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Is your garden growing frustratingly slowly? Have you sown seeds weeks ago and only a couple have emerged? Even though it's been pleasantly in the 70s during daytime, night-time temperatures have been only in the high mid- to high- 40s here in my Pasadena garden, and this means that everything grows sssslllllooooooowwwwwlllllyyyy. Apparently the cooler night-time temperatures – not the warmer daytime temperatures - are what determines how the garden proceeds. Here are some other considerations to help you feel that you’re doing the most you can for your garden now, while being patient and appreciative when you do see something green growing.
Seeds that are large enough to handle easily – like chard and peas – and root crops – like beets and carrots – should be sowed directly where they’ll mature.
For the larger seeds this means avoiding the 10 days or so of delay when they’re transplanted later and need that extra time to resettle into their new homes.
For root crops, this enables the roots to grow straight down into the prepared soil – although we all enjoy the funny shapes some carrots develop when their fine roottips must swerve around an obstruction.
The only drawback is that, for those of us whose garden is some distance from our homes, we need to visit the just-sown space frequently to make sure that conditions continue to be right for germination.
Starting in Trays for Later Transplanting
Most seeds can be started in trays and transplanted later, except for carrots.
The advantage is that trays can be kept closer to or in our homes for frequent monitoring.
The disadvantage is that the little plants will need to be transplanted into the garden later, with probably some loss of some of the seedlings and delay as little plants reacclimate to their new homes.
Some Tricks for Each Veggie
Bok Choy and Tatsoi - Space about an open hand-width apart to allow foliage to develop fully before harvesting.
Broccoli – Space about 2 feet apart to allow foliage to develop fully without crowding the next plant.
Cabbage, Cauliflower – Space a good 3 feet apart to allow for full spread of foliage before the single head is harvestable. Since these are one-time harvests, you can place them away from general traffic since you'll need to access the area only that once.
Carrots – Seeds generally take a full 3 weeks to germinate. They’re not strong enough to push through crusted soil, so are best sown with radishes which will germinate within a couple of days and then keep the soil “moving” as they develop so the carrots don’t have to struggle to come up. Even so, my carrots that were sown almost two months ago are just now coming up.
Chard and Kales and Mustards – Space at least a foot apart to allow for full development of leaves before harvesting (leaving several smaller inner leaves to continue developing).
Cilantro – Sow in blocks so you can harvest by cutting batches of stems an inch or so above soil level. They may or may not resprout more harvestable stems before they bolt and go to seed with the merest amount of warmth.
Leeks – Transplant at least 2 inches apart to allow full development before pulling up at harvest.
Lettuce – Transplant a hand-width apart since you’ll be harvesting outer leaves and leaving the inch-size inner leaves to continue developing.
Onions – Space green onions only an inch apart, since they won’t spread much further before harvesting. Space dime-size bulblets about 4 inches apart, since these will develop into 3-inch globes when they're ready to harvest in late May and June.
Parsley – Sow in wide blocks where they’ll mature so you can harvest by cutting stems an inch above the soil level so more stems can develop for harvesting again in another month or two.
Peas -- Last year, I resowed my peas three times between October and January, assuming that the previous sowings had been eaten or rotted...and then they all came up in February.
Radishes – They come up quickly, so are great to sow with carrots that need the help to emerge.
Spinach – Space varieties that mature to only about 4 inches wide a stretched-out-hand width, and a bit wider for larger-leafed varieties, since you'll keep outer leaves harvest and allow the inner ones to continue developing.
Sprinkle Mulch Onto Seedbed
Sprinkle a very thin layer of fine-grained mulch over a batch of just-sown seed so it’ll keep the seeds in place and the soil barely moist and therefore lessen crusting of the soil and encourage germination and development. This works especially well with carrots since the seeds aren't very strong in being able to push up through crusted-over soil.
Sprinkle Water Onto Seedbed
Gently sprinkle water onto the seedbed or trays, moving frequently and repeatedly back and forth to thoroughly moisten the bed at least an inch deep without blasting the seeds around.
Repeat this gentle sprinkling every other day or so, preferably in the late afternoon so the soil remains moist overnight and into the next day to encourage germination.
Warm Beds with Clear Plastic
To help concentrate daytime warmth and increase germination, cover the bed with clear plastic sheeting. Anchor down the edges with soil or rocks to keep out slugs and other critters who love the succulent sprouts, and to keep the sheeting from blowing away.
Protect Beds from Critters
If critters like skunks and other diggers love searching for slugs in your just-sown beds, stretch fruit-tree netting over the bed and anchor the edges so they can’t get into the area.
If other munchers love those just-transplanted seedlings, cover them with plastic bottles with the bottoms cut off. But remove them once the plants start peaking out of the tops!
If flying insects like cabbage moths are flitting about, cover the area with spunbonded polyester landscape fabric to keep them out.
More December Garden Tasks
See December Monthly Tips