This page reflects what works for me in my Sumner, Washington garden. As such it is
a work in progress - as I gain experience and/or discover different techniques, my
methodology changes (as does this page!).
Although it is being written from the perspective of the maritime Pacific Northwest, most comments should be applicable to anyone's circumstances.
General Comments on Transplanting
Speaking in general, most crops which are well-adapted to our cool climate can be direct-seeded into the garden; this can actually be an easier way to grow them. Heat-loving crops, if you want them to produce well, need the six-to-eight-week head start that growing transplants can produce. In addition, I have found that raising some crops as transplants lets me make more efficient use of my garden. For example, I raise some fall broccoli transplants, even though they grow well when I direct seed them; the bed I want to plant the broccoli in usually has late spring peas, which aren't quite done at the time I'd need to direct seed the broccoli.
Fertilizer recommendations, when given, refer to the complete organic fertilizer that I use. Unless otherwise noted, the fertilizer is mixed into the soil below the plant (or row) before the seed is sown or the plants are transplanted.
If you use a different fertilizer, be sure to follow its label guidelines regarding application for the various crops.
Crucifers read related articles
The problem with the brassicas (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kohlrabi) is they tend to handle stress by bolting at a young age. So you don't want to start them too early; if they get rootbound, you probably will be disappointed in the final results. This is well documented in many writings; unfortunately I have also demonstrated it in my garden a few times. If you're growing them cool (and you should be), individual 2-inch pots will still only hold them for about 4 weeks. Up here in western Washington, I figure mid-March is safe for putting them outside under a cloche, so I start them inside about February 15th.
Once the soil warms up, I find it easier to direct seed my brassica crops. One idea of many I've borrowed from Steve Solomon: Scoop a cup of soil out where you'd like your broccoli/cabbage/cauliflower to be. Fill that hole with potting soil, and sow the seed in there. Your seed will get off to a quicker start than if you sowed it directly into the native soil.
- Cauliflower and broccoli get around three quarters fertilizer per plant.
- For kohlrabi I use rougly one cup per 4-5 row feet. In spring I also band bloodmeal alongside the row once the seed germinates, at a rate of a tablespoon per two row feet.
- Cabbage gets one and a half cups of fertilizer per plant.
- Brussels sprouts are fertilized with one half to three quarters of a cup per plant.
- Leafy crucifers such as mustard and kale receive a half cup per 4-5 row feet.
Edible Greens read related articles
Lettuce is hardy to the low 20s (F), so you can start that darn early. I start mine indoors during the first half of January. But then, I can pretty much guarantee no temps will be below 20F by March 1, and usually before. Like other greens, it'll get off to a quicker start under a cloche if the spring is cold and wet.
Spinach is a very hardy green, but is somewhat succeptible to diseases which thrive in cool wet weather (such as downy mildew). Now that I know this, I can keep it alive most winters by covering it with a cloche. Sometimes my overwintered spinach doesn't perk up in spring, even with some bloodmeal added; so I start more inside with my earliest lettuce around January 15th.
Endive, Escarole, Kale, and Arugula are all quite hardy, and are very easy to direct seed in the garden. 'Perfect' escarole, grown under a cloche to protect it from the constant winter rains, has taken 8F in my garden without flinching. I've grown several types of kale, always out in the open; they all seem able to take all the rain and cold our winters can dish out. Various types of endive and escarole vary in their tolerance of cold, and in their bitterness. Generally I direct seed these in August, and don't grow them spring or summer because their flavor is too strong (and, in the case of kale, the texture is too tough) until they've been frosted a number of times.
One green I am learning to love is Garden Cress. I have grown it without any protection for the past two winters, during which it has held up admirably. Despite tons of rain, and colder than average temperatures, the plants look as good in March as they did in September. This green will really pep up those winter sandwiches! It also grows great during the "normal" gardening season; and, being biennial, gives you a LONG harvest from one sowing. Like most crucifers, it is easily transplanted; but I suggest trying direct seeding.
- I generally broadcast fertilizer into the bed, since these greens are planted rather densely. Unfortunately I am not consistent. Figure on using 1-2 cups per 10 square feet of bed. Start with the lower amount, and if that doesn't give you good results increase it the next time.
- All greens respond well to a side-dressing of blood meal, especially in spring
- Arugula and mache (corn salad) grows fine without fertilizer, unless your soil is poor. However, they do respond to fertilizer by making larger, more succulent, leaves.
Root Crops read related articles
Many of these - carrots, celery, parsley, parsnips) - are umbellifers, and form taproots. Any vegetable that develops a taproot is going to be difficult to transplant. Commercial celery growers direct seed their crops. Transplanted celery, as anyone who's grown it knows, just needs amazing amounts of water to do anything at all. When I've direct-seeded it, celery seemed to get by (in my silty clay soil) with just regular garden irrigation. But, if you direct seed it before the daytime temps are consistently above 50F or so, it often will bolt on you.
If you have trouble direct-seeding things like carrots or celery, try covering the seed with seed-starting mix instead of soil. It won't crust they way clay soils do. This is a good trick (borrowed from Roger Swain) for any not-too-vigorous seeds, such as spinach or parsnip.
Beets are not umbellifers, and transplant reasonably well. Since they germinate in fairly cool soil, there isn't usually much reason to raise them as transplants.
- Beets do well on some soils without any fertilizer. Something must be missing from mine, though - I find it necessary to give them about 1/2 cup per 5 row feet.
- Celery is unlike the other umbellifers, requiring lots of feeding. Give it 1 cup of fertilizer per plant. Also plan on banding 2 tablespoons of blood meal around each plant every month after it has started to really grow.
- Carrots, parsnips, and parsley (both root or leaf varieties) grow well without fertilizer. If you fertilize them, the roots may be prone to hairyness and forking.
Cucurbits read related articles
Cucumber, melons, squash: You have probably read that these plants are very touchy about transplanting. After trying several growing techniques, I have decided this mainly applies if you are trying to dig them out of a seedling flat. I've had good success transplanting cucurbits, as long as I sow them in either large peat pots or plastic pots. Sow 4-5 seeds in a pot, and thin out all but the two strongest plants as soon as the first true leaf starts to form (please see the next paragraph as well). They should only get transplanted once, meaning when you move them to the garden. Don't let them get rootbound! Squash will be ready to transplant in about 21 days from sowing in a 3-inch pot!
Although most references say to start two seeds (or plants) in each planting hole, I have been experimenting with only growing one plant per spot for two years. The initial appearance is that (at least in our marginal climate) yields for heat-lovers, i.e. the cucumbers and melons, are not hurt by this, and production may actually be advanced by a week or two. If true, this may be due to the fact that these marginal plants need every advantage they can get, including minimal competition for nutrients and water. It will take a couple years of trials before I am ready to whole-heartedly endorse this idea, but you might consider trying it if you don't live in a heat pocket.
- Cucumbers and melons receive one and a half cup fertilizer per plant (assuming they are thinned to one plant per spot).
- Winter squash are given one cup fertilizer per spot.
- Summer squash get 1/4 to 1/2 cup fertilizer. Zucchini seem to do fine with even less, at least in my garden. Heirloom varieties seem to want more, though - aroung one cup per plant.
Solanaceae read related articles
The nightshade family includes tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and potatoes. These are easy, except for getting them to germinate. Tomato seed germinates slowly below 70F. Eggplant and peppers generally will not germinate at all in cool soil! Use a heating pad or tape. Some people put newly-sown flats near a woodstove, or on top of the water heater; but then you have to watch them carefully to prevent etoliation (long, spindly growth due to lack of light). Once they're up, it's mainly a matter of providing enough light and enough root room. Until I get my greenhouse, I just don't have the room for anything bigger than a 4" pot. So I start my tomatoes and peppers about 6 weeks before they'll go outside (March 1 on tomatoes, and March 21 on peppers). As my garden night-time temperatures are rather low even in mid-summer (50F-55F), I grow my tomato and pepper seedlings on the cool side, with daytime temps in the 60s and nighttime temps typically between 50F and 55F with occasional dips into the 40s. This guarantees me the "hardest" seedlings possible, that won't easily get shocked when I put them outdoors.
Many people set out peppers and eggplant at the same time they transplant the tomatoes. This is a good way to shock these tender plants. Tomatoes are quite a bit more hardy than their cousins, and can take 40F if they've been properly hardened and are under some sort of cover. Peppers and eggplant will often get shocked if the temperature falls much below 50F, even if hardened off.
One note: If your problem is mainly NIGHT temperatures, you can start these earlier. Once they're in big pots, you just cart them outside during the day, and back in at night. It can be a pain in the neck, though. When I did this with peppers one year (they were in gallon pots by early May, and I didn't want them planted until about June 1), my wife got REALLY TIRED of having our back porch stuffed to the gills with plants in the evening!
- Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant are given 1/2 cup fertilizer per plant.
- With potatoes it really varies. In spring, 1 cup fertilizer per 10 row feet may increase your vines' vigor and yield. Later plantings, though, may grow well without fertilizer, and yield can be adversely affected by too much nitrogen. What works best for you will depend on your garden's soil fertility. Remember that it's easier to add nitrogen later, if needed, than to try to taking it back out of the soil!
Brief Comments on Damping-Off
Many gardeners experience problems with damping off when they try to raise certain transplants. There are several different fungi which will attack newly-germinated plants; some hit before the seedlings break the surface of the soil, while others attack your apparently healthy little seedlings after they've gotten their start. There are certain preventative steps you can take, although some plants are just more succeptible than others (tomatoes and petunias spring to mind; commercial tobacco crops also fall prey to damping off).
- Use a sterile starting mix. Damping off fungus is often present in unsterilized soil or compost. Unfortunately, it can also be present in your water, or even on the seed coat!
- Don't overwater. Many gardeners leave their starting pots soaking wet. Most seeds can draw water out of fairly dry soil. Sow the seed, water it thoroughly from the bottom, then let the pots drain for several minutes. Instead of repeatedly drenching the pots, seal them inside a plastic bag to retain moisture.
- Promote good air circulation. This can be at odds with the previous point! If you enclose your pots and flats to maintain moisture levels, be sure to remove them at the first sign of germination, to allow the emerging seedlings to get good air circulation.
- Use a fungicide, either on the seed or in the water. I don't like to do this, but it will work. Remember, not every fungicide is equally effective on every type of fungus. Two recommended fungicides are captan (usually on the seed) and benomyl. Some recent research indicates aluminum also inhibits certain fungi.
- Seeds that need warmth to germinate are generally more succeptible than seeds that need cool temperatures. The fungi are reported to be most active between 68F and 86F.
All contents © Travis Saling
This page was last updated November 19, 2013