Last week, one of the participants in our gardening course excitedly announced that she had already seeded her sweet peppers. While I understand the eagerness to get started early, experience has taught me that there is no benefit in beginning our transplants until at least mid-February or early March.
In late winter, we should channel our energy towards more profitable activities such as planning our garden layout, building healthy grow beds, producing great compost, or fixing the leak on the garden shed.
Take your time getting seeds into the ground!
Let me illustrate the importance of practicing restraint when it comes to seeding early using a couple examples.
Here in coastal British Columbia, we’ve grown nearly one-pound storage onions from a May first transplanting. Since it takes approximately eight weeks to grow a healthy onion transplant, we don’t need to seed them in our starter trays until March.
Sweet and hot peppers are amongst the first to be seeded taking around eight to ten weeks to reach a transplantable size. Even if you’re growing your peppers in an unheated greenhouse, you’ll be able to realize an abundant harvest from a May first planting bringing us to an early March seeding date.
This year at Local Harvest we won’t start any transplants until early March. This saves on both greenhouse heating and artificial lighting costs. Before seeding, all our attention is focused on preparing great seedling soil and nutrient-rich grow beds where our seedlings will get planted. We direct all our energy towards creating the most favourable environment for our plants from seed to harvest.
Seeding crops before the conditions are favorable can be costly and yields only modest gains. You don’t want your seedlings to struggle at any stage of their growth. Stressed plants bolt, lose flavour, toughen and attracts pests. Just imagine how hungry the rabbits are at this time of year making your newly seeded lettuce a welcome feast.
If you’re planning to grow sweet corn, seeding the first of April compared to the first of May will only result in corn that’s harvestable a few days earlier. A one-month head start just isn’t worth it. Instead, that area could be used for an early March sowing of radishes that’ll mature in May. As the radishes mature you could companion plant by direct seeding corn between the rows of radishes. By the time the corn pops out the ground, the radishes have already been harvested.
It’s helpful to recognize that in most regions across North America, we can split our growing season into two distinct periods:
March – mid-June
mid-June – Fall/Winter
In the spring growing season we need to produce food as quickly as possible after the winter famine. During the summer season we need to produce as much food as possible so we can reduce the severity of the winter famine for the coming year.
This spring, sow fast maturing greens like spinach and radishes as early as possible in the season when daytime highs reach 12°C (54°F). We will harvest these in early May.
In April, when daytime temperatures reach 18°C (64°F) you can start seeding small amounts of beets, carrots, peas, and potatoes. We harvest these in early June.
Also, use this time to start your seedlings for the second half of the growing season.
During the spring period there is an urgent need to get food onto the table. But this is not our main growing season. We’re only getting warmed up, literally, for the summer growing period.
Even if you didn’t do any work in your garden until mid-June, you’d still be able to produce abundance by fall and winter.
After spending a winter cooped up inside, we’re eager to get outside to do some early seeding. And I’m not discouraging you from doing that. An early seeding of cold-tolerant arugula and turnips will provide life-enriching food after a winter of potatoes, squash, and parsnips.
What I am suggesting, however, is that you hold off on seeding until the conditions are most favourable for the vegetables you want to grow. This is especially true for the main season crops such as tomatoes, squash, corn, beans and onions.
Recognizing that our best growing happens after the summer solstice, should restrain us from sowing crops too early resulting in disappointment and early setbacks. Timing is everything when we’re gardening, and often, it’s the procrastinator who’s the farthest ahead at the end of the day.
Spring Growing Season
Spring Equinox – Sumer Solstice
Direct sow fast-maturing vegetables like spinach, radishes, arugula and turnips.
Begin succession planting for carrots, beets, peas, lettuce.
Start seedlings for the summer growing season
Summer Growing Season
June 15 – Fall/Winter
Summer Solstice – Winter Solstice
Continue to plant fast-maturing vegetables intercropped with slow maturing crops.
Succession planting for carrots, beets, peas, beans, lettuce, corn, etc.
• Brassicas: cabbage, kale, cauliflower
Direct sow slow maturing vegetables
• Cucurbits: melons and squash
• Carrots and Beets (August)
• Onions: start in March and transplant in May
• Plant storage potatoes in April
• Greenhouse growers can start one or two months earlier