When I woke up this morning, two bluebirds were on the tree outside my window. The sun was shining and the snow was mostly gone. After days of rain, the ground is ready to work, and so am I.
During the winter I sit down with my seed packets (bought at the end of last summer on sale) and plan out the year's garden. Doing this when it's 15 degrees outside helps me get through the cold and blustery days of winter in the Hudson Valley. This year will be my third planting season on your rented property, so I've learned a few valuable lessons about seed starting, composting strategies, succession planting, and crop rotation. And yes, I will stuff all this knowledge and lots of veggies into my 10' by 10' landlord approved garden plot. In this series of blog posts, I will tell you how I do it so you can get your garden started too. This post will explain how to create a planting calendar for your growing area and the particular plants you want to grow. I use garden vegetables and herbs for my examples, but the same steps apply to any seeds you want to plant.
I get all my seeds from www.HudsonValleySeedLibrary.org . They are a small company run by amazing people dedicated to helping others grow food and are located close to home. The seed packets themselves offer growing information and there is a wealth of info on their website as well. Before you get started, you will need to know when the anticipated last frost for your growing area will be. This date is essential to planning your garden and is easily found with a Google search if you are unsure. So, knowing my approximate last frost date and seed packs spread out on the table before me, I sit down with some paper, a pencil, and my calendar.
Starting Seeds Indoors and Out: Planning When and Where to Start Seeds
1. Make a list of the plants you plan to grow this year. If you are just starting out, my advice is to begin with a handful of vegetables, not every variety of every veggie that looks interesting or delicious. Start with 2-6 veggies that you eat regularly. After years of enthusiastic planting and disappointing harvests, I have scaled back my garden to be more realistic and manageable. So make your list with the intention of being able to care for and follow through with garden maintenance. Make 3 columns on your paper: 1. name of the veggie 2. seed starting date 3. date the seedling can be planted outside in the garden. I'll teach you how to figure out the dates in the next steps. For now, just make three columns and write in the names of the plants in column one. Here's what my completed plan looks like:
2. Start with the first plant on your list. Read that packet and find out if your seeds can be sown directly (planted outside directly in the garden after a certain date or weather condition) or need to be started indoors under the shelter of four walls and room temperature. For example, my pepper seed packet says to start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost. So here's where your calendar comes in. Circle the date of when the last frost usually occurs in your area. For me, in upstate New York, that date is usually around May 15th. Now, count backwards the number of weeks your seed packet says to start the seeds. That's your planting date! I chose 7 weeks for the peppers, putting me within the 6-8 weeks time frame. Write it in the seed starting date column on your list next to the vegetable name. Arugula, for another example, can be started outdoors (direct sow) because this plant is a "cold weather crop" and isn't as tender as the peppers. So in the seed starting column I wrote in "direct" so that I know I don't have to start these guys inside. My seed planting date gets written in the "garden" column because these seeds will go directly outside in the garden. This is just my system--you can write all this out in any way that makes sense to you!
3. Now read the packet and find out how many weeks after the last frost it says it is safe to transplant your precious seedlings outside into your garden. Using your calendar, count the weeks after the date circled as your last frost, and write this date in the third column on your list. I usually transplant seedlings from their seed starting trays outside to their place in the garden a week after the date the packet says it's okay. It's not unusual to have a random frost around here after the anticipated last frost date. Note: I will talk about "hardening off" in Part 2 of this series. You should never take your naked seedlings that have been all snug and cozy inside your house for their first few weeks of life and plunge them into the chilly earth outside where temperatures drop at night. Makes sense, right?
4. Repeat this process for all of the plants on your list until you have a schedule of seed starting dates and outdoor planting dates for each one.
In the next post in this series I will teach you how to start your seeds indoors and how to get them ready for planting outside. Direct sowing is a bit easier--you just plant the seeds outside in the garden according to the packet, water, and wait. :)
Please email my your questions or feel free to start a chat with me using the chat icon on the bottom right corner of this blog. If I can do this, anyone can! And I want to help you be successful on your journey towards self-sufficiency and bohemian farmgirl-ness, lol. Above all, remember to have fun!