Garden Tips, Tools & Advice
Tools & Resources
by the Staff at Seeds of Change
Quick Start Guide (detailed instructions below)
Step-by-step: When to Plant
Whether transplanting your starts, or direct seeding to the garden, you'll first need to determine the optimum time to plant. Find out the "frost free" date for your area and follow the instructions on your seed packs. If you don't know the average date of the last frost for your area:
(Two different popular approaches to soil preparation - Double Digging and Permaculture - are covered in more detail at the end of this article.)
Place seeds in the bottom of the furrow, backfill, and lightly tamp the soil over the seed. A little depression in the center where you plant the seeds will help with watering by preventing runoff.
Consistent moisture is essential to good germination, so keep your beds damp--but not soaked--and use caution not to wash delicate seeds out. For seeds sown close to the surface, mulch with a thin layer of straw, or cover with row cover. This allows light to penetrate, while helping to keep the soil moist.
Be careful not to overwater larger, more deeply planted seeds (beans, peas, corn, squash), which may cause them to rot. If the soil surface is dry, it may still have sufficient moisture below. Stick your finger in the soil to the depth the seeds are planted to check the moisture before applying additional water.
For most seeds, you can lay a board on the soil to keep it moist while seeds are germinating. This wont work for surface sown, light-dependent germinators like lettuce or chamomile, so know the germination requirements of your seeds. Check under the board daily and remove it at the first sight of sprouting. Once your seedlings emerge, allow the surface of the soil to dry out between watering to prevent fungal diseases. When the plants are established, irrigate according to the needs of the variety as indicated by the watering information on the seed pack and/or mulch to conserve soil moisture and control weeds.
evening. If this isn't possible, early morning is the next best time. Always avoid transplanting in the heat of the day.
Plant your starts to the same soil level as they had in their pots by making your holes about the same size as the root ball. Ease the plant out of its container. If the root ball is dry, soak briefly in water or compost tea. Immediately place the plant in the hole, and gently pack the space around it with soil. Making a small depression, or "well", around the plant, will help in watering. For tomatoes, bury a portion of the stem to increase your root system.
If cutworms are a problem in your garden, make some cardboard collars to place around the stems of your transplants. The collars should encircle the stem from an inch below the soil surface to about 2 inches above the surface.
Keep your newly transplanted starts continually moist for a week or so. You can decrease watering frequency as the plants plunge their roots deeper into the soil. Mulching with straw or other organic material will help retain moisture and control weeds, but can also keep the soil from warming up in the spring. It's best not to mulch too heavily until the soil is good and warm, depending on the needs of the variety.
Remember, these new transplants will grow fast, so follow the recommended spacing on the seed pack. An occasional application of a liquid organic fertilizer, compost tea, or side-dressing with mature compost should keep them going strong, right through to the harvest.
A Note on Hardening Off
About two weeks before you're ready to transplant your seedlings, you'll need to get them used to the idea of being outside in the sun, wind, and cool nights. Do this by setting them outside in a protected place for an hour or two at first, then gradually increase their exposure until transplanting day. Be sure not to overdo it at first and remember that they will dry out much faster outside. Using a coldframe that can be opened during the day and closed at night is another good way to harden off seedlings.
Double Digging: The Short Course
Double digging is a great way to establish new beds, especially in clay or heavy loam soils. Once established you wont have to deep dig the soil again unless it gets really compacted.
The Permaculture Approach
Sheet mulching is a great, albeit slower, way to prepare garden beds with little of the physical labor of double digging and raking. Cover sod with many layers of newspaper or a couple of sheets of clean cardboard, then layer in various kinds of organic matter such as composted animal manures, grass clippings, dry leaves, spoiled hay, straw, coffee grounds, food scraps, or whatever else you can find. In as little as six months, depending on conditions, beds should be ready to plant by pulling back the top layer of mulch and transplanting or direct seeding into the newly created soil. Continue to add organic materials to maintain fertility. For immediate gratification, cardboard can be covered with a one-to-one mix of clean topsoil and finished compost, raked smooth, planted and mulched.
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