Top 5 Tips for Starting Your Garden published March 14, 2013, on Barebones Living blog.
Gardening season is almost here at the Barebones HQ in Morgan, Utah, and although it still looks like winter outside, we’re busy configuring our veggie garden at TIFIE Ranch for a lush bounty of good eats this summer. (I know I’m excited for my own harvest of carrots, peapods, onions and spinach. Maybe even a few tomato plants, too!) But before you decide what you’re going to plant, be sure to consider when you’re going to plant. For novice and seasoned green thumbs alike, here are a few pre-season gardening tips from our own backyard:
LEARN YOUR CLIMATE
Weather and temperatures affect the outcome of your crops, so do some research about your local climate before you start digging. Take a crash-course in weather by visiting your local farmers’ market. If there’s anyone who knows a thing or two about the optimal climate for veggies, flowers and fruits, it’ll be the folks that dedicate their livelihood to farming. At barebones, for instance, temps tend to be consistently cooler than our snow-less neighbors in St. George, where growing season starts earlier.
LET ‘EM GERMINATE
Take note of the germination period (the time it takes for a seed to sprout), which varies from plant to plant. Seeds with a longer germination process will require more time in a greenhouse/indoors this time of a year before they’re transferred outside. Most germination info can be found on the seed packages themselves, but if you can’t find it, the folks at your local garden shop will be able to help you.
Vegetables can be separated into two types of plants: hardy/semi-hardy and tenders.
Hardy/Semi-Hardy: These vegetables can withstand cold (ie, near freezing) temperatures. Some types of hardy/semi-hardy plants include; leafy greens, peas, carrots, broccoli, radishes and beets. Semi-hardy plants can survive repeated light frosts in the 30-32° F range. Hardy vegetables can survive temperatures as low as 20° F before dying.
Tenders: These vegetables are easily affected by temperatures and can be tricky even for the expert gardener. Tender veggies thrive with warmer weather and include: tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, peppers, melon and corn. Cold weather will kill these delicate seedlings, so if they’re planted too early and experience a frost, they will not survive.
MAKE A DATE TO PLANT
The exact date for planting vegetables depends on the three factors listed above. If you have a greenhouse with climate controls, you’ve already got a head start on your (year-round) growing season. For the rest of us, we rely on approximate dates to get the fun started in the garden. Here in northern Utah, hardy/semi-hardy plants can typically be planted in an unheated greenhouse around March 15. Hardy/semi-hardy seedlings can be transferred outside around May 1 and withstand a few cold days without succumbing to freezing temps.
Tenders get their best start indoors under a strong fluorescent light for the first 4-6 weeks. Tenders are typically healthy enough to transfer outdoors by April 15, but they MUST have a heat source if it gets cold. For a safer bet, transfer your tenders to the outdoors by June 15 (or June 1 for greenhouse gardeners). Regardless, keep a cover handy in case temperatures drop unexpectedly.
Plants need to be watered at least once every day. On hot days — or depending on your area — your plants may need more water to keep them hydrated. Whether you’re growing in the greenhouse or outdoors, the soil needs to stay moist: not too much, not too little. When I talk with local gardeners and they tell me their plants always die, the first question I ask is, “How often do you water them?” It’s easy to overlook (or underlook!) just how much water your plants actually need.
For more tips and tricks on gardening, view the TIFIE Ranch harvest calendar to help you plan your tactics, or read up on the art and science of smart gardening with our friends at Horticulture magazine.