When is it time to plant my veggies?

on Sunday, February 6, 2011

It's that time of year where we gardeners who start many of our plants from seeds (as opposed to buying already started plants at the garden centers, hardware stores, etc) need to start paying more attention to the date. Once you know your average last frost date, you can backtrack when to start the seeds for each variety of plant. You have to take into consideration whether or not you're direct seeding into the soil outside, or if you're starting your seeds indoors so that you are transplanting the seedlings (small plants) into your garden after they've already had some development time.I've had a Google Calendar set up for a few years now with my countdown of "how many weeks til last frost" (which is telling me we're about 15 wks as of yesterday), but I do double check with data each year...just to make sure I haven't goofed my future listings of the countdown somehow. And then, based on that info, I also have reminders in a different Google Calendar for what needs to be sown each week. You can see an example of that, for what things will look like April 9th, here:

(I made sure to pick a busier day a few months down the road - there's not much showing on the calendar right now!)

So how do you figure all this out?
Well, first you need to figure out what your average last frost date is. There's a number of places you can find that info online (just Google "last frost date " + whatever your zip code is. Dave's Garden provides a super informative version - check this out!

Yeah, that's a lot more info than I need to know, but it includes the basics, and let's me know I've got some wiggle room. It doesn't, however, tell me when to start each variety of plant I'm working with. Don't worry - there's resources for that too!

Just hop on over to Johnny's Selected Seeds for one of my favorite plant starting calculators!

(You can click each of these images to view them full size)

You'll notice in the screenshot from the Dave's Garden frost calculator I highlighted my "almost guaranteed" last frost date - May 10, 2011. Then I plugged that date into Johnny's calculator to figure out when I'll want to start my seeds. There's a lot of stuff on the list I know I won't be growing (like melons and mustard)....and with some of the other things, I know I'll scrap the info they provide because I've picked up other techniques over the years. Like they're suggesting starting tomatoes between March 22 and April 12. My dad taught me years ago to get started way earlier than that. You know those large tomato plants you buy at the garden center to put in your garden? Yeah, those aren't just 6-8 weeks old. Those were started during winter, and then potted up a time or two. And that's what I do. Warning - using this technique with your tomatoes (and peppers, and eggplants) DOES start to take up a lot more space in your house!

Hm, looks like my Google Calendar says April 9 for starting eggplants indoors, while Johnny's calculator suggests that's too late. Yup, need to update my calendar!

Oh, and my leeks? Yup, I started those earlier than recommended in this calculator - but I've learned a technique where you "drill" a hole (about an inch across) about 8-10" deep for each leek plant in your garden bed, and drop in a roughly 10" tall leek that you started in the middle of winter. DON'T fill in the soil. DO water the leeks gently, and that'll cause a little soil to wash into the bottom of that hole. And when you do future waterings, and when it rains, or the wind blows strongly, that'll knock a little more soil into the hole, SLOWLY filling it. In the meantime, that leek's taken root at the bottom of that hole, settled in, and started growing up out of the hole even more. This is a GREAT way to get the really long white shaft you want on high quality leeks. Whatever's buried is going to be "blanched" - meaning it remains tender and white - the part above ground is tougher and is what recipes usually tell you not to use. (Just don't pitch the tough green part - bag it, freeze it, and use it in stocks later!) So that's why I start my leeks extra early - I don't want to plant out super tiny wispy "hairs" and then have to keep hilling up the soil around them - that's alot of work. I plant out more mature plants, and just plant them deep.

Here's a teaser image of leeks from a previous season. Right now the only leeks we're enjoying are some from this past summer that I washed, chopped, blanched and froze. They contributed to an EXCELLENT potato leek soup yesterday!

Anyhow, as you can see from Johnny's calculator, you want to start celery indoors around this area on February 22. I'm not growing true celery like you'd get in the grocery store, but I will be growing a similar plant called cutting celery, so I'll start it then. Looks like I'll be wanting to start parsley (and probably some other herbs) in the next week or so as well!

And if so many things are so far off with when I really have to kick into gear with my indoor seed starting, why am I already worrying about the dates? Welllll....I'll get back to that with another post soon! I found another neat tool online, and I need all the seed starting data to help me with it!

The garden season - it is rapidly approaching!

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