Seeding Transplants? Again.

Only a couple of weeks ago I finished planting out tomato, pepper, melon, and the last of other spring transplants, and here I am today, sowing seeds again for more transplants. No, that first batch of transplants weren’t snuffed out from the last, late frost when the thermometer dropped to 28°F on May 13th.

Sowing lettuce seeds in flats
And no, those transplants were not clipped off at ground level, toppled and left lying on the ground, by cutworms. Neither were they chomped from the top down to ground level by rabbits.

I’m planting seed flats today to keep the harvest rolling along right through late autumn.

Future Further

Looking farthest ahead, I have in hand two packets of cabbage seed, Early Jersey Wakefield and  Bartolo. Early Jersey Wakefield is a hundred year old variety with very good flavor and pointy heads, due to mature a couple of months after transplanting. Once those heads firm up, they can keep well out in the garden for a few weeks in the cool, autumn weather. Those I set out in spring, once mature, are apt burst open from rapid growth in summer weather. Bartolo yields firm, round heads that store in good condition after harvest, well into winter. They are ready for harvest 115 days after transplanting.
Cabbages and kale interplanted in bed
I plan for any of today’s sowings to spend about a month in their containers before being planted out. Cooler weather and lowering sunlight dramatically slow plant growth around here by early October, so any late ripening vegetables need to be ready or just about ready for harvest by then. Bartolo cabbage, with 30 days in a seed flat plus 115 days out in the garden, is then ripe by . . . whoops . . . the END of October! No wonder Bartolo often didn’t ripen for me in the past. (Nothing like writing about my garden to keep me honest and awake. I should re-read the detailed timing schedule I wrote in Weedless Gardening for various vegetables in various climates.)

Okay, all is not lost for winter storage cabbage. Warm weather, timely water from drip irrigation, and soil enriched with plenty of compost might speed maturity along faster than predicted. Unseasonally warm weather through October would also help ripen nearly ripe heads. And there’s always the fallback, with sure-to-ripen Early Jersey Wakefield.

Still on time, guaranteed, will be today’s sowing of Charming Snow cauliflower, maturing 60 days from transplanting.

That’s it, for now, for the cabbage family. Later on in summer I’ll be sowing Chinese cabbage seeds. Perhaps more kale also, although spring sowings of this almost perfect vegetable can carry on right into winter, even spring if the winter is sufficiently mild.

Future Sooner

For sooner use in the coming weeks will be today’s sowings of lettuce, cucumber, and summer squash. I like lettuce but lettuce doesn’t like hot weather and longs days. Those conditions cause leaves to turn bitter as plants send up flower stalks and go to seed. But if I sow a pinch of seeds in flats every couple of weeks, the transplanted lettuce can usually be harvested small, before it’s socked away enough energy and wherewithal to go to seed.

The cucumber transplants I’ll want on hand to replace cucumber plants that I set out a couple of weeks ago. After a few weeks those spring plantings invariably succumb to powdery mildew and cucumber beetles, which not only feed on the plants but also spread bacterial wilt disease. (Easy identification for bacterial wilt, besides a wilting plant, is the thread of bacterial ooze visible as you pull apart a cut stem.)
Cucumber seedlings
Summer squash plants also peter out during summer, mostly from, again, powdery mildew, and also from squash bugs and vine borers. If squash vines are covered with soil along their stems, roots will form at the nodes, and the plant will continue production. I’ve got to be careful in saving the older squash plants, though; it’s too easy to  have too much of this vegetable.
Squash vine borer damage

Memorial Day, Before, During, and After It

Here in the States, the traditional time to plant a vegetable garden, is for some reason, Memorial Day weekend. But that can’t be true from Oregon to Florida and from Maine to Arizona, with our wide variations in climate!

I did put tomatoes, peppers, and plenty of transplants in the ground here during Memorial Day weekend. But I already had sown seeds or transplants of peas, arugula, lettuce, kale, carrots, celeriac before that weekend. And, as I’ve written above, there’s plenty of planting to be done after that date. Memorial Day weekend is not a seminal date in my gardening calendar.

The Season Begins

Gentlemen (and ladies, and kids), start your engines. The 2014 gardening season has begun, here on the farmden, at least.
The day began with my lugging the big pail of potting soil from the cold garage to a warm spot near the woodstove. My home-made potting soil — equal parts peat, compost, garden soil, and perlite, with some soybean meal thrown in — is moist when I make it, so was frozen solid. Not usable or suitable for germinating seeds.
Once the potting soil defrosts and warms, I scoop it into a seed flat and a small plastic tub into which I’ve drilled drainage holes. Firming the soil in place with my Furrow Maker, a small board with spaced out,
The Furrow Maker in action

1/4-inch dowels glued to its underbelly, creates a miniature farm field. Into the tub’s “field” go rows of fresh onion and leek seeds (fresh is important with these seeds, which lose viability after a year or two), about 7 seeds per inch, which is enough to well populate the “field” without causing crowding. After the seeds are covered with soil and gently and thoroughly watered, the tub gets covered with a pane of glass and placed on a heating mat that provides gentle warmth of between 70 and 80 degrees F.

I could sow onion seeds outdoors in early spring. The onions I’m growing, and the ones all northern gardeners should be growing, are so-called long day (in fact, short night) varieties. Their leaf growth comes screeching to a stop in early summer’s 15 or

16 hour days. The plants shift gears and redirect their energy into pumping up growing bulbs. More leaves at that time means more stored energy available to swell up sweet, juicy bulbs. That’s what I want and why I go through the trouble(?) of early, indoor sowing. I’ll plant out the seedlings in early May.

The small seed flat gets similarly filled with potting soil and sown with seeds, lettuce seeds in this case. Greenhouse lettuce is still going strong but I want to have some transplants ready for when the older stuff peters out. A 4 by 6 inch flat with four furrows of lettuce seeds should provide all the lettuce transplants I need for many weeks.
A greenhouse full of only lettuce could get boring. Other sorts of edible greenery currently share the space, and will continue to do so in the coming weeks. Some has been planted, and some has planted itself.
Among the planted greenery is a whole bed of kale and Swiss chard livened up with a couple of fennel plants. Also mâche, which usually plants itself except that overly diligent weeding in the greenhouse
Fennel, chard, lettuce, and kale in this bed

necessitated transplanting self-sown mâche from outdoor garden beds into the greenhouse last September.

Self-sown greenery includes claytonia (miner’s lettuce), minutina, and — more familiar to most people — celery. Claytonia doesn’t have much flavor but adds texture and color to a winter salad. The same goes for minutina, which is actually an edible species of plantain (the common lawn weed, not the banana relative). Celery plants are in various stages of growth. We’ve been eating the mature ones for months and the smallest seedlings will be ready for transplanting out into the garden in early May.
So my friend Bob is over for a visit. It’s near lunchtime and he beelines for the freshly baked loaf
Celery for eating and celery babies for transplanting

of bread sitting innocently on the kitchen counter. Bob grabs a knife and already has a sandwich in mind. “Do you have any tomatoes,” he says. What? Tomatoes? It’s midwinter!

I guess he’s made the link gardening-greenhouse-tomatoes. Never mind winter. Sorry, not in my greenhouse in winter, for a few reasons.
Fruiting demands a lot of a plant’s energy. That energy comes from the sunlight. Even though the sun has been rising higher in the sky and for longer periods daily, its light is still paltry compared to midsummer sunlight. A bright summer day bathes the garden with about 10,000 foot-candles of light. My greenhouse, according to measurements taken at high noon on this crystal clear day, is bathed  with about 6,400 foot-candles of sunlight.
Natural sunlight could be supplemented with artificial light. Not a table lamp or even a bank of fluorescents, though. Light intensity falls off as the inverse square of distance from the light source; double the distance and you’ve got only one-quarter the intensity. So plants need to be close to the light source, which then will shade natural sunlight. Special high intensity bulbs are needed to make a dent in winter’s relative darkness.
And then there’s the temperature needed to raise a crop of tomatoes in February. For tomatoes, I wouldn’t want temperatures lower than in the 50s. My greenhouse heater kicks on at 37°F. Each degree of warming increases heating costs about three percent.
Winter tomatoes don’t seem worth the extra cost in dollars and to the environment from increased usage of gas or electricity. And they don’t taste that good. I can wait.