Right now, as I am writing this in the middle of a Sunday afternoon, I am sitting here watching the snow fall. Just because it is cold and snowy, doesn’t mean that now’s not the time to begin preparing for this year’s garden. I have started a number of projects. Here is what I have done so far this winter.
I mentioned in my previous post that I am raising sweet potatoes from roots of last year’s sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are tropical, perennial vines that may have originated in India, although until recently, scientists thought sweet potatoes were a South American native. The plants produce edible leaves as well as tubers.
Last year when I started the original plants, I planted a single sweet potato just after Thanksgiving in soil in a pot and kept it watered. I had to wait patiently for several weeks before the first leaves showed above the surface. From the plants that grew, I secured several slips (plants with leaves and roots) and planted them in an area of the garden.
Because my garden was just starting, and I didn’t have a bed ready to plant them, I piled a bunch of leaves in a ditch where it had good sunlight and then topped them off with soil I found in an old tractor tire. I then planted the four surviving sweet potato slips in the new bed. I wasn’t sure what to expect, I kept it watered and somewhat weeded. The plants started growing slow, but as the weather heated up, the plants not only took over the bed, but took over the lawn around it. Because I couldn’t mow the lawn around the sweet potatoes, I piled grass clippings around the plants though this didn’t keep all weeds down, having the mulch there did make it easier to pull the weeds that did come up.
I harvested before the first frost of the year. I harvested about twenty-five pounds of potatoes.
After harvesting the sweet potatoes, I harvested the roots. Because sweet potatoes are perennials, the roots, if kept from freezing will produce the next year. I planted them in a long low recycled planting container. As you can see, here it is January and I have a good start on these plants.
Though I will be planting onion sets in the garden, I planted onions from seeds. I will be putting them in the ground about the same time I put the onion sets into the ground as well. One advantage to growing from seed is that I can plant different types of onions and do it at a lower cost than with onion sets.
Chives belong to the onion family and can be sown directly outdoors in a garden bed, but if you’d like to get a head start, start seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before the last spring frost.
Cabbages and Broccoli
Cabbage and broccoli are such close relatives that they can be planted in the same way for transplanting. Sow two cabbage seeds about ½ inch apart and ¼ inch deep in each cell. Spritz the soil surface with water from a plastic spray bottle to evenly moisten the surface. Do not water enough to make the soil soggy or wet. Close the flat up in a clear plastic bag. Poke a few holes in it with a toothpick to allow for proper air circulation. Set it in a warm, brightly lit room out of direct sun. The top of your refrigerator or above a hot water heater are ideal locations. Your cabbage seeds will sprout in about three to four days if the soil temperature remains between 80 to 85 F. Cooler soil temperatures may slow germination time to as long as two weeks.
Check the soil every day to make sure it never dries out. Spritz with water as necessary to keep the soil surface evenly moist but not soggy or wet.
Feed the seedlings a water-soluble 15-30-15 houseplant fertilizer about three days after germination. Dilute the product to half-strength. Repeat applications every two weeks. Follow the packaging instructions.
Cut the weakest seedling in each cell off at the soil line with clean, sharp scissors when the plants each develop one set of true leaves.
Harden seedlings off one week prior to planting in the garden. Set them in the shade during the first two or three days and bring them in at night. Place the seedlings in a sunny spot during morning hours for the next three or four days. Move them to shade during afternoons and bring them in at night for the next few days. Allow them to spend all day in the sun and bring them indoors overnight for several days. Set them outside for good thereafter.
I sowed my pepper seeds 10-12 weeks prior to transplanting. I planted them ¼” deep in a fine-textured soil mixed with vermiculite to provide good drainage. I planted two kinds of hot peppers and two kinds of sweet peppers. I made sure that I had each one carefully labeled because I would hate to mix them up. Because they are growing in my living room window, I didn’t worry that the bottom heat needed to be between 80–90°F/27–32°C. Seeds will germinate in 7–8 days at that temperature; at lower temps, germination is slower, erratic, and percentage germination is reduced.
In about 2 weeks, when the first true leaves begin to form, carefully separate the seedlings and transplant them into cell trays or pots.
Pepper seedlings should be grown for 10-12 weeks before being transplanted outdoors.
Growing eggplants in containers will allow you to grow these veggies earlier since the soil in containers warms up faster. Growing in containers will also help you deal with weeds and pests conveniently. In fact, these troubles are less likely to bug you when growing eggplants in containers.
I started the eggplant seeds indoors. I filled the pot with vermiculite and soil and planted the seeds so that I could thin them later. Eggplant seeds will germinate in about ten days and will be ready for transplanting in 6 to 8 weeks.
Other Herbs to Begin Early
Some plants are slow germinating but do best when they are first treated with cold for 30-90 days. I start these seeds by putting some vermiculite in a plastic bag and dampened with water and then putting the bags in the freezer for one to three months. Afterwards, I bring the seeds back up to room temperature and plant as recommended. Here are the herbs that I treated with this method. These are parsley, lavender, echinacea, and true comfrey
In addition, other herbs, particularly perennials need more time to get started so that they can be planted later out in the garden with better results. These are hyssop, oregano, and Russian tarragon-I used the same vermiculite and soil mix that I used for the other seeds. Because the seeds were so small, I just pressed them into the soil and watered as usual.
Why I Am Not Using a Tiller
Last week, I said that I would tell you why I am using a broad fork rather than tilling. There are two basic reasons. The first one is that it enables me to dig out the Bermuda grass that invaded the garden. The second reason is because I don’t turn the soil with the broad fork. The tiller destroys tilth and causes hard pan to develop below the ground that is turned. Instead, it simply loosens and aerates the soil which is especially good to do with clay soil like I have.
If you enjoyed my post, I would love to hear what you think of this post! If you have any questions about growing transplants from seeds, please feel free to ask them down in the comments below.