This year I am hoping to plant a vegetable garden for the first time ever. I’ve never grown any sort of vegetables before. I’ve been doing a lot of research online and also reading the Reader’s Digest Illustrated Guide to Gardening, a book I got off the bargain rack at the bookstore. I’ve been reading a few gardening blogs as well including You Grow Girl, a really fun gardening blog that I found out about through Real Simple magazine. I’ve decided that 2008 is the year of experiment. I’m going to try growing several different vegetables and flowers without a lot of expectations in hopes that I learn a lot about gardening to be more prepared for next year.
A backyard vegetable garden requires a lot of planning up front. You have to decide what you want to plant but also consider what grows well in your area. You need to think about whether you want to start your vegetables from seeds or buy seedlings from a nursery. You need to decide where to plant your seeds or seedlings; not only where you will put your garden plot in your backyard but also where you will plant each type of vegetable within the garden plot. Finally you need to know when to plant your seeds or seedlings and how to care for them.
First I decided what I wanted to plant. I chose my vegetables based on what I like to eat and what I want to can. There’s no use growing veggies that will just go to waste! I love broccoli, bell peppers, green beans and zucchini. I also chose basil and parsely because I use those two herbs frequently. Finally I chose roma tomatoes and big boy tomatoes. Now I actually don’t like to eat tomatoes plain but I do like them in sauces and salsas. I plan to use these tomatoes for cooking and canning primarily. If I end up with too much produce I plant to share the love with my friends and family. I considered growing lettuce since I love salads, however you can’t can or freeze lettuce and I expect to receive lettuce as a part of my CSA membership.
I also decided to plant some flowers and picked out seed packets for marigolds, zinnias and impatiens. I’ve read that marigolds are good companion flowers for a veggie garden because they keep insects away. I’ve had success with planting zinnias before and then I picked impatiens because they are pretty and I wanted to try something new.
You Grow Girl had a great post several days ago about seed starting that explained what you need to do to start your seeds indoors. I went to Lowes to procure my seed starting equipment. I purchased the following:
Large-ish tray – $0.99
32 peat pots – $1.99
Seed starting mix – $3.49
Seeds – $1.00 – $2.00 per package
So I’ve been reading and researching, reading and researching and waiting until just the right time to get started. And finally last Monday night I planted my first seeds!
Depending on what you are planting, you should start your seeds approximately 6-8 weeks before the frost free date in your area. I’ve been told that in Kansas the frost-free date is generally Mother’s Day. I bet it is actually earlier than that but last year we had a late frost in April that killed everything so I am not taking any chances this year.
The first thing I did was cut the peat pots apart. They came in four trays of eight and I cut them up into 32 individual pots. I decided to plant four pots of the following: broccoli, big boy tomatoes, bell peppers, roma tomatoes, basil, impatiens, marigolds and zinnias. I plan to sow the zucchini and green beans directly into the ground in May. Finally – and this is very important – figure out a way to mark your seeds. You may think you’ll remember what you planted but you won’t. So make little signs out of cardstock or paper or mark on popsicle sticks or attach flags to toothpicks. Anything to help you remember what’s under the soil will work.
I arranged my peat pots in the tray:
Following the instructions on You Grow Girl I dumped some seed starting mix into a bowl in my kitchen sink, moistened it with a little bit of water and stirred it up. I filled each peat pot about 2/3 full will seed starting mix. Then I opened each seed packet and put 2-4 seeds in each pot depending on the size of the seed. The big boy tomatoes were the largest seed so only two went into each pot. The basil seeds were the smallest so four seeds went into each pot. The rest got three seeds. It’s a good idea to plant more than one seed in case some of them don’t germinate.
Finally cover the seeds with a little bit of seed starting mix. Don’t put too much on top of the seeds. You want the little seedlings to be able to push through the soil. The last step is to water the seeds. You Grow Girl says to water the seeds from the bottom and not from the top. Apparently watering from the top will cause mold and mildew on your seedlings. So pour some water into the tray and allow it to soak into the peat pots.
Seeds need to stay warm in order to germinate. You Grow Girl advocates the use of a seed heating mat. I checked into these and found them to be a bit expensive for the year of experiment. I used an old electric blanket that I have on the lowest setting. It doesn’t work very well anymore so it doesn’t get too hot. I also placed the seeds in a warm area of my house (ie. not near a window). The seeds don’t actually need light until they germinate.
Now you wait. Water the seeds and wait some more. Keep them damp but not soaking wet.
I actually did not have to wait too long. The winner of the germination race was….broccoli followed shortly by zinnias!
They germinated on Thursday morning after I planted them on Monday night. I was quite shocked that they germinated that fast. I fretted over them for those first three days and was very concerned that they weren’t warm enough. But I guess I did something right!
By Friday I also had marigolds. Once the seeds sprouted I moved them in front of a sunny window.
And now a week later I also have roma tomatoes sprouting and bell peppers and basil just barely peeking through. They look like this:
The roma tomatoes came out of nowhere in the last 24-36 hours.
And here are the zinnias:
The big boy tomatoes and impatiens are still snug in the soil. Hopefully they will show themselves soon. As the seeds have grown I have started thinning them out. If you don’t know, “thinning” means to pull out some of the seedlings in the pot to allow room for the others to grow. I will pull out all but the strongest seedling in each pot once the seedlings are a couple inches tall. I hate thinning out the seedlings! What if I pick the wrong one? But it has to be done or else the roots will be too crowded and the plants won’t be healthy. I’m determined to do this right and actually grow something I can eat.
Other gardening resources:
Stay tuned for the next seed update!