Almost 40 years of gardening and I’m enjoying starting fall crops more than ever this year; mainly because of the benefits I’m enjoying from an adjustment to my usual seed starting and transplanting methods.
How the Adjustment Came About
A couple of weeks ago the first lettuce seeds I’d started for fall had germinated. They were small, but a size good for transplanting if critters had left them alone.
As mulch shrinks through the summer, my soil under that by-then-thin-layer, is usually dry. In spite of that I happily found two small spots that were moist and perfect for my first transplanting of lettuce. Planted them and sprinkled with straw to preserve the moisture.
Next day, they still looked great. Second day — every one was gone. Could have been any insect critter, but I’m thinking crickets since I’ve not seen too many grasshoppers.
I’ve fought this battle in prior years. Usually, I just keep planting every week or so and in different places. Finally I get lots of lettuce. Although this method works, it may not be the smartest or most efficient way to get the job done.
Lettuce, Beets, Chard, Kale, Spinach, Radishes
Fortunately, I had more lettuce germinating. Rather than transplanting to the garden, I transplanted into jug bottoms (like I do for wintersown) but with more spacing for each plant. I’m also taking this approach with beets, chard, kale and spinach. I’ll do radishes both ways; direct seed and start in jug bottoms or flats.
The onions from seed started for “spring-onion-eating” this fall and winter were up 3 inches. Transplanted some to the garden and the bugs haven’t bothered thus far. Assuming that condition remains, I’ll continue to plant those seedlings into the garden as I have room.
Beans and Peas
I’ve always sown beans and peas directly into garden beds. In the last few years I’ve had a heck of a time with beans and especially peas not wanting to come up. It seemed that something was eating the seed, but I’m not sure if that’s the case.
Not going through that anymore! Thus, I decided to start all beans and peas in jug bottoms or flat. I space them a little more than 1 inch apart and about 8 to 12 seeds to a jug bottom. When top growth is 6 to 8 inches tall, I transplant to the garden. If that sounds like a lot of work to you, I assure you it’s really time saving. (I’ll tell you why in a minute.) And wait till you hear the benefits! I’m so impressed that I never want to direct seed beans or peas into the garden again.
- Good Strategy for Pest Control
Any time I’ve ever planted lettuce seedlings that were 2 inches or larger, they usually make it through just fine. The larger size lessens the chance of crickets and grasshoppers and other smaller pests being responsible for the demise of the seedlings.
Most of us know that from experience if we’ve gardened a while. For example, a fairly large tomato or eggplant seedling can weather the attack of flea beetles. And a lettuce seedling that is up 2 to 4 inches has a lot better chance of growing to maturity in the garden than a seedling that is only 1/2 inch high and looks like a perfect meal for a grasshopper or cricket.
- Increases Your Yield
You’ll cull out the weak seedlings before transplanting to the garden. Only the most vigorous will go into the garden bed. Generally, they’ll be your big producers. (There can always be exceptions.)
- Saves Time and Space
– When you direct seed a certain percentage of seed doesn’t germinate.
Starting in flats does away with space left vacant in the garden bed when seed doesn’t germinate.
– When you transplant small seedlings into the garden, you’re almost always gonna lose a certain percentage.
When that happens you have unoccupied space in the bed. If you choose to fill the space with another plant, it’ll take time to produce another plant.
– Beds marked for these new plants might be currently filled with another crop, but you won’t lose much time because the new plants will be ahead when they’re finally placed in the garden.
Suggestions and tips:
- Plant large seed like beans and peas in at least 3 inches of grow mix to give the roots more room. When top growth is 5 to 8 inches, transplant to the garden. At this point, roots will be entwined, but can be pulled apart gently to separate them. (If you want plants to get even larger, allow 6 inches for root growth.)
- Lettuce seed can be started in about 2 inches of grow mix, but when you transplant each to a larger pot, give the roots at least 3 inches of grow mix.
- Do not compact the grow mix when you transplant the seedlings. Make the hole and cover the roots gently with soil using whatever tool you have. Watering after transplanting will give the root to soil contact you need without compacting the soil.
- Use a watering can or hose that will mimic a gentle rain. You want to water, but now drown the seedlings.
- If you don’t get the growth you want when you transplant tiny seedlings into deeper/larger containers try adding a couple of tablespoons of compost to the grow mix prior to planting. If you’ve already planted, put the compost on top and water.
There’s always a better way to do almost everything. We won’t ever know what works for us until we try it out.
I hope you’ll experiment with some of these ideas and let me know how you fare with them. I’ll be interested in hearing what you discover and I feel sure your fellow readers will too.
Happy Fall Gardening!
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