Winter/Spring Garden To-Do List
Finally the holidays are over, the tree is recycled, the decorations repacked and the counters cleared of holiday leftovers. It’s a good thing because now it’s time to plan your new-year garden.
By Steffie Littlefield
(This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener Jan/Feb 2014 issue.)
Finally the holidays are over, the tree is recycled, the decorations repacked and the counters cleared of holiday leftovers. It’s a good thing because now it’s time to plan your new-year garden. This is the year you grow more organic vegetables, try really unique tomatoes to impress your neighbors, and harvest the best tasting homegrown treats your whole family will enjoy. So where do you start and why do you start now? Because the most rewarding gardening experience is starting your own plants from seed indoors and some of the early crops need to be started in January and February.
After studying all the seed catalogues and websites take a quick trip to your local garden center to get up close and personal with the best seed selections for our area. Look for certified organic seeds and heirloom varieties for the best in healthy edibles. Your friends at the garden center will help you with your list of what to start now and later and what seeds are better planted directly into the garden. To get you off to a good start here is my personal monthly to do list:
Set up grow lights in the basement, creating an area for seed trays, buy fresh seed starting mix, wash trays and clear covers. Purchase new varieties for this year’s vegetables. The first seeds started are leeks and celery because these take a long time to become big enough for transplanting.
When sowing seeds into trays I will usually put 2-3 seeds per cell so I don’t have to divide the tiny plants. Keep them evenly moist by misting with water and covering the trays with clear covers until the seeds germinate. Then uncover and water daily.
Now start a few varieties of broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts and kale every week. These plants will be ready to plant into the garden in 6-8 weeks during March. They prefer cooler weather. Toward the end of February sow trays of spinach, Swiss chard, mustards and baby head lettuces. These will develop quickly into mini-plants ready to put in the garden.
As my tiny seedlings start to grow I keep them only a few inches from the lights to keep them from getting leggy. A small fan blowing strengthens the stems of the small seedlings and I rotate the trays everyday. As the 2nd set of leaves appears add a half strength dose of liquid organic fertilizer to the water.
This is a busy month in my basement greenhouse under lights. It is time to start tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, okra and tomatillos. These love warm weather and will not be happy outside until soil temperatures are above 70.
To make room for the new seed trays I start to move the cool season crops outside for a few hours a day so they can adjust to sunlight and temperatures. After about two weeks of this hardening off process they will be ready to plant in the garden beds.
By March 15th be ready to start peas, beets, carrots, parsnips and turnips directly into the garden beds. This also is the best time to plant onion sets or plants, potatoes and clean up and replant strawberries, rhubarb and asparagus.
As weather permits plant your spinach, lettuces, and chard into your garden beds.
Wait for warmer weather to direct sow cucumbers, beans, edamame, squash, melons, pumpkins and watermelon. Plant out all the summer weather lovers by May 15th. Remember rushing to plant when the weather is cold and wet will only damage your precious babies and stunt their growth.
Yep, it’s a busy spring in the garden but by the time you are planting your tomatoes you will be harvesting peas, broccoli and spinach. So while you are starting your seeds, get your recipes for fresh garden vegetables ready. Enjoy!
Steffie Littlefield is a horticulturist and garden designer at Garden Heights Nursery. She has degrees from St. Louis Community College at Meramec and Southeast Missouri State, and is a member of the Gateway Professional Horticulturist Association.