Friday, 07 March 2014 11:45

First Signs Of Spring Have Arrived

By Peter Bowden | Home & Garden
It looks as though we’ve finally put the coldest days of winter behind us. The days are getting longer at both ends now. The houseplants and cuttings I rooted earlier are responding with new growth, and I’ve responded to that with light feeding. I’ve seen some robins around and my sister-in-law has bluebirds investigating the nesting box they put up last fall. The first signs of spring are everywhere. Gardeners are buying seed packets for the plants they’ll want to grow once planting season actually arrives. To get a jump on the season, we need to start some seeds indoors so they’ll be perfect transplants when May arrives. It’s pretty easy to get ahead of ourselves when it comes to seed starting, so it’s a good idea to make a seed starting schedule. Do I really need to start seeds indoors to have a great garden? Honestly, no you don’t. There are commercial greenhouse growers who are, or will be, starting all kinds of flowers and vegetable plants from seed during the next few weeks. They will be ready to go and available at the garden center right at the time that you need them. It is certainly possible for you to have a beautiful flowerbed or vegetable garden without starting one seed indoors. The only time it’s necessary to start your own is when you want a particular variety that you’ve never seen available at any of the local garden centers. Most vegetables grow from seed directly sown into the soil in spring. There are a few vegetables with a long growing season that need a head start indoors. These include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and a few others. Cucumbers, beans, squash, carrots, lettuce, radishes...indeed most of our favorite vegetables need no head start and actually do better when grown from seed sown directly into the garden. This is something newbies need to understand about vegetable gardening. How do we know which need to be started indoors? This is where the seed packet comes in real handy. On the back you’ll usually find directions. If they include a statement like “Start indoors 6-8 weeks before frost free planting date,” then you know this plant requires a head start in our climate. When is my frost free planting date? The average last frost date for the Albany Airport is listed by The Farmers’ Almanac as May 2. That date seems wildly optimistic to me. We often get frost after May 2. Remember, it is the last frost date. After spending weeks growing your transplants, you sure don’t want to lose them to frost or have them struggle in the cold. For our area, I think May 11-17 makes more sense, and there’s no reason to rush planting. Tomatoes and peppers stall when temperatures go below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, so waiting to plant them in late May often results in an earlier harvest than you’d get from plants subjected to too many cold nights early in the season. In my garden in the Glenville Hills (elevation 800 feet or so) I generally shoot for planting even later—the week before Memorial Day. The next step is to use a calendar to combine the information on the seed packs and come up with a logical schedule for starting seeds indoors. First mark “Planting Week” (May 12-18) on your calendar. Then mark the week previous to “Planting Week” “1 week BP,” meaning “one week before planting.” Mark the week previous to that “2 weeks BP” and so on until you’ve marked up to “10 weeks” before planting. Ten weeks before planting should end up being the second week of March (2-8). Now look at the information on the seed packs to see how many “weeks before planting” we need to get the seeds started indoors. For instance, look at the info on the pack of eggplant seeds. The 8-10 weeks needed to start eggplant means we’ll want to sow the seeds indoors during the first week of March. To make things easy, I just tape the seed pack to my seed starting calendar. When I get to the week the seeds need to get started, they are right there. Wouldn’t it be better to start them all as soon as possible? Some plants, like geraniums for instance, need a long time (10-13 weeks) to reach the size we want for planting. Others, like tomatoes, only need only 6-8 weeks. If you give your tomatoes lots more time indoors, they indeed will be larger. Growing for too long indoors, your tomatoes will get long and leggy reaching for the light they need during these still-short days. Leggy transplants will have a harder time adjusting to the outside, and you’ll end up burying that leggy stem anyway. You want a compact, sturdy transplant that grew in the longer days of mid-March through April. The other issue is space. If you start everything too early, you’ll need more space to spread out your seedlings as they grow...space you may not have, and your seedlings will suffer as they compete for light. Choose carefully what you want to start indoors and stick to a seed starting schedule. Thanks for the read.
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