I've been remiss. Lately, I've blathered on about winter blooms, eating more veggies, and assorted garden/life meanderings. It's time to get serious.
The countdown is on.
It's a mere 20 days until spring.
Hopefully, you've rested up over the winter, snuggled with your seed catalogs, and designed your dream garden.
Now, it's time to get to work.
For the next few weeks, we're going to be each other's support systems, OK? I'm up to my eyeballs in seedlings and plan to live in the greenhouse until all of the babies are potted up. (Wish we had installed a fridge and a potty in there, darn it...and I hope the kids remember who I am when I finally rejoin family life.)
Still, I'll try to share a few pre-spring gardening tips to help you get ready for the BIG DAY. If you'd do me a favor and stop by, say hi and check to see that I haven't been buried alive by the 160 varieties of tomato plants, I'd be really grateful. Right now, my sole greenhouse companions are old episodes of “30 Rock” on Netflix...on my phone.
I love Tina Fey.
Anyway, before we get busy, we need to determine exactly when your BIG DAY is.
And by BIG DAY, you might think I mean the First Day of Spring, which is, emotionally, such a relief after winter.
Actually, the BIG DAY that impacts everything you do in the garden is....
The LAST EXPECTED FROST DATE.
That just doesn't sound as sexy as “First Day of Spring,” does it?
So, let's acronym it: LEFD.
Hmmm. That's even less sexy, I think.
Still, LEFD is the most important date on your growing calendar. By determining when your area's last frost is projected, you can plan when to start seeds indoors, how soon you can sow seeds directly into your garden, as well determine when to set out hardy versus tender transplants. After all, we want to get a jump on spring without murdering our green babies with a bout of sub-freezing temperatures, right?
Recently, there's been much publicity about the USDA's new hardiness zone map. The map serves as a guide to help determine which plants are most likely to thrive in your location.
The updated map redefined zones based on climate changes and temperature increases. My zone, 7b, remains the same—but just 30 minutes away, a friend's zone changed from 7b to 8a. You can enter your zip code here to find your zone. (Personally, I found the slight variations in colors a little challenging when looking for my zone.)
The map is a terrific resource when deciding which perennials are best for your area, but it doesn't provide the all important LEFD, which you need to know when planting a vegetable garden. Instead, the classic Old Farmer's Almanac goes high tech with this fantastic interactive chart. Simply enter your zip code and up pops a schedule outlining when you should plant specific vegetables according to your area's last expected frost.
For instance, the results for my zip code search indicate that there's a 50% chance of frost after April 4. Personally, I like to hedge my bets, so I never plant our warm weather crops until April 15. (Also, to be honest—I don't have time to plant our garden until the end of April, because I'm too busy getting plants ready for customers. Yet another example of the “Shoemaker's Children”...sigh.)
Once you determine your LEFD, you can pull out the plans for your amazing kitchen garden.Take a look at the list of plants you want to include, get your seeds packets (or hurry up and order!), and then start counting backwards from your LEFD. Some seeds are best started indoors. Some hardy plants can be directly sown into the garden prior to the last frost. And some need to be planted after the soil warms a few weeks following the LEFD.
For your planting pleasure, here's a cheat sheet:
Seeds to Start Indoors Prior to LEFD (transplant after last frost)
Chives, Globe Artichoke, Leeks, Onions--12 weeks prior to last frost date
Celery, Lemongrass--10 weeks
Eggplant, Peppers, Tomatillo, Tomatoes--8 weeks
Asparagus, Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Basil, Fennel--6 weeks
Cucumbers, Melons, Okra, Pumpkins, Squash--3 weeks
Direct Seed in Garden BEFORE Last Frost (hardy plants)
Onion Sets, Seed Potatoes--6 weeks prior to last frost date
Kale, Kohlrabi, Spinach, Turnips, Mustard--5 weeks
Beets, Carrots, Chinese Cabbage, Endive, English Peas, Radish--4 weeks
Lettuce, Swiss Chard--2 weeks
Direct Seed in Garden AFTER Last Frost (tender plants)
Beans, Celeriac, Cowpeas--1-2 weeks after last frost date
Corn, Muskmelon, Watermelon, Okra--2 weeks
Pumpkins, Squash--2 weeks
Cucumbers, Peanuts, Amaranth--2 weeks
You probably noticed a few items, like cucumbers and okra, are listed twice--to start indoors or to direct sow after danger of frost has passed. By starting seeds indoors, you're getting a jump on the growing of some fruits and veggies that require a long growing season until harvest. (We'll chat about harvest schedules next time...)
So, are you ready? Do you have your seed starting mix and some trays? Have you divided your seed varieties into similar starting times? Do you have a good light source?
Are you ready to unleash the stars of your ideal kitchen garden?
Then—let's GO! It's time to start some seeds!
Have fun! Plant what you love! And—I highly recommend “30 Rock” reruns to keep you company. Laughter helps plants flourish...I'm sure I read that...somewhere.
Happy Almost-Spring Gardening!
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