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TowerPower

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Amy Rhodes is Founder and Chief Advisor of Listen To The Land, a small business created to connect people to the lessons of the land and promote the growth of regenerative, bioregional economies.  Amy works with Garden Tower Project in public relations and community education. 

Amy Rhodes

How To Plan A Garden #2: To Sow or Not to Sow?

How To Plan A Garden #2: To Sow or Not to Sow?

It's an age old question...Is it better to start seeds indoors and transplant later or to sow seeds outdoors directly into the garden? And what about just skipping seed starting all together and purchasing transplants from a local farmer or garden center? Which is better? Where should I start?

 

Indeed! The uncertainties of life's big questions are enough to keep a would-be gardener from ever getting started! The good news is, just like in life, there are no hard and fast rules in gardening. The short answer to these often challenging questions is...

 

It depends.  

 

Choosing whether to start your garden from seeds or transplants depends on a number of factors - time, experience, and budget to name a few.  The type of vegetable or herb being grown also makes a big difference. Some plants prefer being directly sown into the garden, while others prefer to be nursed along indoors before being transplanted.  

 

Outlined below are some benefits and drawbacks of starting seed indoors or in the garden. The benefits and drawbacks of starting with transplants are also considered. Knowing these factors will help you determine the best way to get started and on your way to growing a happy, healthy garden. 

 

Starting From Seed

 

Benefits

  • All ages enjoy sprouting and caring for life!
  • If you're planning a large garden, starting from seed is more affordable. 
  • You control the source of the seeds and the varieties grown.
  • Start early indoors, transplant, then seed in succession throughout the season.
  • Root crops - carrots, turnips, parsnips and beets - prefer to be directly sown.
  • Beans, corn, garlic, and peas also prefer to be directly sown and grown in one place.

  

Drawbacks

 

  • Time – Waiting for soil temperature to rise and night air temperatures to be above 50°; Waiting for seedlings to mature for transplanting; Monitoring young sprouts 2-3 times per day
  • Weather – If you sow direct outdoors, drought, heavy winds, flooding and insects can destroy young seedlings. 
  • Equipment – The cost of protective covering, seed trays, germination heating pads, and indoor grow lights can add up.

 

 

Starting with Transplants

 

 

Benefits

  • Get a head start on the growing season! 
  • Start broccoli, chard, and kale indoors and move them outside soon after your plant hardiness zone’s frost-free date.
  • Planning a small garden? It may be more affordable to purchase transplants.
  • Transplants are stronger and more resistant to weather conditions and pests.
  • Celery, eggplants, leeks, onions, peppers, and tomatoes do well as transplants.

 

Drawbacks

  • Transplants can go through shock when moved from their original container.
  • If you start seeds indoors, you will need to harden off your seedlings before transplanting them into a permanent location. Hardening off your seedlings means moving baby plants outdoors (a few hours each day) then back indoors, over a period of a week, while they adjust to sun and wind.
  • Transplants purchased from other farms or greenhouses may introduce pests, diseases, or weeds into your garden. 
  • Plant varieties at nurseries and big box stores are limited. If you prefer non-GMO, organic, or heirloom varieties, it may be best to start your own transplants from certified seed sources

 

 

When beginning your garden from seed, sowing directly into the garden or starting in trays, be sure to pay attention to the temperature of the soil. The number of days for seed germination is related to the warmth of the soil. Seedling flat heating mats are great for moving sprout times along more quickly and predictably.

 

Here’s a handy chart to help you with timing:

 

If starting from seed isn’t for you, search your local farmers’ market in the Spring and Fall to purchase transplants. These are usually reliable, often heirloom varieties accustomed to growing in your local climate.  You can also learn a few secrets of gardening success when buying from local growers.   

 

Odds are, if you're up for the learning curves and fun of growing your own food, you will end up combining all these ways of starting your garden - buying transplants, starting your own indoors, and starting seeds directly in the garden.  For more detailed information about when to start specific varieties, check out this 2017-Planting-Chart.pdf from High Mowing Seeds

 

Stay tuned for the next post in this series, How To Plan A Garden #3: Preparing for Pests.

 

Amy Rhodes

How To Plan A Garden #1: Create the Design

How To Plan A Garden #1: Create the Design

Lengthening daylight hours and hints of springtime signal the time to plan your garden. This Tower Power blog post is the first in a series of three to guide you in planning a successful year of gardening.  We've crafted an infographic of the basics to get started!

 

(Click on infographic to enlarge)  (Click here to download a pdf of this infographic)

Planning a Garden Infographic Guide and Diagram

 🔗 USEFUL LINKS FROM THE INFOGRAPHIC ABOVE: 

1) Plant Hardiness Zone Lookup: 

http://www.gardentowerproject.com/news/gardening-ideas-recommendations/veggie-scheduling-when-to-start-seeds-plant-harvest

2) Companion Planting Infographic and Database: 

http://www.gardentowerproject.com/news/gardening-ideas-recommendations/why-how-to-companion-plant

  

A Garden Journal or Sketchbook - This doesn't have to be fancy. It can be as simple as putting blank pages into a binder or use card stock or repurposed cardboard as the cover. This is a great activity to do with kids! 

 

In your Garden Journal, you will record temperature and weather patterns, your garden designs, when and what you plant, as well as, your discoveries, successes and failures.  This post has specifics on what to include in your journal.  If you prefer going paperless, online options are available for a fee, like this one launching this Spring 2017 from GrowVeg.com.  

 

No matter how you decide to collect garden information, the most important thing about a Garden Journal is that you keep one. Once you have your journal ready, you are ready to begin planning your garden!

 

Location, Climate, and Weather

 

Begin by observing and taking note of the largest patterns present in your location such as the climate, seasons, and movement of the sun during different times of year. On this grand scale, Plant Hardiness Zone maps can help you determine the length of your growing season and which types of plants will thrive in your geographic area.

 

These zones are based on weather patterns and the average lowest temperature.  If you live in the United States, enter your zip code here to find your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone.  If you live outside the U.S., BackyardGardener.com provides helpful resources. The Old Farmers’ Almanac will help you find the range and number of frost-free days with the Frost Date Calculator.

 

Record in your Garden Journal:

  • Plant Hardiness Zone
  • Average lowest temperature in winter
  • Dates when frost-free season begins and ends 
  • Number of frost-free dates

 

Space and Tools

 

On a smaller, site-specific scale, the amount of available space and microclimates on your property will help determine the best place for your garden or gardens.  Microclimates are small areas or habitats determined by variables such as surface type, walls, wind, water, trees, or other physical features.  Answering the following questions will provide a clearer idea of where and how to create your garden.

           

Record in your Garden Journal:

  • Do you have full sun, partial sun, shade, or a combination of these?
  • Where are your available spaces? Patio, balcony, on concrete, in the yard?
  • How many hours of daylight do these areas receive?
  • Which areas are easiest to access?
  • What kind of tools do you need? Containers, shovels, tiller, hose, watering can?  

 

Plant Selection

 

Gardens serve many purposes. Food, medicine, beauty, therapy, habitat and wildlife restoration are a few general themes. What is the primary focus of your garden?

 

For inspiration, check out this list: 

 

(Click on graphic to enlarge) 

 

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension also has great Garden Themes for Kids. 

 

Explore different types of garden plants, herbs and flowers.  Select varieties that will work with your available space and chosen theme.  If you will have a small space or vertical garden, look for bush or container varieties.  These are smaller in height and grow better in containers.  

 

These sites provide great images and information for plant selection:

             

     

Plant companions are helpful friends that benefit others. For instance, marigolds are friends with many plants in the garden due to their ability to repel pests. Surrounding tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, and brassicas (kale, broccoli, cabbage) plants with marigolds to defend them from nematodes and leafhoppers. These charts will help you discover which vegetables, herbs, and flowers grow well together and which ones should be separated.

 

Time

 

Cliché as it sounds, timing is everything in gardening!  The successful growth of your plants depends on the season, length of time for seed germination, and days to maturity.  Pay close attention to these factors as you decide when to start your garden. 

 

The amount of time you have available to spend gardening is also something to consider.  Are you working full-time, a full-time parent, or both?  Are you retired? Do you travel a lot?  Think about how much time you will be able to commit daily to tending your garden. 

 

Garden Tower Designs

 

If you are planning to grow in a Garden Tower 2, check out these tools:

 

 

 

Amy Rhodes

Seed Catalogs & Garden Planning to the Rescue!

Seed Catalogs & Garden Planning to the Rescue!

Woman lying in bed, snow outside window

If you live somewhere between Hardiness Zones 1-7, you may be lolling and snoring along to winter’s hibernation song right about now. The colors outside are drab, the daylight hours are short, and the “nothing-like-it” taste of crisp sugar snap peas and sweet cherry tomatoes picked fresh from the garden linger someplace off in the distance. 

 

Winter doldrums have you down? 

Here's a quick and easy way to snap out of the winter blah blues.  Put the kettle on for a cup of mint, lemon verbena, or ginger-turmeric tea. Sweeten it with local honey, and grab a stack of next year’s seed catalogs!  

 

My friend Kristi, an extraordinary cook who prepares nearly all her meals from local, pasture-raised meats and homegrown produce, is also an absolute connoisseur of seed catalogs!  She can’t wait for her selected catalogs to arrive in the mail. This time of year, her collection is scattered across her coffee table, dog-eared and littered with sticky notes marking her wish list for the garden.  Kristi told me, “It’s the vibrant pictures, unique colors, shapes and patterns of the seeds, flowers and vegetables that inspire me on these gray winter days. I also love discovering the newest heirloom and container varieties. I want to try them all!”

 

Request Free Seed Catalogs 

 

Baker Creek LinkBurpee Link 

Johnny's Selected Seeds LinkKristi also hinted that seeing pictures of fully mature plants in the catalog is important. This helps her visually plan how she will arrange her community of plants.  After marking the pages of the seeds she’d like to purchase, she draws a map of her garden and plays matchmaker with companion plants. Planning tools found in Johnny’s Selected Seeds Grower’s Library and Garden Tower’s Planting Design Guide are helpful when designing your garden. 

 

Planting season is closer than you think. Before you know, you'll be starting seeds and watching the world wake from its slumber.  Until then, enjoy getting lost in Spring and Summer daydreams and planning.  What will your garden grow? 

 

Cautionary note!! 

Looking at magazine

The enthusiasm induced by looking through seed catalogs can lead to ambitious plans and a bountiful garden with more produce than you can manage to eat.  This, of course, is a wonderful problem to have! Apply to sell at your local farmers’ market, start a food stand, or share with co-workers and neighbors. Your local food bank will also be happy to receive your extra harvest. Check out ampleharvest.org for a place nearby to donate.