By Victoria Rolfe
Okay! So, hopefully by now your garden is all ready--a blank canvas, just waiting to be filled with a phantasmagoria of life! And now the fun begins. With those beautiful packets of seeds you have carefully selected clutched in your eager little hands, it is time to get started.
Don’t forget to read the backs of the seed packets for spacing and depth of planting guidelines. As a general rule of thumb, the smaller the seed, the shallower it will be planted. Some spring seeds (lettuce, for example) are so tiny they barely get covered with a fine layer of soil. Look at the packets for germination times, too, so you know when you can expect to see those first tender shoots emerging. Some seeds, like carrots, notoriously, take a long time to germinate (up to 21 days). It is good to be armed with that knowledge in advance so you don’t give up on them when they haven’t emerged in two weeks.
Because many of these cool weather crops have such short growing times (“days to maturity” are on the seed packet), you can double or even triple (or more!) the number of plantings you can yield from one garden plot or planter. Some plants, such as radishes, can be ready to harvest in as few as 30 days after planting, thus freeing up garden space for another crop of radishes or something else for that spot. This is called succession planting, and it gives you much more yield for your garden space.
Another way you can take advantage of these short maturity times is to stagger your plantings. Rather than plant your entire crop of carrots or beets all at once, plant a smaller amount now, and then every two to four weeks, plant some more seeds. Some vegetables can be planted from seeds sown directly into the garden right up until midsummer. (Look up the “last-plant-by” dates for the crops you are growing.) The great advantage of doing your planting this way comes at harvest time, when you do not have your entire crop mature and ready to pick all at once. You can continue to enjoy picking and eating for many weeks from summer right into fall.
Remember to write things down as you do them! It is so easy to forget the specifics. Make a little diagram on paper, indicating what you planted, the date and where. This will help you greatly as the season progresses and in subsequent years. Also, put labels in your garden where you planted your seeds. You can use anything you have around the house to create labels. I know you think you will remember, but trust me, you won’t!
Once you have things planted, your next job is to keep your garden watered and weeded as your new seedlings emerge. You will need to water frequently at this point, so as not to let the seedlings dry out. Sometimes it is necessary to do this more than once a day, particularly if it is very hot and the ground gets very dry. But you do not have to water deeply. You are only keeping that top few inches of soil moist for now. If you are new to growing a particular plant, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with what it looks like when it emerges from the ground, so as not to accidentally pull out any of your little babies. (That would be heartbreaking!)
Vegetables are not the only plants you can seed directly into your outdoor garden. There are also many flowers that are quite easy to grow this way. These include, but are not limited to, cleomes, cosmos, marigolds, morning glories, nasturtiums, sunflowers and zinnias. They do not all go into the ground this early. Consult your seed packet for the specific instructions on when to sow seeds for the flowers you choose to grow. This is a very inexpensive way to add an abundance of color and beauty to your garden. Another bonus to growing these flowers is that many of them will then reseed themselves for your garden the following year. Be sure to closely note what they look like after they break ground. This way you will not inadvertently weed them out when they sprout for an encore performance next spring. Often, a dollar or two spent on a seed packet will give you flowers for a lifetime. How’s that for an incredible garden investment?!
Victoria Rolfe has had a love of gardening all her life, from the time she was a tiny child coveting the daffodils growing in her neighbor’s yard (and wondering why she couldn’t have them in her own), to her teenage years when she took her pot experimentation in a different direction by growing the seeds she extracted from the bag into a beautiful marijuana plant on her bedroom windowsill. She went on in her adult years to feed her family by growing a huge and bountiful vegetable garden, as well as beautifying her three-acre property with an array of ornamental trees, bushes and flowers in the magnificent Hudson Valley region of New York.
Victoria learned a great deal in the process of all this plant experimentation. She then added to that knowledge by taking courses with the Cornell Cooperative Extension to become a Master Gardener Volunteer. In her volunteer capacity, she helps to educate the public on gardening through classes and information booths, most notably at the Dutchess County N.Y. Fair each August. Throughout the summer months, Victoria is most likely to be found among the weeds, either in her own garden or those of others who actually pay her to play in their dirt and do the thing she loves best, delight in the magical world of gardening.
Victoria is not only a gardening aficionado; she is also passionate about helping people live a better life on less money. Visit her website and blog at brightfuture2budget4.weebly.com, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.