Week 6: Waiting is the Hardest Part
This Week, it's time to harden-off seedlings in preparation for transplanting. Also, what to do with pot-bound seedlings and choosing the right watering system for your garden!
First, let's take a look at...
What Should I Plant This Week?
Many plants like the cool weather, but if you haven’t had a chance to get your seeds for cool-season crops don’t panic. You'll have another opportunity to start things like beets, broccoli, kale, peas and spinach, indoors in mid-summer for transplant in early September to take advantage of the cool fall weather. The chart below shows the basic timeline to follow.
Also, some crops mature quickly and fade as the weather gets hot. That's why we have successional or staggered planting of some crops so we can have a fresh crop coming every few weeks. Lettuce, arugula, cilantro and radish are a few that can be seeded on this schedule. Pull out the old crop once it’s past. If you have had an insect or disease issue, move that crop to a new location, so you don’t repeat the issue.
We will be starting some cucurbits indoors this week. Cucumbers, squash, melon and watermelons are what we're referring to. It's too early to put them outside but we can get some seeds starting inside.
BECAUSE WE JUST CAN’T WAIT!
We want to be ready for our May 15-ish goal for hardening-off and planting these crops soon after that. They can get large fast so we don’t start too early or we have big plants and no indoor space for them.
Are your seedlings growing well? Sometimes the growing can get ahead of us and if we aren’t watching they become root-bound.
This is easily remedied by choosing a bigger pot and "potting up" to give the roots more room to expand. It’s best to not ignore this situation because it can stunt the future growth.
Using the seed blocking method, that we went into detail in Blog Post Week Four, is a good way to avoid plants getting root bound because when the roots hit the air around the blocks it root prunes them so they don't
become root-bound like in the plastic pots. More oxygen is distributed to the roots since the growing medium is not contained. The initial roots slightly dry out and stop outward growth, which spurs secondary root development, resulting in a well-developed, full root system for your plant. You will need to create a bigger block if the root system becomes too extensive before you can plant out.
An important step in growing veggies is the hardening-off process.
Your seedlings have been sheltered and pampered, but when you plant them outside they will be introduced to a harsher environment with drying winds, pelting rain and cooler temperatures. So, you want to introduce these conditions gradually. The process will usually take about a week. Start by placing your seedlings outside in the shade for a few hours, bringing them in before the sun goes down. Gradually increase the number of hours they stay outside and the amount of sun and wind that they are exposed to each day. Here is a comprehensive video on hardening-off.
Please don't rush this process. We have found it to be very important for the survival of the seedlings and therefore the long term health of the plants.
Watering your plants during the summer can be the most challenging task when it seems it never rains. We can’t know this in advance, so we need to be prepared for the worst. We set up our irrigation system after preparing our beds and before we plant seeds or plants. This helps us know exactly where to place the plants so they're near the water source and to test the system to see leaks, watering patterns, etc. and make repairs before vegetation is in the way.
You want to deliver one to two inches of water to your garden each week through rain or watering. This is key for plant productivity and reducing vulnerability to insects and diseases.
Just about every gardening source will advocate for drip irrigation. This is because:
Water gets where it needs to be - at the root level
Water is distributed slowly for better plant uptake
It saves time over hand watering
It minimizes evaporation
Foliage stays dryer, minimizing favorable environments for diseases
It minimizes weeds because areas that aren’t planted aren’t getting water
It conserves water so you save money
It minimizes erosion
There are so many types of drip irrigation we can't cover them all here. These systems can get quite complicated, but keep it simple. Many companies sell kits that are good for home gardens. We recommend choosing a soaker hoses or/and a drip-tape irrigation system with good instructions. We use both types depending on the area we are irrigating.
Here is a short video that explains a drip tape system. Drip-tape is laid out linearly, so it works best for a square or rectangular shape garden. The tape has emitters spaced at regular For these drip-tape systems there are intervals. For a small vegetable garden, choose a product with an eight-inch interval.
For a drip tape system there are two items that are very important. One is a filter to remove anything that could clog up your emitters. The other is a pressure regulator that reduces the high pressure coming from your house. These are both low cost and imperative for this type of system.
For a soaker hose system all you have to do is hook it up to your hose, but it should be buried under mulch or a layer of soil to keep the water from getting your foliage wet. Soaker hoses are good for irregularly shaped areas or small patches of garden that aren’t near your main patch. This type of hose delivers water along the entire hose in all directions within a few inches of the hose.
Here is a very informative video about all the intricacies of drip irrigation.
Veggie Spotlight: Beets and Chard
Chard and beets are cousins, so we thought we would cover them together because they have similar needs and growth habits. Both are grown for their tasty and nutritious leaves and leafstalks, but beets also for their bulbous roots, rich in antioxidants. Chard is used much like spinach but can grow all summer long, unlike spinach which will bolt (go to seed) when the weather gets warm.
We usually direct seed both, but beets get seeded in late March because their seed can take some freezing weather. Alternatively, chard is direct seeded in late April because the seeds don’t like to freeze. Sow them 1” apart with rows 4 inches apart. Thin to 4” apart and be sure to eat those yummy thinnings.
Both beets and chard will grow in full sun or partial shade so they are perfect for that corner of your garden that gets a little shade.
They like a loose, fertile soil, high in organic matter. They like consistent moisture, so need watering of at least 1” per week all summer if it doesn’t rain.
Swiss chard can be harvested as baby chard when its 2-3’ inches high for salad mixes, or let it grow up to 12’. We do patches of both.
For beets let them fully mature and harvest the entire plant when they reach the desired size. You can also eat the greens! Beets also have a second seeding to take advantage of the cooler fall weather (see chart above).
To Recap Today's Essential Concepts:
Use our charts above to get the timing for putting your seeds in right!
Hardening your seedlings off to prepare them for living outdoors is crucial for success.
Choose a simple irrigation system.
The last-frost date is quickly approaching! Next week we'll finish our discussion of hardening off seedlings for transplanting. We'll offer tips for direct planting of summer favorites like melons, corn, pumpkin and squash (three sisters garden, anyone?). Also, to fence or not to fence? We'll break it down. See you next time!
In times of food crises, local food is here for us. In this great article, the MA Food System Collaborative notes that "integration between local and broader food systems is necessary, but local food production, processing and distribution (can) adjust as needed in ways that the larger systems can not." Their Local Food Action Plan lays out clear actions we and our state government can take to support our local food industry so that it can truly support us, especially in crises. You can take action yourself by helping your representatives understand the resilience value of local food.