If winter comes, can spring be far behind?

Hello, again!

After looking at the Vegetable Planting Schedule recommended by K-State Research & Extension, I did the math on the number of weeks needed to start my transplants for my vegetable garden. We've already talked about starting broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts now. But of course, I'm thinking ahead to tomatoes. The guide recommends May for the ideal time to set out tomatoes. While I do agree with that time, as a gardener, I tend to be one ‘those people’ who likes to push the envelope as far as setting out tomatoes.

Being plants that will survive cooler (not freezing) temperatures with protection, tomatoes can be set out in April. I’ve successfully planted my earliest ‘gamble garden’ tomato outdoors in late February, believe it or not. By caring for the plant, it survived, but honestly the 'Early Girl' variety didn’t produce any earlier than later planted ones. I did get bragging rights though for the earliest surviving transplant!

While it might be early for tomatoes, six weeks is needed from seed starting to being planted outside - give or take a few days - for most any vegetable plant. Here’s what I do for fast germination and growing strong transplants for vegetable garden plants:

Soil: Use a quality starting mix such as ferti•lome Seed & Cutting Starter Mix. Fill the container with potting mix to within 1/2" from the top. Lightly wet the soil before planting seeds. Place 2 to 3 seeds in each container, then cover with potting mix twice as deep as the diameter of the seed. Label each container with plant variety and date.

Watering: After the seeds have been sown, water from the bottom with lukewarm water or mist the soil so you don’t dislodge the seeds. Cover the container with a clear plastic bag or dome and keep the seeds continually moist, not soggy. Later, when the seedlings emerge and the cover is removed, water whenever the soil surface is dry. To make this easy, we like the SunBlaster NanoDome Mini Greenhouse Kit.

Temperature: A consistent temperature, between 65°-75°, will help the seeds germinate. We recommend a Seedling Heat Mat to provide bottom warmth and encourage better root growth. Light: It will take about a week (depending on germination time) for the seedlings to emerge from their shells and poke through the surface. You should then remove the cover and expose the plants to more sunlight and cooler temperatures. When the plants have germinated they will need about 10-12 hours of light a day or they will become spindly and leggy.

Fertilizing: After the first set of true leaves develop, a mild dose of fertilizer is helpful. We recommend a low nitrogen, high phosphorus plant food such as ferti•lome Blooming and Rooting.

Maintaining plants until planting: As weather permits, or temperatures not freezing, set the seedlings outside to harden them off to reduce transplant shock when they go into the garden.

If you have questions, stop by and visit with one of our experienced gardeners. Visit our seed starting department in the store now and stay tuned, as we’ll be receiving our seed potatoes, onion sets and plants in the next few weeks.

Your friend in the garden,

Marty Johnson
Owner - Johnson's Garden Center