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Seed Starting Cold-Weather Crops in Zone 6

Title image reading: Seed Starting Cold-Weather Crops in Zone 6

It’s the end of February, and it’s still a little early to get most seeds started here in Ohio. Last year I made the mistake of starting my tomatoes & peppers extremely early with the thought that they would develop more fully & we would be blessed with an early & abundant harvest of Tomatoes, Jalapeños, & Habaneros. In reality, this just led to the seedlings becoming root-bound in the trays, and forced me to do more work than necessary by transplanting them up into larger pots before transplanting out into Root Pouches in the spring once the threat of frost had passed.

So the moral of the story is – don’t plant your Tomatoes & Peppers just yet! This blog will walk you through the crops that are safe to plant at this time of the year if you’re in zones 5-7 or so.

You can also check out the full Part 1 of the YouTube video, if you prefer to follow along that way, but I will cover most of what I discuss in the video, plus I feel I have more opportunity to elaborate on the pieces that I may have missed in the video.

Cold-Weather Seeds I’m Starting Now

  • Arugula – Arugula is a cold-hardy crop that can tolerate a light amount of frost, plus it’s fairly quick-growing. I chose to grow Arugula because it adds a nice spicy component to salads, sandwiches, or burgers. It’s also important to note that Arugula attracts a TON of pests like flea beetles and cabbage worms / moths. This is a great reason to get Arugula out in the garden early while it’s still cold and the pests are hiding away for winter.
  • Broccoli – I didn’t think that I would be growing broccoli this year because of the stomach issues I’ve had, but I have been given the all-clear to add more fiber into my diet as long as it doesn’t bother me. And my garden isn’t all about me since I’m growing for a CSA, so I had to take that into consideration as well. Broccoli was a huge hit last year, and the Early Green Broccoli variety should give us a super strong start to the CropBox. Broccoli is frost-tolerant as well and the cooler weather actually helps to enhance the sweetness – so get those broccoli plants started!
  • Lettuce – What is a spring garden without lettuce? This year I’ll be growing two fan-favorites from years past: Buttercrunch & Concept Lettuce, plus a new one that I’ve been hearing about from every grower at every trade show: Salanova Lettuce from Johnny’s. The amazing thing about Salanova is that you can treat it as a hybrid lettuce and harvest it as either head lettuce or leaf lettuce – meaning you can get up to 3-4 harvests from a single planting! It’s important to note that if you have a rainy season (like last spring in Ohio), or if you maintain an overly moist environment in the lettuce, you will almost certainly attract slugs and/or snails – I found this out the hard way last year, but will be combatting that problem with an organic solution of wool pellets. Last year I also made the mistake of planting 288 heads of lettuce at once – this year I’m taking advantage of succession planting to ensure that we maintain a steady harvest of the staple rotational crops like lettuce, spinach, and other leafy greens. I’ll go into more detail on succession planting later in this blog and in more depth in a separate blog as well.
  • Onions – Typically I prefer to plant onion bulbs or onion sets, but I haven’t had much luck with growing onions from seed, so I figured I would give it another shot this year. I started off with Evergreen Onions which are a green onions variety, but I may also plant some Red Burgundy seeds as well (those are a bulb variety, not used for green onions). Onions have a looong growing season, so if you really want to grow them from seed, get those seeds a-going!
  • Spinach – As with Lettuce, what is a spring garden without Spinach! My variety of choice is Gurney’s Goliath Spinach because it’ll give you leaves the size of your hands and it provides abundantly. Like all of these plant varieties, mature Spinach is extremely cold-tolerant and, depending on the variety, can withstand temperatures down to 20ºF.

Seed Tray Selection & Succession Planting

This section is not a full-blown blog about Seed Tray Selection & Succession Planting, but it should help serve as a general guide. As overzealous gardeners, it is our instinct to fill the seed trays completely full of seeds – not realizing that we will end up with 72 or 288 heads of lettuce all needing harvested at one time!

When we plant our seeds, we need to ask a few questions:

  1. How many people are you growing for? This will give you an idea of what size of trays to start your plants in. I’m growing greens in 288-cell trays because I am planning to provide fresh veggies & herbs to 10-25 people. When I plant in these 288-cell trays, that will help the root systems form quicker in the smaller-sized plug and will allow me to pack more plants into a 10×20 tray-sized area. When I planted my lettuce I thought about the timeframes for harvesting and ended up planting 48 heads of lettuce & 60 plugs with Arugula. This left half of the tray to be planted up in another 2 weeks to ensure that we have staggered & continuous harvests of Lettuce, Arugula, Spinach, and other leafy greens or quick-turn crops like Radish or herbs.
  2. How much space do I have in my Seed Starting area & in my Garden? Every gardener in the world overestimates what they can handle – until they learn the hard way like I have over the past few seasons. This year I’m dialed in with a plan that I created wayyy ahead of time to ensure that I wouldn’t over-plant. Last year I found myself drowning in tomatoes & hot peppers, as per usual. This year, it will be drowning in greens, beans, cucumbers, melons, sweet, corns, and tomatoes, potatoes, & peppers. My Plan assures that we’ve got the space, but to really over-deliver this year, and to build some street cred, I’m also going to buy a plot at our local community gardens and plug it full of watermelons, cantaloupe, sweet corn & potatoes galore!

Supplies I Use for Seed Starting

I hope this Blog, Video, & Supply list helps you in your Seed Starting Journey! I will be producing more gardening content throughout the spring, summer, and beyond – so if there’s anything you’re curious about, or want me to dive a little deeper on – let me know & I’ll throw a video together for you!

Hang on for a few more weeks & the weather will start to turn in our favor. Within 4-8 weeks you will be planting your onions, lettuce, arugula, spinach, and broccoli outdoors – and then the real challenges & fun begin – Happy Gardening!

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Seeds, Soil, & Supplies

Seedlings under grow light

It may be the middle of winter, but I know we’re all itching to get seeds started for the 2020 garden season! Unless you have a greenhouse, it’s probably a little early to start seeds – but now is the perfect time to plan your garden.

This blog is designed to walk you through how to start a garden from seed and serves as a support document to the podcast series that I am doing on Seed Starting, so if you want to listen in, check out the episode below:

The first step begins with deciding what you want to grow.

What do you & your family enjoy?

Or if you’re growing for a CSA or Farmer’s Market, what do your customers like to eat?

While you’re thinking about that, it might also be important to consider:

  • How much space do the plants require?
  • What are your anticipated harvest dates?
  • Do you only want to plant once in the spring? Or do you want continual harvests throughout the season?

This may seem daunting to a new gardener, so I will be breaking these topics down in more detail through this blog series. For now, the most important thing is to decide what you want to grow and where you’re going to get it.

The best place to start is to figure out what growing zone you’re in. Check out your Hardiness Zone here: USDA Plant Hardiness Zones

This will give you an idea of what you can grow and helps you reverse engineer your seed sowing dates.

Next, you need choose what seeds you want to grow. A few of my top choices for seed include:

Once you’ve picked out your seeds, the next step is to get your supplies lined up. Supplies that you’ll need will include seed trays, pots, CowPots, soil or growing media, and fertilizer.

Below are my top recommendations with explanations of why you would use these products specifically. Also, some of these links are Amazon Affiliate links and I will get paid a small commission if you purchase through the links, pictures, or Amazon ads.

Seed Trays

For Seed Trays, I’m a big fan of TO Plastics. They make their horticultural plastic products from recycled material, so I like the sustainability factor, plus I feel that they produce a superior product with their Star Plug design to prevent circling roots.

CowPots

CowPots are by far THE best growing product I have used. At first I was skeptical – they’re pots made out of cow poop. Immediately it makes you think, maybe I’ll stick to Jiffy Pots! But once you try them out, you’ll be blown away. I felt like my tomatoes were completely thriving once I transplanted them into CowPots. Not only did they have more room to grow, but they are also getting oxygenated roots, which is probably leading to air-pruning (which is a good thing) AND you don’t have to worry about transplant shock. You just plop the whole pot in the ground and let nature do its thing! CowPots Pack of 20 Starter Pots Made from Cow Manure (3″ Diameter by 3″ Depth) 100% Biodegradable/Peat Free

Pepper plants in CowPots
Pepper plants in CowPots

HydroFloat & Fertilizers

This hydroponic seed starting kit is one of the easiest things to start seeds in. This kit comes with a tray, humidity dome, 55-cell styrofoam insert, and 55 grow plugs for the foam. Once you pop the plugs into the tray, you fill it with water until the foam is floating on top. You then plant your seeds, refill the water as needed and the grow plugs will soak up water & fertilizer through capillary action. Refills & the best fertilizers for this system are listed below:

Soil

Because the intro to seeds & supplies was so heavy, I am going to dive in on Soil in more detail on the next blog in this series. Keep your eyes peeled for the blog/podcast/video on Soil Health, Soilless Mixes, Soil Amendments, and more!

And if there’s any gardening questions I can help you out with – let me know, I would love to help!

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Start your Seeds!

It isn’t too late to start your seeds indoors! Spring seems right around the corner, but for us in Ohio, we’ve still got a while. The last frost date in my area is listed as April 20th, but local gardeners always go by the Mother’s Day rule for spring planting.

With that date in mind, we’ve got 8 weeks until we can plant outdoors – which just happens to be the perfect amount of time for tomatoes & peppers. Here’s a few tips for starting your seeds.

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  • Refer to your garden plan – or make a garden plan if you haven’t done so already. It’s quick & easy to do and ensures that you have enough of the supplies you need when it gets to planting time.
  • Select suppliers – there are tons of seed & seedling companies out there, do some research to find a good intersection of quality products with great pricing.
  • Determine last frost date –  this is the most important thing unless you’re growing under cover of a greenhouse, or using frost blankets. Check out your last frost date here.
  • Check planting instructions & set a planting date for each crop – this is important so you don’t have pumpkin vines growing in your closet in March!
  • Location, Conditions & Care – make sure you have a location that will get 8-12 hours of sunlight or from grow lights. Keep your seed trays in a well-ventilated area that is around 70 degrees for optimal germination. And finally, be sure that you are checking daily for water, fertilizer needs, and turning trays if seedlings are reaching.

There is nothing more satisfying than watching the seeds you’ve sown, sprout & evolve into the plants in your garden – and eventually become the salsa in your fridge!

Stay tuned for more gardening tips through the spring & season. And drop me a line if there’s something you are curious about and I’ll tackle that issue in a future post – thanks & happy gardening!