In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
Get your calendar and catalogs ready!
Plan, Plan, Plan!
Okay, I've been patient and waited until after the first of the year. Now I can begin planning! I certainly have enough catalogs in my hands already, with more appearing every day. I'm ready with my planting supplies and lighting, and will soon have tiny seedlings poking through the peat moss to be nurtured until spring.
So, how do we plan seedling planting to avoid having transplants that are leggy and spindly from having spent too much time in the tiny pots? Or transplants that are so well rooted and potbound that taking them out of their pots puts them into serious transplant shock? Or what about transplants that have only two leaves -- not nearly large enough to survive the cold frame, not to mention the real garden outdoors?
It takes planning and a calendar. It's not difficult, but it will take some perseverance, a handy pen, and a couple of charts. First, let's group our vegetables into a few broad categories according to the time they should be set out in the garden. Cool-season vegetables tolerate cool weather and sometimes even frost. The ones we usually start indoors include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, and onions.
Warm-season vegetables must be planted after the frost-free date, and some must be held until the soil reaches a certain temperature to assure continued warmth. These include eggplant, melons, peppers, and tomatoes.
You must first decide what you will plant. Keep a clear picture of how big your garden actually is and what you and your family will actually eat. No use having buckets of the most beautiful eggplants in the world if your kids think eggplant was invented to punish children.
Second, set in your mind right now that you will give away your extra transplants. We always grow more than we can use, and instead of needing a good friend to pry them out of your hands, keep chanting in the back of your head, "I will give away my extras. I don't need 40 tomatoes." (Unless, of course, you really do!)
Find your average last frost date by checking with local experts like the Extension Service. Also find out how many weeks each crop you've chosen needs to grow indoors until it reaches transplant size, and when it can be planted outside (the set-out date) relative to the last frost date. (You'll find this information in seed catalogs or on seed packets.) Then count backwards from the set-out date the number of weeks the crop needs to reach transplant size. That's the date you should start the seeds. Mark the seed-starting date and transplant date on your calendar for each crop.
The schedule below can help. The first number is weeks to transplant size, and the second is the set-out date in relation to the last frost date.
Broccoli: 6-8; 4 weeks before
Brussels sprouts: 6-8; 4 weeks before
Cabbage: 6-8; 5 weeks before
Cauliflower: 6-8; 4 weeks before
Eggplant: 8-10; 2-3 weeks after
Kale: 6-8; 5 weeks before
Onion: 4-6; 4-5 weeks before
Peppers: 6-8; 2-3 weeks after
Winter squash: 4; 3-4 weeks after
Tomatoes: 6-10; 4 weeks after
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