How soon is too soon?

It seems like that’s the question on everyone’s mind-especially given the long weekend that’s coming up.  And like many questions, the somewhat frustrating answer is: well, that depends.

Depends mostly on what you’re considering planting and where.  If the soil is too wet, the seeds will rot.  If it’s too cold, they won’t germinate.  And if they do germinate and there’s frost, they can be damaged.  It is so hard to wait, but the reality is that if we push it and plant too soon we can ruin our plants.  And if the weather is too cool, they’re just going to stagnate, be more vulnerable to pests and disease and not grow anyway.

For our friends out East and in the prairies, there’s no choice but to wait for now.  For those of us in the lower mainland and on the islands, we should be okay if we choose our plants carefully and keep some row cover, plastic or an old sheet close by in case of frost; this is especially true if we’re using raised beds as they create a favourable little micro-climate that can help protect the plants from temperature fluctuations.

But as far as I understand, even on the West Coast for now this means no tomatoes, no peppers, no melon, no eggplant, no celery, no pumpkins, no basil and no rosemary that hasn’t been over-wintered (man alive-do I ever sound like a cranky toddler!).  The focus needs to be on transplanting spring/fall varieties that require the slightly cooler temperatures of spring and late summer (more on that later) and direct seeding.

Now for seeds, I prefer open pollinated varieties; also known as heritage or heirloom varieties.  My hands down favourite is West Coast Seeds.  They’re organic and local, so they have a good sense of what works well here.  As I’m partial to buying Canadian, I also quite like Pacific Northwest Seed out of Vernon and Aimers Organics out of Ontario.  I also have heard good things about Salt Springs Seeds, but I haven’t had a chance to try them personally.  One of my mistakes has been to plant seeds too deeply into the soil; apparently the guideline is only 3 times the diameter of the seed.  And remember, seeds have a shelf life!

As for what seeds to plant: arugula, kale, radishes, broad beans, leeks, beets, spinach, lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, onions, carrots, peas, radicchio (also known as endive), collards, swiss chard, parsnips and turnips can all be planted now (help me out here, am I forgetting any?).  Seed tape is wonderful for helping with spacing, but either way plan to thin out your rows a great deal or the plants will simply not thrive as they compete for resources-many of us have been less than thrilled with crops of tiny little carrots!

And a quick word on carrots-many people mix the seed with sand.  This ensures a more even distribution of the super tiny seed and carrots are said to prefer sandy soil.  But don’t go too crazy-too much sand in one part of your garden will just create a bathtub effect.  When the rain falls on the soil that has a high content of clay, the water will just run off and head straight for your carrots, which will rot if they sit in wet dirt.  So if you need to change the consistency of your soil for one crop, it’s best to do it in a container.

And a last word on carrots-there’s a tiny little bug here, the rust fly, that loves carrots; so much so that if you want to have a successful crop you’ll need to cover them with row cover pretty much all the time.  Which is why using seed tape to plant carrots in a slightly sandy soil in a container made of that breathable coconut coir fiber material, which can then be easily draped in row cover, is my official carrot recommendation-phew!

Coconut Coir-it sounds exotic, but you can sometimes even find it at London Drugs.

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3 Responses to How soon is too soon?

  1. Pingback: A Decent Start | Adventures in Organic Urban Farming with Suzanne Denison

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