every 2 to 3 weeks through the spring will ensure a continuous harvest. 

To harvest, you just use a pair of scissors and cut at the soil line.  You can have baby arugula in about 21 days, and full size leaves in about 40 days.  It’s best to harvest first thing in the morning.  Wash with cold water, and store any excess in the refrigerator.  Using a salad spinner is really helpful in eliminating excess water which will improve the storage quality, but its best eaten fresh. 

Plan your salad mixes by growing the leafy greens you love.  Mix and match, add baby lettuces, spinach, and arugula.  The possibilities are endless!

 

Spinach

4 Mar

Spinach, Spinacia oleracea L., belongs to the Chenopodiacea family, a.k.a., Goosefoot family where it originated in Central and Southwest Asia. An annual in our garden where it prefers to grow during the cooler seasons of spring and fall. The leaf types of spinach are either “smooth” which is somewhat flat like in this picture, or “savoy” which is wrinkly looking. In the warmer months it will “bolt” which means it will quickly produce it’s flower to make seed, thus slowing down leaf production, which is the part of spinach we like to eat. If you choose to collect seed though, summer is the best time to do that. Whether prepared fresh (my preferred method) or cooked, Americans consumed about 1.8 pounds per person per year in 2004. As far as world production of spinach at that time, China grew the most, followed by the U.S. and then Japan. Spinach is made up of about 91% water, and nutritionally, per a 100 gram serving, spinach provides about 2.9 g of protein, 0.4g fat, 3.6 g carbs, 2.2 g fiber, 99 mg calcium, and 2.27 mg iron. Go Popeye! Long ago in England it was said that spinach was used as a dye for Easter Eggs.

 

spinach seed

You can plant spinach as soon as the soil is workable or right now if you have a cold frame or low tunnel. Seeds will germinate in 5-6 days with soil temperatures about 70 degrees, 12-23 days with soil temps at 40-50 degrees, and up to 63 days at 32-39 degrees. I like to start my spinach indoors to ensure quick germination and then transplant outside about 2-3 inches apart in rows 8-12 inches apart. When the soil temperature gets above 50, I’ll sow seeds directly in the soil. Lately it has been hovering around 40 degrees in my cold frame.

 

Spinach prefers full sun but will tolerate some shade. Maintain a soil pH of 6-6.8. Spinach prefers to grow with an air temperature ranging from 40 degrees Fahrenheit to a maximum of 75. It is not susceptible to chilling injury which makes it a good pick for a fall/winter/spring crop. When grown under ideal conditions, you will be able to harvest leaves when mature about 37-45 days. It is best to harvest in the morning, wash, and store what you don’t eat in the refrigerator. In Eliot Coleman’s book, Four-Season Harvest he recommends the varieties “Tyee” for spring, “Steadfast” for summer, “Space” for autumn, and “Space” or “Winter Bloomsday” for winter. I have grown “Space” and “Tyee” and have been very happy with them both.

Starting to plant my early spring crops means that the gardening season is beginning! Even though we are experiencing the coldest temperatures and the most snow we have had all winter, my head is busy in the garden. I wonder if this is a disorder of some type. My family would say so. If you haven’t already, make sure you check out the garden planning tools at GrowVeg.com

My Urban Farmscape Winter Garden

Starting Seeds Indoors

19 Feb

Seeds germinate easily with a little help by providing the proper growing media, container, water, temperature, and light.

  1. Growing media for seed starting is what you plant your seeds in.  Think dirt, but it’s not dirt.   It should be fine in texture but most of all it should be sterile.  You can find several seed starting mixes out there but I have had the best luck using “No Damp Off” by Mosser Lee.  Simply, it’s a finely milled sterile sphagnum peat approved for organic growing.  A little goes a long way.  Avoid breathing in this light and airy peat.  Seeds carry all of the necessary nutrients to get them started so don’t be fooled by those with a lot of unnecessary ingredients such as fertilizers and wetting agents.   Most of these have not been approved for organic growing.
  2. It doesn’t really matter what type of container you plant your seeds in as long as it is shallow.  I use a lot of recycled materials that have been disinfected in a solution of 1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 gallon of water.  Plastic egg cartons, plastic veggie containers and some of the oven or microwave containers work well.  They only serve as a vessel to hold the growing media, seeds, and water for a short time.  Make sure they have drainage holes.  I use a 20 row seeder when I am sowing a lot.  These individual rows provide dividers when I want to sow several different seeds and it only takes up the space of a flat.
  3. The growing media needs to be kept moist.  I water from the bottom of the drip tray (the tray underneath the container) and allow the water to soak up.  I then spray the top with a spray bottle after sowing the seeds.  I’ll use the spray bottle daily to mist and keep the media evenly wet.  You can use a clear plastic dome that will increase humidity and prevent from drying out as quickly, or regular plastic wrap works well, but is a pain putting it on and off. 
  4. The soil temperature is more important that the air temperature.  Each seed has an optimum temperature for germination.  Detailed information can be found in the book The Seed Starters Handbook  by Nancy Bubel or in Knott’s Handbook for Vegetable Growers, Fifth Edition by Donald N. Maynard and George J. Hochmuth .  Odds are, in your home, if the temperatures are 70 degrees, the soil media in your little germination trays will be 70 degrees.  If you grow in the basement, like I do, it’s a little cooler, so for some veggies, like peppers, I will use a heat mat to increase the temperature allowing for improved germination.  Keep in mind that when seeds are germinated at their optimum temperature, you will see a more even, improved, and quicker germination.  Items such as this Germination Station with Heat Mat from Hydrofarm work great.
  5. Your seedlings will emerge at different rates.  You will notice the stem first, arching like a sea serpent with leaves to follow, roots beginning to anchor in the soil.  Within a day or so you will see little plants reaching toward the light with their cotyledon leaves.  At this time any plastic should come off and the lights should go on.  The cotyledon leaves are the leaves which hold all of the nutrients necessary for the plant to start growing.  The next set of leaves are called the “first true leaves”, which means exactly that.  Once this set of first true leaves unfold  the plant really starts growing and now is the time to transplant these new seedlings into larger containers or cell packs.  It is important to keep the lights on for 12-14 hours to allow for proper photosynthesis and to avoid stretching.  Providing proper lighting will encourage shorter, compact plants reducing that “leggy look”.  Even if you have a very sunny window sill, you will benefit by providing supplemental lighting for healthier plants.  For seed starting, full spectrum fluorescent bulbs work best.  These are available in many shapes and sizes.  The Two-Foot Grow Light from Hydrofarm fits well in most spaces.  If you have more room, this Four-Foot Grow Light will have enough space to grow two flats.  You will notice soon that the cotyledon leaves will dry up and fall off.  That’s normal so don’t worry!

Not all seeds require starting indoors, and some may only need to be started a couple weeks before planting outside.  I love starting seeds.  It gives me the option to grow so much more than what is available at the garden centers.  If you are hesitant about starting seeds, just try one new thing this year.  You may be surprised!

 

 

Click on the links above and below for more information on seed starting supplies!

 Hydrofarm CK64050 Germination Station with Heat Mat

 Growers Supply Company GS2211-4 4-Pack 22-by-11-by-2-1/2-Inch Perma-Nest Plant Trays, Green

 5 Pack of Durable Black Plastic Growing Trays (with holes) 21″ x 11″ x 2″ – Planting Seedlings, Flowers, Wheatgrass

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