February is now here, and it is time to seriously start considering what plants you will be starting and how they will be started. Plants and seeds should be going into the ground here in the next few months.
Seed sourcing and selection
Vegetables that can be seeded now include lettuce, Swiss chard, radish, beets, mustard, turnips, English peas, spinach, and carrots. Ensuring good germination is key for getting good stands of plants that are seeded in the field.
The first step to getting a good stand is to have good seeds. Getting seeds from a reliable source is the number one way to ensure this by buying from a reputable seed provider. Selecting varieties that have higher germination rates is also a key contributor to getting good stands. The proven producer varieties will typically have higher germination rates and will enable a better start in the spring garden. Heirloom varieties will typically have a lower germination rate, but that doesn't mean that they can't be sown or used. It just means you may not get as much bang for your buck when you plant those seeds, and it might be better to use other varieties instead. Heirloom varieties are often said to offer advantages compared to traditional varieties in the ways of better flavor or color, so it is just something else to consider.
Bed preparation is another key component to getting good seed germination and this starts off with good site selection. Making sure the garden area has good access to sun and adequate drainage. Vegetables need a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight a day, but more is better in this case. Sometimes there are low-lying areas in the garden that can cause water to pool, and this negatively impacts seeds and plants in the garden. When the rows are formed it is critical that they are flat and level to allow for good seed to soil contact when the seeds are planted.
Seed planting and spacing
One thing that is often forgotten that is vital for having good seed germination is how you plant your seeds. What I mean by that is planting seeds in the soil to the appropriate depth. Oftentimes seeds are planted at incorrect depth soil depths, which results in bad germination. Smaller seeds needed to be planted at a shallower depth and most of the seeds that were mentioned before are smaller seeds. They should be planted at a depth of one-quarter to half an inch. The larger seeds that will be planted in March and April (sweet corn, cucumber, squash) can be planted at a depth of 1-1 ½ inches deep.
Plant spacing, or how far apart you plant your seeds, is another important variable to consider. While plant spacing might not affect seed germination, it could affect how your plants do as they mature. If the seeds are planted too close together for a particular crop, then they will compete and cause each other to be smaller and less productive. This can be fixed by "thinning the plants." For example, if you are using older seed and know that the germination rate is going to be less than normal and, in this example, we will use a 95% germination rate for new seed. Let's say we run a germination test and determine that our approximate germination rate for our older seed is 70% now. Obviously, that is quite a bit lower and if you don't plant more seeds then you might not have enough plants, but you could get lucky with that batch of seeds and have more germinate than you thought you would. If the plants are too densely planted as we discussed that isn't the best option, but all you must at that point is just remove a few of the plants to correct the plant spacing.
Watering is important for the vegetable garden and is vital to producing high-quality vegetables. When you are irrigating the seeds in the garden, it is important to consider how you water the seeds in. They should be watered right after planting, and they should stay watered until they get established. This is done through frequent, light watering to maintain moisture through the germination period. Water only to moisten the top quarter to half-inch of soil and not to saturate the soil which could cause the seeds to stay wet for too long and rot. This could mean light watering twice or three times daily and potentially more frequently in hotter weather. As the plants mature, seedlings should be monitored in a similar fashion to make sure they are getting the adequate amounts of air and water needed. Seedlings should be weaned from the light, frequent waterings of before to deeper, less frequent waterings (every other day, every three days) to encourage those root systems to delve further into the soil in search of water.
There are 4-H clubs for Garland County young people who are 5 to 19 years old. For more information on all the fun 4-H activities that are available, call Sara Jackson at 501-623-6841 or email her at [email protected].
Master Gardener information
Master Gardener meetings are held on the third Thursday of each month at the Elks Lodge. They're open to the public and guests are welcome. For more information, call Arin Shaffer, horticulture agent, at 501-623-6841 or email him at [email protected].
Are you interested in joining an existing Extension Homemakers Club? EHC is the largest volunteer organization in the state. For information on EHC, call Alison Crane, family and consumer sciences agent, at 501-623-6841 or email her at [email protected].