Monday, January 23, 2017

Seed Planting Schedule

Planting Calendar Dates

One of the myths I hear in our area is that you wait until Memorial Day and then plant the whole garden.  Doing this you will miss out on some wonderful early spring crops and get fewer harvests.  So how do you know when to plant what?
Vegetable crops are either cool season or warm season crops.  Their seeds need a certain soil temperature in order to germinate.  Cool season crops are further divided into hardy and semi-hardy plants.  Warm season crops are divided into tender and very tender crops. 
Since last average frost differs in each planting zone, you will need that information to determine your planting calendar. Planting dates are also dealing with the initial planting. With many crops you can make several plantings 2 weeks apart to have a continual harvest instead of a one-time harvest. Planting dates also give a suggested time frame to start and stop planting.  Depending on the actual spring weather, the timing can be moved up a week or back a week.  

 The important factor in determining when to plant is the actual soil temperature at which a seed will germinate and the soil will be dry enough to work.  Most seed packets tell you the ideal soil temperature for germination.  With cool season crops that is between 40-75 degrees.  Warm season crops prefer soils temperatures above 50 or 60 degrees.   To find soil temperature, go outside in the afternoon and stick a regular thermometer a few inches in the ground. 

Hardy Spring Crops (Plant as soon as the soil dries out and soil temperature is 40-45 degrees) Around St Patrick's Day in my area
Direct Seed:  Broccoli , Cabbage, Kohlrabi,Onions, PeasRadish, Spinach, Turnips
Artichoke, asparagus, and rhubarb are not started from seed but planted at this time.
I recommend using transplants for broccoli and cabbage.

Rhubarb, the pie plant, is one of the earliest spring treats.

Kale is much happier, healthier, and better tasting is planted in the right season.

Semi-Hardy Spring Crops:  (Plant a couple weeks after the hardy group) 

 Direct Seed: Beets, Carrots, Cauliflower, Lettuce Parsley, Parsnip, Swiss Chard, Kale, Mustard, Mizuna, Tat Soi, Pac Choi, Chinese Cabbage, Mache or Corn Salad, Sorrel (perennial), Cilantro, Arugula
Transplant: Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Lettuce, Kale   Depending on your zone have protection in case of a late freeze. I put them under a low tunnel or have a row cover on hand to protect from frosts.

Plant Potatoes
Lettuce transplants under a low tunnel.  The forks are to keep my cats from lounging in the low tunnel.
Mache or corn salad needs cool weather to flourish.

Mizuna and mustard early spring greens

Purple Viking potatoes

Pac Choi a quick growing cabbage for stir frying.

Tender Summer Crops (Plant on average last frost date) May 15th in my zone
Direct seed:  Cucumbers, Dry Beans, Snap Beans, Sweet Corn, Popcorn, Summer Squash
Transplant:  Celery, Basil, Oregano, Thyme, Sage, Rosemary, French Tarragon, Marjoram

Varieties of summer squash and a delicata squash

Silver queen sweet corn.
Very Tender (Plant two weeks after tender crops)
Memorial Day in my area
Direct Seed: Muskmelons Watermelons, Lima Beans, Peppers, Winter Squash, Pumpkins
Transplants:  Peppers, Tomatillos, Tomatoes, Eggplant

Isn't it amazing what one small seed produces!

Varieties of heirloom including Pineapple, Old Ivory Egg, Pink German
Fall Garden:  Plant hardy and semi-hardy crops from mid-July - August

Plant Garlic 

Friday, January 20, 2017


Spinach has specific growing requirements and if you procrastinate you will miss out on this delicious  and nutritious green.

Spinach needs a good 6 weeks of cool weather.  It can be planted when soil temperatures are 55-65 degrees or as soon as your ground can be worked  It will not germinate well in soils that are above 70 degrees.  It is not a summer crops  It can be sown again in fall and protected under row covers for late fall harvests.

The spinach plant is daylength sensitive.  This means it waits until there are a certain number of daylight hours and that is the signal to bolt or set seed. When daylight hours reach 12-15, your spinach knows it's time to produce seeds. It is at this point that you can determine the sex of you plants if that is important to you.  If you save seed that will be a factor. You need both male and female plants.

 Keep in mind that spinach is wind pollinated and the pollen is very fine and travels far.  You can only save seed from one variety and must have both male and female plants.  Besides daylight hours, spinach doesn't like warm and then cold again weather.  Fluctuations in temperature between warm and cool will  encourage early bolting.

Types of Spinach

There are two types of spinach leaves:  smooth and savoyed or wrinkled.  Some people prefer the smooth, but I like both and plant some of both.  The seed  type can be used to determine the leaf type.  The smooth seed produces wrinkled leaves while the prickly seed produces smooth leaves.  

Planting Guides

Spinach should be seeded directly in the garden it does not like to be transplanted. It can usually be seeded 3-4 weeks before the last frost date which for me is May 14th.  If I count back 4 weeks, that means around mid April I can begin planting.  If weather permits and the soil has warmed up, I plant even early and use a low tunnel or floating row covers.

 Give the plants ample space.  No more than 4 per square foot.  It is a good idea to successive plant every couple weeks in early spring but stop planting if you do not have 6 weeks of cool weather remaining.  It does not like temperature above 75.

Plant in a soil with plenty of organic matter worked in and a dry organic fertilizer.  I use a mixture of bone meal and blood meal.  Fertilizing is not usually necessary after that as long as you prepared your soil.  Mulch around the seedlings and water regularly.  Spinach is very cold hardy and can survive in temperature as low as 15-20 degrees. Spinach planted in zone 5 in fall will die down in winter and come back early spring.


I usually harvest the outer leaves so I can have a continuous harvest but the entire plant can be harvested.  The younger the leaves, the more tender and better flavor. Harvest in the morning.  Slightly rinse the leaves and store in a plastic container or plastic bag.  Do not clean thoroughly until you are ready to use the spinach.  

Spinach is store with lettuce and sorrel  in a large plastic air tight container.

I enjoy spinach raw in spinach salads or mixed with other greens. It's also very good in place of lettuce on salads.  It is very nutritious with vitamins A, B6, C, folate, calcium, and iron. 

Pests and Disease of Spinach

Spinach can get leaf miners and Mosaic virus which is called spinach blight.

Leaf Miners

Brown  and tan blotches on the leaves are a sign of leaf miners.  The adult is a fly that pupates in the soil and lays white eggs on the under side of the leaf.  The larvae called maggots (yuck) enter the leaf and create leaf mines.  They are hard to kill with pesticides because they are inside the leaf.  I pull off infected leaves so that the larvae don't mature and feed to livestock or throw in the garbage not the compost pile.  To help control leaf miners, cultivate or turn over the soil where you plant spinach, chard, and beets to kill the pupae.  Row covers can also keep the adult from laying eggs on the leaves.

Plants infected with spinach blight just need to be pulled up.  There is no cure for viruses and they can be spread by insects feeding on various plants. Avoid planting spinach with cucumbers and tomatoes. I companion plant spinach with onions.

Varieties of Spinach

Bloomsdale Longstanding (OP):  This is the standard for spinach.  It's my favorite.  It has deeply savoyed (wrinkled leaves) and is deep green and wonderfully flavored for salads.  The leaves are upright off the ground.  

Space (F1):  A smooth leafed spinach with spoon shaped leaves. 

Tyee (F1):  This is slightly savoyed leaf.

Giant Noble (H):  Heirloom of 1926.  Very large leafed, tender

Melody (F1):  Also very large leaves with upright growth

Butterflay:  Another good variety but low to the ground and more susceptible to problems because of that.

There are lots of other varieties to try but my garden will always have Bloomsdale Long Standing along with a other varieties.  Be sure to try a smooth leaf variety.  It will make that spinach salad much more interesting.

Summer Spinach

After all the talk about cool weather, both New Zealand Spinach and Malabar Spinach that can be grown in the summer.  The reason is that neither are a true spinach.

Malabar Spinach is a perennial vine in warm climates.  It prefers hot humid weather.  The leaves are used like spinach in salads.

New Zealand spinach needs warm soil to germinate and does not tolerate frost .  The leaves can be substituted in cooked dishes for spinach.  It is very high in oxalic acid which causes a flavor many people do not like.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Starting Seeds Indoors

It's always a miracle to me to wander around the barren, bleak winter garden and orchard and realize that within a few months buds, flowers, and emerging plants will transform the deary, dormant landscape to a lush green garden of Eden. 

What's more exciting is that I take part in the creation of that garden.  I'm grateful and excited at all the many varieties of fruits, berries, herbs, grains, and vegetables that I can grow on my property.  

This is one of the reasons I enjoy propagating my own plants.  The easiest way to do this is to start your own seeds. This allows you to pick and choose the varieties that interest you, have more control over planting dates, and let you get a little dirt under your nails in winter.

Starting seeds let you choose the varieties.
Basic Seed Starting Principles

Every seed contains a plant embryo. In order to germinate seeds are looking for three conditions to be met:  moisture, the right temperature, and the right place or soil.  Some seeds need additional conditions such as lettuce seeds which need light to germinate.  Until true leaves emerge, the seedling relies on energy stored in the seed  endosperm for food.  

Seeds need to be planted at the right depth.  If planted too deep the seedling runs out of food before the leaves emerge from the soil.  If planted too shallow they may dry up before roots develop. 

 The proper soil temperature is needed to break dormancy so the seed will germinate. The embryonic plant is protected by a seed coat.  With moisture and warmth the seed coat absorbs water, swells and the plant germinates

What do I need to Start Seeds?

Seedling Mix 

Seedling mixes are a fine texture which makes it easy for seedlings to emerge and are a soil-less medium to discourage the fungal disease of Damping Off.  Seedling mixes are finely screened and allow good soil to seed contact.  They also retain moisture well.  You do not want the seeds to dry out during germination.  I highly recommend Black Gold Seedling Mix.  It seems to be screened better than other brands.


Any container with drainage will work so you can recycle or even make newspaper pots.  If you do a lot of seed starting it saves time to invest in trays you like.   I use Speedling trays and I also go to the local nursery, Ladybug Nursery, and purchase trays which are very inexpensive.  If using trays be sure to clean them well at the end of the season. I wash them out with a final rinse of a  10% Clorox solution and let them sit in the sun awhile before storing.

Light Source

Seedlings need 12-16 hours of light.  This time of year that amount of sunlight is not available through even a south facing window.  Plants grown without adequate light will be leggy and weak.  So invest in a good source of lighting.  I use a wire bookshelf with two shop lights on adjustable chains above each tray.  The lights need to be kept 2-3" above the plants while they grow.


Air movement promotes strong roots and shoots.  The air circulation also helps prevent disease.  Leave the fan on low the same amount of time you leave the lights on.  Be sure to rotate trays so each try has the fan on it.  Brushing your plants lightly with your hand also encourages strong growth.

Liquid Fish Emulsion/Sea Kelp 

A soil-less mix has no nutrients.  Once the true leaves appear give a diluted amount of fish emulsion every week or every two weeks.

My Seed Starting Method:

I use Speedling Trays purchased from Peaceful Valley.  I invested in these because I start so many of my own plants from seed.  There are many other options available.  The important thing is that you have good drainage.

This is a 32 cell speedling tray for larger plants.

This is a 72 cell tray.  Great for smaller crops.
  I recommended Black Gold Seedling Mix.  I have had the most success and healthiest seedlings using this mix. It is important to use a soil-less mix that prevents soil borne fungal disease.  Black Gold is finely screened which makes it a great choice. I highly recommend it.

Trays planted and under lights.

Black Gold Seedling Mix
I put the seedling mix in a dish pan and mix it with water.  You can do this the day before you plant or the same day.  Fill the trays or whatever you are planting in and plant your seeds.  Remember lettuce seeds need light to germinate so I put a few seeds on top of the soil and barely cover.  I'm fairly conservative in planting.  I put only one or two seeds per container.  This saves on thinning.  It only works if you are using good quality seeds. The older the seed the lower the germination rate.

This wire bookshelf makes a great seed starting shelf.
 When the seeds germinate, I turn the lights on.  I use shop lights on chains so they are adjustable. There are 2 lights over each tray.  Keep the light 2 - 3 inches above the seedlings and turn them off at night.  When the true leaves appear you can give them some fish emulsion but dilute it much more than the recommended amount.  I also put a fan on them after the true leaves appear.  This strengthens the stems.  Following these methods keeps you from getting spindly weak plants.

This is my goat milking room in my barn.  This is also where I start my seeds.  It is heated in the winter.
Hardening Off

Plants are ready to transplant when they have 4-6 leaves.  Indoor plants are pampered and fail to develop the strength and structure or cuticle to make them strong enough to put outside without hardening them off.  If put immediately out in the garden the leaves may sunburn and the conditions may be too extreme so we expose the transplants slowly to the outdoors which allows them to harden off.  This can take 1-3 weeks depending on the time you devote to it.

The goal is to introduce them gradually to sunlight, cool evenings, wind, and less frequent watering.

First put plants out for 30 minutes in the shade then bring back inside. Gradually increase this time and start exposing the trays to sunlight for brief periods in a sheltered location.

Gradually increase the sunlight exposure and water a little less but do not allow them to wilt.  Do not fertilize at this time. Gradually increase exposure to cold temperatures by leaving out in the evening under a porch or some protection.  If you have a low tunnel you can put the trays under the low tunnel on a good day. Do not put plants out in extreme weather.

Be sure to know the hardiness of the plants you are growing.  Below are outside temperatures needed to harden off plants based on their hardiness


Recommended Minimum Temperatures
Hardy 40° F. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, cabbage, onions, leeks, parsley
Half-Hardy 45° F. Celery, Chinese cabbage, lettuce, endive
Tender 50° F. Squash, pumpkin, sweet corn
60° F. Cucumber, muskmelon
65° F. Basil, tomatoes, peppers

I ways plant new transplants under a low tunnel or cover them with a row cover.  They seem to appreciate a little protection while they are getting established. Also give a diluted drink of fish emulsion to help them get established.

When to Plant

I live in zone 5 so keep that in mind when considering these dates.  Normally seeds need to be started 6-8 weeks before the last frost date of your area.  Seed packets generally tell you if it is recommend to start that type of seeds indoors or to direct seed them into the garden.

February 1st:  Start cool season crops indoors
March 1st:  Start warm season crops indoors
March 15th- April 1st:  Direct seed cool season crops
April 15th:  plant potatoes
Mother's day:  Direct seed warm season crops and put out transplant 
May 30th:  Plant tender warm season crops
July 20th:  plant for fall garden
Sept 1 - Nov 1st:  plant garlic

Be flexible on the dates.  If you are having a cold spring postpone hardening off and planting outside.  You can always transplant into bigger pots.  Local nurseries often sell 4" round and square pots which are good to continue the growth of your plants until the weather cooperates.

Eight-Week General Seed-Starting Timetable 

Here is the general Seed-Starting Schedule for seeds that should be started eight weeks BEFORE your Frost-Free Date in your Horticultural Zone. 

Horticultural Zones 9 & 10:  Start seeds indoors in early to mid January.
Horticultural Zone 8:  Start seeds indoors in early February.
Horticultural Zone 7:  Start seeds indoors in mid February.
Horticultural Zone 6: Start seeds indoors in late February.
Horticultural Zone 5: Start seeds indoors in early March.
Horticultural Zones 1-4: Start seeds indoors in mid to late March.