For a seed-loving gardener, open starts now

January 29, 2015 - garden totes

The days are lengthening, and gardeners are removing twitchy. My green-fingered friends are doing a lot of plant formulation and seed grouping while perplexing tough not to start things yet, nonetheless that day is roughly here. Here, that is, for cool-season veggies that can go out as transplants before a final ice and with protection.

To state a obvious, we are weeks divided from popping a tomato seed into a froth cup. As for eight-week-old transplants of tomatoes and other warm-season creatures such as peppers and cucumbers, they shouldn’t see a open garden until May.

It is easier than ever to find transplants started commercially in a spring, even if many sell sources make too most proposal element accessible too early. It is distant some-more available to collect adult a broccoli plant in a four-inch pot in Apr than to start one yourself during this time of year, yet you’d be blank a lot of a fun of a enterprise.

There are a series of good sources of seed-starting schedules for a partial of a world, including one from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Also check out a video clips of indoor seed starting from a Maryland Extension Service’s Grow It, Eat It Web site (

I asked Laura Schumm, a unfeeling gardener during Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, what report she follows, and she sent me a seed calendar fabricated by her co-worker Heather Veneziano. Their efforts start this week with celery and a few container-grown peas for a children’s garden. (At home, peas are substantially best sown directly in a garden during a finish of subsequent month.)

The author tests a viability of aged lettuce seed, wrapped in wet paper.. (Adrian Higgins/The Washington Post)

By mid-February, however, Schumm and Veneziano will have sown seeds of spinach, arugula, parsley, turnips and even lettuce.

In a large Palladian hothouse operation during Dumbarton Oaks (alas, behind a scenes), we found Melissa Brizer and Luis Marmol clearing a decks for their approaching seed-starting endeavors. They have a tried-and-trusted regime of starting early things such as celery, brassicas and onions in a subsequent week or two. In a month or so, they will pot adult a seedlings from 72-cell flats to particular pots, before relocating them to a hardly exhilarated cold support in March. Here a transplants will harden off for a integrate of weeks before creation it to a unfeeling garden, where visitors can afterwards watch their progress.

“If we start too early,” Brizer said, “they only get leggy.”

They have a oppulance of a greenhouse. Trying to start veggies on a windowsill is like violence your conduct opposite a wall. In Jan we dirt off my homemade seed-starting apparatus — 4 decks of plywood, any bathed by a span of fluorescent emporium lights — see what trays are workable and start stuffing them with blocks of seed brew and seeds. The attic so becomes an doubtful yet friendly wintertime ark.

I have found a ideal veggie for gardeners who wish to burst a gun a little: a leek. Last week, we forsaken 150 seeds of a varieties Bandit and Tadorna into 3 seed trays. we will plant them out as baby leeks in early April, and since both are winter-hardy we intend to collect full-size leeks from Sep by to a open of 2016, with a bit of luck.

I have always found onions to be avaricious in Washington — a product of a embodiment and meridian — yet any winter finds me pouring these black grains into seed trays. They are uncelebrated from leek seeds and a sign that gripping lane of varieties and labeling them is elemental to a business of seed starting. As with leeks, we can boar them anytime in Jan since their transplant distance is so fungible.

This is also a impulse to start a associated cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, kale and broccoli. The final 3 are sincerely dependable, yet flourishing cabbage and cauliflower is a bit of a tightrope act in removing them to conduct easily before a feverishness sets in around Memorial Day. The pivotal is to grow them good — unchanging watering and a small organic feed — yet a pivotal too is to have stout and well-conditioned transplants prepared to put in come late March. That means sowing them now.

I tend to boar lettuce directly into a garden in mid-March, yet we competence be tempted to start them indoors this winter, as some do, yet not before mid-February.

Most of my seed is from final year or even a year before, yet we keep it in a gangling fridge and it stays uninformed for dual or 3 years. Last fall, we left some seed of choice Italian varieties of lettuce in a receptacle bag we transport to my garden, and a peculiar sleet showering dank a packets. The instinct was to chuck them out since wasting time with broken seed is a falsest of economies.

But contrast a viability is a elementary try during this time of year: we organised 20 seeds on a paper towel, folded a piece like a letter, tucked it into a cosmetic sandwich bag noted with a variety, and dank it. The thought is afterwards to set a bag somewhere comfortable and wait a week. we use a seed-starting feverishness mat, that is a contingency if we are germinating eggplant and peppers seeds, by a way. If half or some-more of my lettuce seeds sprout, I’ll keep a packets. If not, I’ll sequence afresh.

By checking your aged seeds in this conform now, we have a oppulance of time — time to consider a germination rate, time to buy new seed if that’s necessary.

In early summer, when a day lengths start to get shorter again, those red cabbages will be prepared for plucking. The thought that we started them behind in early winter from a pellet of asleep life we hold in your palm will make them generally delicious.

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