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Plant seeds now for early crops in the garden

Plant seeds now for early crops in the garden

Posted: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 7:51 am
By: By Jimmy Williams

With fits and starts of false springs behind us now, we’re staring The Real Thing in the face.
March is, for all practical purposes most years, a spring month. We’re straining at the leash to get at digging.
As a matter of fact, you may already be late on some “spring” gardening efforts.
Seed starting, for instance. It’s too early for such as peppers and tomatoes, but not for lettuces, cabbage, broccoli, spinach, onions and others that thrive on coolth.
Growing from seed has not the popularity it once did, because so many things can be purchased already started; witness the bundles and packs of some of the aforementioned at the farm stores and garden centers as we speak.
There are advantages, however, with some vegetables and ornamentals started from seed, either directly in the ground or under protection for later planting.
For one thing, it is more economical. A packet of seed that will grow a whole patch of lettuce is no more expensive than a single six-pack of started plants. There are some varieties that simply fare better when planted directly into the garden. Cleome, a top-notch annual, once checked or pot-bound in a six-pack, will never recover vigorous growth. Planted in decent soil (not now, but in May) it will take off and never look back until flowers appear.
Planting seeds inside, for transplanting later, is a whole other ball game, with many a slip from seed to summer.
I even had mice once wipe out a lush crop of spring greens under lights in our basement. Then there is damping-off fungus, inadequate light that can cause stretched and limp seedlings, too high temperatures leading to similar stretching, etc.
If you are not adequately equipped for starting seeds inside, their sowing might turn out to be the first failure of the season.
A cold frame is worth its weight in plexiglass as a spring seed growing aid.
Some seeds will sprout in an unheated cold frame from this time on.
Even on a cool March day, it is surprising what solar gain a cold frame will generate.
Early greens can be harvested directly from the frame, or seedlings can be transplanted into unprotected ground once they are big enough.
A great trick I learned back when I was doing a lot of vegetables is to:
1. Work up, fertilize and smooth out a little patch of soil.
2. Sow spinach or leaf lettuce, or a mixture of the two, barely covering the seeds.
3. Lay a piece of clear plastic over the bed, holding it down with four bricks.
4. Keep a close watch and, when about half the seeds have sprouted, uncover the bed.
It is surprising how much cold the tiny seeds will take and how warm the ground will be under the plastic on a clear day.
You will be eating tender greens in less than six weeks. You can plant this way today.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.

Published in The Messenger 3.6.12