Growing Food: Planting Your Spring Vegetable Garden

Growing Food: Planting Your Spring Vegetable Garden

I’ve finally started seeds indoors successfully! It took a ton of persistence. And sure, some seedlings didn’t survive (which is why I planted multiples, clever me) but most did. I even have spares I can give to my gardening buddies. Happy.

Just look at ’em…

Growing Food: Planting Your Spring Vegetable Garden

Now comes the next challenge. I have to move those babies outside. Really? They still seem so vulnerable. So delicate. And our Texas weather can be so unpredictable. But it’s time to set them free. I know this is an art — not a science — and after a bit of research, here are the steps I plan to follow.

The Art of Transplanting Seedlings to Your Spring Vegetable Garden

1. Get your seedlings ready. Because seedlings are so delicate, you have to do what’s known as “hardening them off” — giving them a taste of what it will be like when they live outside instead of in the protective environment they’ve enjoyed so far. To do this, start moving your seedlings outdoors on sunny days, beginning with a couple of hours and increasing the time daily for about a week. This exposes them to wind and helps them build stamina. You can also set up a fan indoors to mimic those breezy conditions. Make sure to keep them watered and exposed to the light they’ve enjoyed to date.

If you’ve bought seedlings, this step is optional — those little plants are probably larger than those you started indoors and have likely experienced the outdoors already.

Growing Food: Planting Your Spring Vegetable Garden

2. Get your soil ready. This is tricky for me. I should’ve sent soil samples to be tested to understand my soil’s health. I should’ve laid down paper and mulch in the winter to eliminate weeds and enrich the soil. But I didn’t. (I’m a bit lazy for a farmer.) Of the three beds in which I grow food, one is in pretty good shape, having housed my herb garden for years. Every year, I’ve mixed in compost and mulch. The second is in “ok” shape; I’ve only grown food there for the last year, so it’s only benefitted from one round of amendment. The third just ain’t pretty. Our corn survived there last year, but it didn’t produce anything edible, and I’ve not tackled its health this year. I’ve already added compost and mulch to beds one and two. And I can tell bed two’s soil is not great, but it’s still “ok”. And that’s enough for me. Bed three? Maybe next year.

So depending on your energy, time, and tolerance for potential failure, by all means have your soil tested and learn what you need to add to optimize it for a successful spring vegetable garden. (And please let me know what you do.) I may try to be better at this in 2016. (Or I may not!)

For more information on soil testing, check out these Important Media posts:

3. Move that future food to its new home! A few tips… Watch for good weather — not too rainy, not too sunny. Cloud cover or light rain is good. Fertilize your seedlings a day or two before you transplant. And handle them with care. Use a fork or spoon to dig the seedlings — including their root balls — out of their containers. Handle them by their roots balls or leaves — try not to mess with their stems. Plant them as deeply as you can with their leaves above ground, and pack the soil around them. Water well. Do all of this gently, gently, gently.

4. Stabilize your seedlings. An old Mother Earth News article I ripped out years ago recommends covering the seedlings with flower pots, cardboard boxes, or buckets for a few days after planting. This is supposed to give your plants’ roots time to dig in and grab on. I think this is especially important if your weather isn’t mild. Spring thunderstorms and hail can wreak havoc in no time! So this sounds like good advice.

Now, cross your fingers and say a prayer! If all goes according to plan and Mother Nature cooperates, you will see your seedlings standing at attention, ready to grow food for you and your family.

But Wait, There’s More: Direct Sowing Seeds

A farmer’s work is never done folks.

After transplanting seedlings, I still have seeds to sow directly in the ground. Geez Louise! But this is relatively simple. In addition to step two above (getting your soil in good condition), you need to know four things about your seeds:

1. What temperature do they require to germinate? You can use a cheap kitchen thermometer to take your soil’s temperature. Don’t direct sow until the time is right.

2. How much sun and water do they need? Make sure you are planting your seeds in an area which provides enough of each.

3. How deep should you plant them? You can find this information on the back of your seed packets. I’ve learned that the larger the seeds, the deeper you plant them. In general, small seeds should be planted 1/8 to 1/4 inch deep. Larger ones should be planted 1/2 to 1 inch deep.

4. How many plants can you grow in the space you have? The old school advice of planting in spaced rows seems to have fallen out of favor. “Intensive planting” is all the rage. One article I read recommended planting in clumps. And the latest Square Foot Gardening book by Mel Bartholomew describes how many of each plant you can grow in one square foot. For example, in the right conditions, you can grow one large plant (like tomatoes and eggplants) or 16 small plants (like radishes) in every square foot of your garden. That’s a lot of food! With this type of planting, soil condition becomes more important, but I used Mel’s plant counts for some vegetables last year with great success. (And I’ve already confessed my healthy soil challenges, so this was amazing.)

Once you have this information, it’s time to get planting. Map out your garden plan, grab your seeds, dig the right depth hole, and drop in a seed (or two if you’re worried about your seed packet’s freshness). Cover lightly and water well. Say one more prayer and prepare to be amazed when little green sprouts begin to emerge.

What have I missed? Any tips to share? Please leave a comment for our readers. One. Two. Three. Grow!

Related Posts: Getting Your 2015 Urban Farm Off the Ground

Starting Seeds Indoors Part 1Starting Seeds Indoors Part 2, Starting Seeds Indoors Part 3

Image Credits: Mary Gerush

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