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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



  • 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.




  • 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




  • 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.



  • 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.



What to Put in a Garden Journal

What to Put in a Garden Journal

Keeping a garden journal is a beautiful blend of art and science. It is a testament to your garden and a notebook of learning accomplished throughout your growing year. What you put into a journal makes it incredibly useful for years to come—creating a kind of almanac specific to your location. Tracking changes in your garden—bloom times and harvest, seeding times, and so on also contributes to the study of local phenology. Phenology is “Phenology refers to key seasonal changes in plants and animals from year to year – such as flowering, emergence of insects and migration of birds – especially their timing and relationship with weather and climate.” (read more). Below are some of the things that can be most helpful for your journal, an explanation of why, as well as an example of how to create a journal custom-tailored to your needs.


b2ap3_thumbnail_journal-planting-plan.jpgPlanting Plan: In the beginning of your journal creating a diagram or map of what you intend to plant where is helpful. As you plant perennials, you might mark them on a base map and copy it each year – creating new plans for annuals. Pasting this into the front of your garden journal will help to keep you straight. It might even help a spouse not remove the wrong thing (I speak from experience) or point a temporary caretaker in the right direction while you are gone. I like to use a map and numbers to keep things straight, but you can also use a narrative description in your records to keep things clear. 

Notes on major projects for the year: Do you want to put in a new compost system or fencing or chickens this year? Arbors, trellis, pathways, water collection, irrigation systems, greenhouses…. Using a Future Log on a couple of pages can help you figure out how to stage improvement efforts between planting and harvesting—or when you typically have good weather.

Plant information: Seed catalogs, gardening books from the library, apps and websites can all help you fill in the missing information over time. Knowing the varieties you have; how they perform in your garden; and whether you like them or not are all important things to keep track of. I like to put in how the kids respond to something (“We love cheese squash!” or “Alpine strawberries are the best!”)b2ap3_thumbnail_journal-planting-dates.jpg

            Variety: This you might research before you order your seeds—or keep track of as you save seeds from your own garden. Paying attention to varieties is crucial because they help you know which niche in the garden to put them in, how long it will take (on average) for them to fruit, color, resistance to disease and many other characteristics.

            Source: This can be a brief notation, but it helps to know which seed companies you like—or whether the seeds came from your own garden or a friend’s garden.

            Date Seeds Started: Again, this is important because it helps you track performance—and have a sense of when to begin your garden and how things are changing from year to year.

            Germination Date: The date you see the seeds emerge from the soil surface is notable because it will help you understand more about your garden and will help you to track the growth of the plants over time.


            Transplant source: If you don’t plant your own seeds, germination won’t matter, but tracking where the plants came from and how they are doing will help you make decisions about plants in the future.

            Flowering: This isn’t critical (except for fruit trees and shrubs), but it is nice to have a written record of what flowers when and how that changes from year to year. You might use it to help plan to have flowers throughout the year—whether for beauty or to feed and support pollinators in your garden.

            Fruiting or Harvest: This is what you’ve been waiting for!  The date you harvested, the quantity by number or weight, and the quality of the harvest are all items to consider recording. Does it look good, taste good, produce well, and resist pests? Does one variety tolerate the humidity or drought better? You might find you want to repeat some things and not others. Or you may find you want to save some seeds for next year. And a record is evidence when bragging to the neighbors!

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_2035_20151231-174906_1.JPGWeather information: This might be kept on one sheet in your journal or noted amongst your daily observations. Having it in one place to compare months and years is often helpful. You’ll want to make notes on the high and low temperatures for the day, precipitation, cloud cover, and prevailing or significant winds. Some gardeners like to track and plant by moon phases.

Daily observations: It’s the little things that bring us joy. The most beautiful purple in a flower or seeing the swelling bud that will bring us the first berry in spring. Making a note or including a drawing let’s us track and relive these phenomena in our lives. The coming of insects in the spring to pollinate or the first pests can be valuable to know as our garden grows and adapts from year to year. Whether you can draw or not, this is a great way to record information.

How to do it:  How to keep track and organize all of this? Spreadsheets and apps might work on your computer. I like to physically write down my observations—either right in the garden or at a station set up near my door.

b2ap3_thumbnail_journal-future-log.jpgThis year I’m adapting something I like. The Bullet Journal method of setting up a journal might be a great option for you, too. The ideas from a regular journal organization can be modified to include the above categories. An index at the beginning helps you to organize and find information for the whole journal. A future log allows you to plan each month ahead. The month pages can be places to record weather information and tasks in the garden. Other pages can be dedicated to seed source information, seed starting pages, and pest management plans. With the index in front of the journal, you can cross-reference related items and easily find things from year to year—making your journal truly a reference item.


Whether you go all in and like to record every little detail or keep a notebook with a few jotted notes; whether you like to draw out your journal or keep a spreadsheet, journaling can deepen your connection to your garden and ensure more success from year to year. Here’s to a great year ahead! 


Fall-ing in Love with your Garden-Again!

Fall-ing in Love with your Garden-Again!

It’s the high heat of summer. Believe it or not, it’s time to get your fall garden under way. July is the month to plan your fall and winter gardens, start seeds or obtain young starts. It's a good idea to use transplants if you live in the colder zones or high heat. If you’re in the heat of zones 9-11, you’ve probably had a slow month in the garden, and now is the time to introduce new things. 

b2ap3_thumbnail_hconw1CC.jpgFirst, evaluate your garden. Take out underperforming plants or those that have finished fruiting and harvesting. Next, look at those plants that will finish in the next month and those that will finish in two months (September/October).  Also identify those plants that might overwinter or that you will let go until they produce seed. Now you will know which areas are opening up for the next round of growth and production. Remember, start seeds or locate where you will obtain transplants now. This is especially true for those in more northern latitudes, as production drops when natural light fades. Alternately, consider giving your indoor garden more light. Full spectrum fluorescent bulbs are the most cost effective. 

Recordkeeping. Make a record of how varieties performed this season and anything that you believe negatively affected your plants. You can start to identify the pattern to garden woes such as: moths, heat, rain, bacterial infection and other problems. Also note varieties that performed exceptionally well. 


Seed Stock. Leftover seeds from the spring can get you started. As a general rule small seeds have a harder time surviving from season to season. You may have lower germination rates with tiny seeds. Review your seed stocks and order now. You might also find seeds at a discount at a local greenhouse. You can even buy a little extra to get you started in the late winter/spring. It’s a good idea to have dates on your seeds and keep a supply of them on hand.  b2ap3_thumbnail_Chard_Backlit.jpg

Challenges: keeping them cool and moist! Start your seeds in the shade and keep them moist. Shade cloth can help you regulate temperatures and moisture.  In the heat seedlings can dry out if not carefully attended to. Other challenges can come from pests that enjoy the tender new plants. Again, shade cloth or netting can help deter unwanted attention. 

Once your seedlings are ready—or your transplants purchased—popping them into the right spots is pretty easy. Baby these transplants a little while they adjust in the warm season to their new homes. Give them adequate water and protection from intense light or heat for the first week. Once they adjust, they will provide your garden with fresh life, new beauty, and the next round of interesting things to watch—and eat! 


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Summer Garden Tips

Summer Garden Tips

b2ap3_thumbnail_hconw1CC.jpgThe summer solstice marked the official start of summer and your spring peas are done and looking a little brown. The lettuce is getting lanky and bitter. You’ve nibbled the kale down to nubs. Now what?

Year-round harvest means rotating plants in and out of your garden space. Late spring and early summer are a good time to make some changes that will take you through a summer of harvests eating your fresh veggies and fruit. Here are eight steps to keep you going through the summer.


  1. Evaluate your garden. Remove spring plants that are done yielding and annual flowers that are finished for the season. Put them in your compost—remember to chop or break them up into smaller pieces if necessary.
  2. Find the gaps—Now you can see where the spaces and opportunities for plants are in your garden. Think about how much time you have until your first frost. Light is not a limiting factor now, but might slow a harvest later—about the time of frosts. For these reasons, expect to put transplants into those spaces instead of seeds. Also, remember that that cute little zucchini plant will spread very quickly now. That will be fine as you remove other spring annuals or broccoli, cauliflower, etc… at the end of their harvest.
  3. Consulting a planting calendar. Calendars like this one will help you know week to week what will work in your area. By mid-June major summer crops should be in. In the Midwest there is a gap of 2-4 weeks and then fall crops are seeded in flats. If you are still looking to plant something in the last part of June, summer squashes and bush beans might be your ticket
  4. Nasturtium leaf and flower are both delightful in flowersTreat your transplants well.  When transplanting seedlings now, expect to baby them more than at other times. Regular watering will be needed. Watering in the summer should be done in the early morning or near sunset and close to the soil so that you don't stress the leaves of the plants. You may need to prune plants back if they show signs of stress (yellowing leaves, wilting).
  5. Choose plants for heat and drought. Some of the best plants for heat and drought are our annual fruits and veggies. Tomatoes, Mediterranean-based cooking herbs, squash, eggplant, peppers, and beans are all tolerant of intense summers. Summer squash are shorter lived than winter squash. Malabar spinach (vs. other types) loves the heat. Ground cherries—a relative of tomatillo—are splendid in a summer garden—and a delightful treat.
  6. Choose small fruits over larger ones. Cherry tomatoes over beef steak tomatoes, for example. The smaller fruit ripen more quickly and over a longer period of time than larger fruits.
  7. Plan for fall. As you evaluate your garden you will get to know how soon your harvest of a plant will take place and what will die back. These plants create a space for your fall crops to fill. It’s easier to start your fall crops in trays and protect the trays from excessive heat, light, and drought than to protect seedlings directly sown into the garden. This is also the time to buy seeds you want to plant in the fall. Again, calendars provide excellent guides for what works in your area.meadowsweet
  8. Keep a record. There are lots of garden journals around. A simple calendar can be the simplest tool. Filling in an observation each day helps you become educated about your own garden and gardening style. It will help you anticipate when a pest will show up in the garden—or when to expect the harvest. 

Following these eight steps will help to keep you in fresh food well into the fall! 


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Key Strategies to Keep Your Seeds on Track this Year

Key Strategies to Keep Your Seeds on Track this Year

 And they’re off! Spring has sprung and it’s time and past time for seedlings to be in their trays. Questions abound…will they sprout? Did I plant them too early? Too late? Are there enough? Too many? When do I water them? When do I transplant them? Where should I source my seeds?

What to plant?

1. Plant what you like to eat!

2. Plant what will grow in your zone and bear fruit in a season. The zone refers to the area you live and how many months of frost-free growing you have in that area. Zone 3, for example, has three months of growing between the last frost of spring and the first of the fall.  Zone 10 has ten months of frost-free growing). Latitude, proximity to the coasts, aspect in relation to the sun, and elevation above sea level all affect zones. Microclimates affect the success of plants. These shady, cool spots or warm sheltered places within your yard make a difference.

3. Plant what will work within your limiting factors. Consider the amount of light/shade; water availability; wind exposure; soil composition; your time limits). These factors can make the difference between beautiful tomatoes or wilty plants. It is important to be clear about your time, too. We all have the best of intentions in April—and busy lives in July and August when the weeds are thick and the harvest is coming on.

4. Don’t plant everything you want to grow. If you are only going to plant out a few tomatoes or squash plants; it makes more sense to buy from a nursery or farmers’ market vendor.


Where to source seeds?

Look for more on this topic soon, but suffice it to say for now that we need more seed variety in this country. There are several good seed companies and they all need your support. Look for seed companies local to you. Look for seed companies that produce seed in a zone like yours. Look for open-pollinated and heirloom varieties. Buy organic seed if you can. Borrow from (and replenish) a seed library.           

Consider the possibility of starting to save your own seeds to start next year. With a little prior proper planning on your part, you can begin to breed your own varieties suited to your specific area. And you get to name your creation!

Some of our favorite seed companies: http://www.johnnyseeds.comhttp://www.superseeds.comhttps://www.horizonherbs.com

When to plant?

This is a combination of factors. Most important is the length of time to fruition and the length of your season. Most seed packets and catalogs list when to plant and the number of days until germination and fruition. Start some plants indoors well before the average last frost. Start hardier plants outdoors (most of these can also start in trays).  Note: Trays are more subject to chill temperatures. They need the protection of plastic or a building or a heat mat to produce well. Likewise they need regular watering to maintain soil moisture.

To get continuous production in your garden, you can seed plants every several days within the window for each type of plant. For example, if radishes are your thing and you have a six month growing season, you can plant radishes every week. Radishes take about 30 days to harvest. You would have a regular harvest every week, or until it gets to be too warm or until you tire of radishes.



Caring for Seedlings

We plant out several varieties of greens in trays each spring. We fill other trays with mini-rows of brassicas (cabbage/broccoli family). We even put beets and parsnips in trays. The ends of the mature root crops may not look perfect, but their success from a tray vs. direct seeding in the soil makes it worth it.  

The seedlings need light, heat, and closely-regulated moisture. They need a good, nutrient –rich soil for their growth. This soil should be light and fluffy so the roots can spread out and growth healthy plants. A well-grown seedling will have more of its mass in its roots than the stems or leaves. At the same time, the leaves and stem should be strong, a vibrant color and free of blemishes.

Start seedlings close together in rows and transplant them into individual spaces. These can be individual pots or larger spaces in deeper trays. Give them a few days to adjust to the new conditions. Then “harden them off” by leaving the plants outdoors for longer periods of time until they adjust. Now you are ready to transplant them into their garden tower or permanent growing bed.

Now, how to distribute all the extra seedlings grown? And we're off to start the next batches of seedlings!

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