Seed Starting Time

If you want to grow your own vegetables, now is the time to grab some seeds and start planting. (Actually, it’s a little late on some crops, but not too late.) How do you know when it’s time? I go by the plants outside. When I see the hellebores begin to bloom, it’s time to start asparagus, leeks, onions and celery indoors. They need 10 to 12 weeks to grow before the last frost date. A couple weeks after that, it’s time for the peppers and tomatoes, and the first sowing of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and lettuce.

Old eaves under an overhang make a good place to start peas out of the rain.

When the following plants start to bloom (I’m a little behind this year), it’s time to plant spinach and peas outside. I like to use an old eave by the side of the house to start the first batch of peas. It keeps the seeds out of our incessant rain so they don’t rot and helps protect the seedlings from slugs and birds.

Finally, about mid April, I’ll start the squashes and cucumbers. They grow fast and don’t want to be kept waiting. Outside, it’s time to plant potatoes and more of the cool-weather crops. In mid-May, the beans go into the ground, and the corn follows sometime in the next couple weeks as the weather warms.

Why go to all this trouble? Starting your own seeds gives you more choices of plant varieties and allows you to manage quantities and timing better. It also can save you money on vegetables, although as I said in an earlier post, it’s not a solution to poverty. Avoid most of the expensive gardening products out there and keep things simple. For example, seed starting systems are great, but you can do as well with egg cartons on top of your refrigerator and a couple 40-watt fluorescent shop lights.

For more specific instructions on how to start seeds, here are a couple great sites that also list some other top vegetable gardening blogs:

Veggie Gardener: “The Top 15 Best Vegetable Gardening Blogs”

Vegetable Garden Basics: “My Top 10 Vegetable Gardening Blogs”

And, as I’ve said before, Territorial Seed Company has a wealth of information in its seed catalogue and on its website.

Things look muddy and brown now, but it won’t be long before empty beds and pots will be filled with lettuce and chard and spinach and beans. What’s going into your garden?

The Accidental Rutabaga

Something you do today may produce unexpected results. You may think you’ve failed. You may think your efforts were wasted. But weeks or months or years from now, you may harvest the reward.

I discovered this over the weekend as I worked to prepare the garden for a new growing season. Winter had brought us one of those pleasantly freakish days where the warm temperatures reminded me it’s time to start seeds for spring.

 We’re still eating frosted cabbage, carrots, beets, chard and kale from the garden, but as usual, I’m behind on cleaning up. The last of the fall crops that couldn’t survive the cold have become twisted black stalks, and the bare patches that didn’t get covered with leaves or hay have sprouted blankets of shot-weed. Uncollected seeds are scattered around the nasturtiums and calendula like chicken scratch.

As I cleared away the dead plants, I made an amazing discovery. A giant vegetable peeked out under the end of one slimy row. I bent closer. A large, tan bulb bulged out of the soil under a tall, green stalk. I decided it was a rogue beet. It sprouted near the beet patch and had months to grow with no competition, so what else could it be?

I hauled the big root home, and the next day my son came downstairs and spotted it. He has an anti-vegetable radar that instantly detects squash or beets. “Why did you have to grow a rutabaga?” he asked. Then it hit me. Months earlier, I had planted rutabagas in that very spot.

I’d never planted them before. I’d never eaten one. I just like the name. My dad used to make rutabaga jokes. But the crop failed. The seeds didn’t sprout, or if they did, I didn’t recognize them and weeded them out, something that’s easy to do when you’re fighting platoons of weeds. Or they may have fallen to the slugs that deploy in spring. I tried to replant, but somehow used the wrong seeds, resulting in a sunny bank of calendula.

Unknown to me, one of the rutabagas survived under the flowers. With no slug bait, or fertilizer or weeding, it grew to surprise me one winter morning. It was a reminder to me that when you plant a seed or send an email or help a friend, you don’t know what will result. Every action is a stone in a pond, sending out ripples. The payoff may not be what we expect. We might not recognize it at first. But it could be something beautiful, like a field of flowers. Or it could be a rutabaga.

Now if only I knew how to cook it.