By Dawn Gerlica, Lantern Court Horticulturist
About Victory Gardens
During World War I and II, citizens were encouraged to plant backyard gardens to help reduce the need to ration food. These gardens were known as Victory Gardens. Whether it is due to people having more time on their hands because of ‘stay home’ orders or just wanting to be sure they can produce nutritious food for their families, nurseries are having a run on seeds and plants.
In this series, we will give some tips on how to start your own garden. From deciding which plants to start from seed and how to plant to harvesting and long-term storage of the extras, there is a lot to do with a vegetable garden.
Seed Starting Indoors
Although the estimated last frost date is still several weeks away, there are still seeds you can be planting inside and outside to get your garden started for this year.
Because they need such a long growing season, tomato and pepper seeds should generally be started indoors around March and transplanted outside after the last frost once the soil has warmed. By mid-April, all cole crops, including broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower etc., should be started indoors, but if you haven’t gotten to it yet, don’t give up. Plants like these can often catch up in the warmer months. Near the beginning of May, cantaloupes, cucumbers, pumpkins, and watermelon can be started indoors.
Sowing Seeds Outdoors
Outside, even though we may still experience a few frosts until about May 16, several seeds can be sown directly into the garden. The usual advice for peas is to plant on St. Patrick’s Day, but as long as the weather is still chilly, you can start peas. Pea plants will die off as the weather gets hot in July so the earlier they can be planted, the more crop you will be able to harvest. Spinach, turnip, parsnip, onion, and carrot seeds can also be planted directly into the garden now. If you are growing herbs, chive, dill, and parsley, these seeds can all be planted outside at this time.
There are a few important things to remember. A general planting rule is to sow the seeds to a depth of no more than twice its width. Pumpkin seeds are huge and can be planted an inch down. Peas should be about a half inch into the soil. Carrot, cabbage, and many other seeds are less than 1/16th inch and some of the really small seeds need to be planted on top of the soil. If you plant them too deep, they will likely rot and not germinate. Cucumber and cantaloupe seeds are long and skinny, making the determination of width difficult, but err on the side of caution. Plant them under the soil, but not too deep.
For those seeds planted near or on the surface, keep an eye on the soil moisture and temperature. Seeds will likely die if they begin to germinate and then dry out because the soil surface dried. Covering with plastic often keeps the moisture constant, but keep any plastic covered seeds out of direct sunlight. The plastic can create a mini-greenhouse and, in direct sun, can get too hot for some seeds. If the soil is too cold, like if it is too close to a drafty window, some warm weather crop seeds will refuse to germinate and just rot away. The ideal temperature for most vegetable seed starting indoors is 70 – 80°F and out of direct sunlight. Remove the plastic once the seeds have germinated.
If you begin growing seeds indoors, seedlings cannot be moved outside until all danger of frost has passed and they need to go out gradually. Even if a seed that can tolerate frosts and germinate in the ground outdoors, if started indoors, will not be ready for exposure to frost. Those plants need to be moved outside gradually, over a few days to a week to acclimate and avoid shock and potential death. New seedlings started indoors act very much like humans in spring. As our skin has been covered with winter layers for months, we are more sensitive to sunburn and windburn in spring. Plants also must be gradually exposed to sun and wind to build up tolerance.
Happy planting and good growing!