Tag Archives: seeds

Tips for Starting Seeds for Your Garden

melons

Tuscan melons get a head start when start seed indoors

Starting seeds now for the garden is tempting. Racks of seed packets with their pretty images of fresh vegetables and cut flowers are like heart-shaped boxes of chocolate. Each packet is a morsel, a promise of something good to come. Starting seeds is like eating chocolate, who can resist?

As with chocolate, however, some restraint is needed. February feels like it is time to sow seeds. Surely a garden center full of seed packets is sending us a message. But before you start, here are a few tips on when to start which particular plant. This is a two-part article: this article will explain the difference between cool and warm season plants and when to start warm season plants. The subsequent article will cover cool season plants.

Learn which plants prefer warm versus cool weather

The first step is to make a list of what you want to grow and/or your seed packets. From that list, identify which plants prefer cool or warm temperatures.

For example, if you wish to start seeds of tomatoes and cilantro, mark tomatoes as a warm season plant. Plant tomatoes outside when there is no danger of frost. Cilantro prefers cool weather and can tolerate a light frost.

If you don’t know, ask your local extension agent, look online at seed catalogs, or read a printed seed catalog or a gardening book. A few online seed catalogs that provide quality descriptions for this are Burpee, Johnny’s Selected Seed, Botanical Interests, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and Renee’s Garden. Just type in the plant name in their search bar and don’t worry so much about the cultivar for now.

tomato

Tomato transplants in an Earthbox in May

Learn your average last frost date

Focusing on the warm season plants for now, identify your average last frost date. Using davesgarden.com and my zip code, my risk of frost in my Northern Virginia zone 7 garden, is from October 13 through April 23. I am almost guaranteed not to get frost from May 9 through September 29. I arbitrarily picked April 30 as the day when I can move my transplants from inside to outside to harden off. Picking the end of a month makes it easy to remember and to calculate weeks.

Using April 30 as the marker, count back the number of weeks it takes for that seed to germinate and reach transplanting size. This information should be on the seed packet but if not go back to the original resources I listed above. My tomato seed packages say “start seeds 6 to 8 weeks before average last frost” or “before transplanting.” Keep in mind that this is only to get a jump on the season. You can always start seed outdoors after the danger of frost has past but quite a few weeks of growing season would be lost. Six weeks from April 30 is mid-March, which is when I would sow my tomato seeds in small containers under lights.

Purchase lights to starting warm weather seeds indoors

Starting seed by a window does not provide enough light. The seed container has to be just a few inches under the florescent tubes or special grow lights. Therefore if you are interested in growing from seed, invest in lights but you can use cheap fluorescent tubes from hardware stores. Once you turn on the lights, you keep them on for 14 to 16 hours every day until you move the plants outside.

Decide which seeds to start under lights

Your indoor light system becomes prime real estate. Within the category of warm season plants, identify which seeds should be started indoors in this prime real estate section, i.e., need a head start before the end of April. Separate that list from those that could be started outdoors in the beginning of May. For example, because beans germinate and grow quickly to produce a harvest, start them outdoors in May and save the prime real estate for tomatoes that need a month and a half head start. Identify the number of weeks recommended for starting seeds indoors for each plant. Usually one starts tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, onions, celery, and Brussels sprouts indoors to get a jump on the season. Start beans, corn, watermelons, zinnias, sunflowers, summer squash, cucumbers, pumpkin, and basil outdoors in May.

roselle

Roselle is a tropical plant that needs a head start

This is an example of what my list looks like for starting seeds of warm season plants under lights. I will try several varieties of pepper, tomatoes, and melons, which takes up even more space under the lights.

March 1: Eight weeks prior to average last frost date of April 30

March 15: Six weeks prior to average last frost day of April 30

April 15: Two weeks prior to average last frost date of April 30

Seed Catalogs, Seed Catalogs, Get Your Seed Catalog!!

In anticipation of a great 2018 gardening season,  I have updated my list of seed catalogs on my website under the tab “seed catalogs” to include 38 companies. Note that many catalogs are free, just contact the company. I am starting to get seed catalogs in the mail but I usually wait until I have a quorum and then we sit down to chat. They say “buy me, buy me, I am new and better!” and I say “Yes, I want, I want, I want BUT do I have enough space? Do I have enough time?” And so it goes for weeks….

In a Vase on Monday: Marigolds for Autumn Color

Just good old fashioned marigolds but makes a great fall flower for the vase. Have been saving the seed each year and planting again until I forget where they originally came from. Easiest flower for saving seed. #inavaseonmonday

 

 

Growing Burpee’s Tomatoes and Heirloom Tomatoes this Summer

Labor Day Weekend Haul of Tomatoes

I have always grown tomatoes from seed, simply because I like to grow plants from seed. Tomatoes are particularly easy, they germinate fast and are easy to grow. Each year I start different tomato seeds indoors under lights and end up with many to give away. My family of four loves fresh tomatoes in the summer so I grow at least half a dozen tomato plants in our Virginia backyard.

This spring, a representative from Burpee Home Gardens asked if I would like to grow several tomato plants that Burpee was going to introduce in 2018. I was intrigued. Since I have not bought tomato plants in years, I thought it would be interesting to see the difference between these hybrids and my plants. Burpee has been selling seed for over 140 years but they also sell plants and they offer both heirlooms and hybrids for some of their vegetables.

I had already started the heirloom Marglobe (determinate slicer) from a source other than Burpee (Burpee also sells this) and Chianti Rose (indeterminate beefsteak) from seed when Burpee had contacted me. In May, I planted my seedlings and Burpee’s plants, each with a 6-foot tall post. Deer came through once or twice in early summer so I was left with the following from Burpee: two Gladiators (indeterminate paste), two Oh Happy Day (indeterminate junior beefsteak), and one Tomato Combo Take 2 Blockbuster (a determinate slicer and a cherry together). I also had two Marglobe and four Chianti Rose plants.

Heirloom Chianti Rose tomato

My two heirloom tomatoes are plants that have been grown from seed for generations. Heirlooms are usually passed down and have a story connected with them or are a family favorite. I could save the Marglobe or Chianti Rose seed, plant them next year, and get exactly the same type of plant. The Burpee plants are cultivars that have been bred to have particular characteristics. I could save the seed, plant them next year, and get tomatoes but they would not retain the same desired characteristics that Burpee had selected (usually disease resistance). Except for the annual deer visit, I don’t have a serious disease/pest problem in my garden with my plants.

Heirloom Marglobe, a determinate tomato plant

I do grow a combination of determinate and indeterminate tomato plants to space out my harvest. Indeterminate plants grow, bloom, and fruit over and over again until frost so you can harvest tomatoes throughout the summer. Determinate plants will stop growing when fruit sets on the top buds so the tomatoes ripen at the same time in a window of a few weeks.

As the summer progressed, I watered all the plants often with a hose, fertilized a few times, and strung the branches to the post with yarn (leftover from kids’ projects). This year, however, I felt that I had to keep stringing the tomatoes, more often than in the past. Every weekend I was stringing up the Gladiator and the Oh Happy Day plants to the stake and then having to string the branches up so they would not fall down. These two in particular were growing fast, with many branches and more weight. My yarn was becoming an aerial infrastructure just to keep branches up. My heirlooms were growing well but not as robust or as branched as these Burpee plants.

Burpee’s Gladiator paste tomato plant

In mid-August, I had harvested about 2 red tomatoes from the two Gladiator plants, which had about 10 green tomatoes on each plant. Gladiator is the first paste tomato plant that I have grown and it is firm enough for sandwiches and salads, not as wet and messy as the slicers or beefsteaks. Traditionally, paste tomatoes are used for pasta sauce and for dehydration so I plan to use these in our pasta sauce, chili, and bean stew. I would definitely use a cage next time; one stake is not enough. This particular type was bred to resist blossom end rot, which rarely occurs in my garden, but I did not see it on these plants.

Burpee’s Oh Happy Day with red tomato

The Oh Happy Day gave me a couple of red junior beefsteak tomatoes early in the season, which we used in salads and sandwiches. Anything that colors up early in the season is a plus in my book. In mid-August there were about 20 green tomatoes on each of the plants. This plant was very vigorous and again, I would use cages next time. The fruit clustered together, making it easy to simply twist a ripe one off the vine.

The Tomato Combo Take 2 Blockbuster is a combination of a small cherry tomato, a yellow indigo, and a determinate red slicer. Although I planted these in the ground, I would recommend planting in a large container on the deck. The plants are only a few feet tall and would make a great conversation piece on the deck or patio. It would also make it easier for people to see the pretty yellow indigo tomatoes. By mid-August, I harvested about 10 yellow indigos and a red slicer but there were about 5 green slicers and a few more yellow indigos on the plant.

Yellow Indigo cherry from Burpee’s Tomato Combo Take 2 Blockbuster plant

In mid-August, the Marglobe had a dozen green tomatoes on each plant. The plant seemed to be okay with the stake, it was not as heavily branched or as “viney” but then it is a determinate. Marglobe has very pretty fruit, red and round like a ball.

The Chianti Rose plants had about five green tomatoes on each plant. The Chianti Rose is not a pretty tomato, it is large and flattened, sort of an oblong beefsteak. It ripens to pink instead of red. Because the fruit is large, the plant bends under the weight. A cage would have been better, plus each plant took up a lot of space.

I have to confess I rarely have pests or diseases with my tomatoes so I did not notice any difference between Burpee’s plants and the heirlooms in this regard. I did notice that the Burpee plants had more vigor and growth so it would have been best to use cages for the Gladiator and the Oh Happy Day plants. They were large plants with many branches and more tomatoes than the Marglobe and Chianti Rose.  If I had to do it over again, I would have put the Tomato Combo Take 2 Blockbuster in a container. All of the tomatoes tasted good and it was great to learn that the paste tomatoes could be used for sandwiches and salads as well as pasta sauces. I am sure Burpee will have these plants for sale at the local garden centers next year.

Next year, grow tomatoes in the garden or in a container. Nothing beats their fresh taste — summer in a bite!

Oh Happy Day grows in clusters, easy to pick

New Videos on Plant Propagation From Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Program

The Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Program has produced a series of 10 short videos on YouTube about plant propagation. Filmed in the Virginia Tech greenhouses, each video is about 4 minutes or less. Topics include seeding, transplanting, grafting, air layering, tomato grafting, and the many different types of plant division. These will be helpful as you begin to start seeds indoors now or if you are interested in dividing and multiplying your houseplants.

 

Starting Cool Season Veggies in Northern Virginia

Here is a handy chart courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange. Seeds or transplants of cool season veggies can be planted when the temperatures are at least 40 degrees, which is March and April in Virginia.  There are two types of cool season veggies. Hardy types can withstand a heavy frost and  temperatures as  low as 40 degrees so they can be planted two to three weeks before the average last frost. In Northern Virginia, the average last frost date is between April 10 and 21 so I arbitrarily pick April 15 to be able to remember. That means that I can either directly sow seed into the ground the weekend of March 25 (because I work during the week) or (having started the seeds indoors) I can plant the small plants into the ground. Semi-hardy plants can withstand a light frost and prefer slightly warmer temperatures toward 50 degrees so they have to be planted later, two weeks before average last frost date which would be the weekend of April 1. If a severe temperature drop would to occur, I would protect the plants by covering them with empty 2-liter plastic soda bottles that had bottoms cut off.

cool-season-crops-infographic

Updated Source of Seed Catalogs for Upcoming 2017 Gardening Season!

seed-catalogsI updated my list of companies that produce seed catalogs on my seed catalogs tab. Note that a lot of catalogs are free (check their website), educational, and so visual — a great way to see the possibilities for this year’s growing season!

 

Seed Companies that mail print catalogs (online companies are listed at the end)

Adaptive Seeds http://www.adaptiveseeds.com

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed http://www.rareseeds.com

Botanical Interests http://www.botanicalinterests.com

Burpee http://www.burpee.com

Fedco Seeds http://www.fedcoseeds.com

Harris Seeds http://www.harrisseeds.com

High Mowing Seeds http://www.highmowingseeds.com

Hudson Valley Seed Library http://www.seedlibrary.org

John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds http://www.kitchengardenseeds.com

Johnny’s Selected Seeds http://www.johnnyseeds.com

J.W. Jung Seed http://www.jungseed.com

Kitazawa Seed Company http://www.kitazawaseed.com

Park Seed http://www.parkseed.com

Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply http://www.groworganic.com

R.H. Shumway http://www.rhshumway.com

Seeds of Change http://www.seedsofchange.com

Seed Savers Exchange http://www.seedsavers.org

Seeds from Italy http://www.growitalian.com

Select Seeds/Antique Flowers http://www.selectseeds.com

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange http://www.southernexposure.com

Sow True Seed http://www.sowtrueseed.com

Stokes Seeds http://www.stokeseeds.com

Territorial Seed Company http://www.territorialseed.com

Tomato Growers Supply Company http://www.tomatogrowers.com

Totally Tomatoes http://www.totallytomato.com

Urban Farmer http://www.ufseeds.com

Vermont Bean Seed http://www.vermontbean.com

Online Seed Companies

(companies that do not produce print catalog, order from web site)

American Meadows, Inc. http://www.americanmeadows.com

Renee’s Garden http://www.reneesgarden.com

Sample Seeds http://www.sampleseeds.com

Start Hardy Annuals now for Spring Flowers

love-in-a-mist

love-in-a-mist

I forgot to grow zinnias. Every year I grow zinnias so I can put a vase of flowers on my desk at work but for some odd reason, I didn’t this year. Now in the heat of summer I don’t have many options to choose from but next year I will grow zinnias for summer blooms and on top of that, will start even earlier with spring flowers.

dianthus

dianthus

To learn more about increasing the diversity of flowers in my Northern Virginia garden, I have been following Lisa Mason Ziegler’s virtual book study for the past month. Each Friday for 10 Fridays, she posts a 10-minute video that corresponds to a chapter in her book, Cool Flowers: How to Grow and Enjoy Long-Blooming Hardy Annual Flowers Using Cool Weather Techniques. The videos can be viewed on her website any time and she is more than happy to answer questions.  Lisa manages a commercial cut flower business in Newport News, Virginia. She is well known in the horticulture field, has written books and given lectures, and has an online garden shop called The Gardener’s Workshop. Lisa is an expert on hardy annuals, which prefer to bloom during spring’s cool temperatures. Hardy annuals differ from the summer annuals in that the seeds are sown in August/September or February/March, depending on the plant. In contrast, summer annuals, like zinnias, prefer the heat so they are sown after the danger of frost has passed in late April/early May.

Of the 30 plants mentioned in her book, I have seeds of six plants on hand. I can start snapdragon, dianthus, and feverfew indoors now and transplant at the end of August. I can direct sow love-in-a-mist, larkspur, and calendula seeds at the end of August to the beginning of September. All of these will bloom in the spring and peter out when summer arrives which will increase my number of cut flowers from spring to early summer. From then on the summer annuals can take over and I will look for a few more in addition to zinnias. In her videos and in her book, Lisa discusses her preference for direct sown versus transplants and starting in the fall versus early spring. If the plant is hardy to a zone colder than one’s own zone, plant in the fall. If the plant is not has hardy as one’s own zone, plant in early spring.  However, early spring can mean cold, wet soil so she suggests preparing the bed in the fall and covering with mulch or landscape fabric to prevent weeds and to enable the ground to be worked easily in February and March.

So far I have viewed 5 of the 10 videos and I have read the book. If hardy annuals are something you would like to try, you can catch up by visiting her web site and listening to her videos or buy her book on her site or at a bookstore but it is not necessary to have the book in order to follow along with her videos.

Seedlings Ready to Go — Waiting for Rain to Stop!

Just waiting for the rain to stop so can plant marigolds, beans, and pumpkins!

marigoldsMarigolds, an annual that flowers all summer and into fall, can be started from seed easily (and cheaply if you saved seeds from last year!). I find it is best to start in a small container and then transplant. You can direct sow but birds may get them or rain may wash them away.

I had an old cell pack from something I bought at the nursery and filled with seed starting mix. Using a pencil to create a hole, I plopped a marigold seed into each cell, and watered. You can start inside under lights but it is not worth the space when you can  start outside in April and May and bring in if frost threatens. These are ready to transplant into the garden, it just has to stop raining!

beansBeans are so easy to grow you can direct sow or start in a container. Large seeds work well with jiffy peat pellets. After letting the pellets sit in a tray of water until they fully expand, pull back the netting at the top with two pencils, poke a hole, drop one bean per pellet and cover with soil.

bean rootsThese were started a while ago and have been ready to go into the garden bed but it has been raining!! You can see how the roots have come through the pellets and have interconnected themselves with other beans. When I plant these into the garden, I will separate, take off the netting, and remove the colored paper clips, which are my way of identifying the type of bean. I am starting different types of beans to celebrate this year as the International Year of Pulses (see my January article, https://pegplant.com/2016/01/25/celebrate-the-international-year-of-the-pulses-eat-more-beans/).

Pumpkins also are large seeds that are easy to grow. This one is from seed saved from last year’s Halloween  pumpkin, one seed per  jiffy peat pellet (see last Halloween’s article on saving seed, https://pegplant.com/2015/10/31/happy-halloween-and-dont-forget-to-save-those-pumpkin-seeds/). I love the way it is so self-contained but it is not quite ready to be transplanted. The large “leaves” are the cotyledons, formed during the embryonic stage. The inner piece of green are the true leaves emerging. I am sure by the time it stops RAINING, the true leaves will have grown to the point that this will be ready to transplant into the garden if it does not FREEZE again!! pumpkin seed

You Can Grow That: Lettuce

lettuceYou can grow lettuce, it is one of the easiest plants to grow in the spring. Lettuce needs very little soil to grow and tolerates cool days and frosty nights. In the spring, lettuce should be given as much light as possible. Think container gardening or  garden beds where trees have not leafed out yet.

In my Northern Virginia garden, I  sow seeds in containers and the garden bed in March and again every 2 weeks thereafter until the end of May. Lettuce seeds are very small so just press them into wet soil. Afterwards, make sure the soil does not dry out, which may mean watering often, depending on the weather. The squirrels like to dig in my containers on the deck so I apply a dust of blood meal. In the garden bed, the slugs like to dine at night so I throw down broken eggshells. I tend to sow too many seeds so as the seedlings emerge, I pull to create more space for the remaining soldiers and use them in salad or transplant to other areas of the garden that are waiting for the warm weather veggies. The nice thing about lettuce is that you can grow them before the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants so you don’t need more land; you just double up on your existing land. This year, I sowed lettuce seed in March in a very large Smart Pot called the Big Bag Bed–it is the size of a kiddie pool! By April, I was able to transplant quite a few in a garden bed. Just now, in May, I planted peppers in between the lettuce in the garden bed so by the time it is summer the lettuce will have been pulled (it will be too bitter) and the peppers will grow into the space.smart pot

My family prefers the loose-leaf and romaine varieties. Loose-leaf, or cut and come again, has leaves that are loosely splayed outwards from the crown. They are the easiest to grow, quickest to harvest, and come in a variety of colors.  The entire plant can be cut at the base but most people cut the outer leaves as needed so the younger, inner leaves can take their place. Within this group are some of the best heat tolerant varieties. Romaine, also called cos, is not as sweet to me but I find that homegrown romaine is much tastier than store bought. Its stiff, vertical leaves are great for sandwiches and wraps. Romaine has the highest nutritional value of all the lettuces so it is a feel good mommy lettuce.pepper with lettuce

There are two other types that I have not grown. Butterhead, such as Bibb and Boston, has small heads of dark green leaves. These plants are so tight they have to be cut at the base and harvested whole. Crisphead is the familiar Iceberg, a tight ball of light colored leaves that requires a long cool season so it would be too challenging for me.

Try growing lettuce, you would be amazed at how it is easy and tasty!

You Can Grow That is a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage others to grow something by posting gardening articles on the fourth of each month. Visit http://www.youcangrowthat.com/blogs/ for more articles.