Hardening Off Seedlings

Photo of trays of seedings
Four trays of seedlings waiting for their time in the sun!
With a month to go until Boulder County’s average last frost date, it’s time to start thinking about hardening off cool-season crops! If you have season extenders like cold frames, row covers, or Wall-o-Waters, you can even harden off a few tomatoes and peppers too.

Why Harden Off?

Plants are wildly adaptable, which is part of the reason they grow all over the planet, inside and out. But that means that the structure of the plant itself (from the thickness of its stem to how open its pores are) is different based on whether it was started outside in the sometimes harsh and variable conditions of early spring or indoors where light, moisture, food, and wind are constant. You can replicate some outdoor conditions for your seedlings by directing a fan at the seedlings as they grow and by putting them somewhere where the temperature is a bit variable, but they’re still in for a shock when they move to your garden bed. Read more

Spring = peas

photo of peas, leeks & spinach in the spring garden
Easter morning seems like an appropriate time for the peas to sprout!
This year I was expecting a wet and snowy March, so on a warm afternoon at the very beginning of March, I planted my peas and fava beans. Today, a full month later, the peas have finally sprouted! Unlike vegetables planted at a more hospitable time of year that fairly reliably germinate per package instructions, peas generally germinate when the soil temperature is right, whether that’s a few days after planting, or, in my case, a full month after planting. That said, determining exactly when soil will warm enough for the peas to germinate is a mysterious art since it happens at a slightly different time every year, so best to plant them early and know that they’ll be there waiting when the time is right.

With peas germinating in early April, we should be eating peas by early June. And after a long, cold winter, that’s sweet spring music to this gardener’s ears. So whether you’re celebrating Passover, Easter, the beginning of spring, or something else all together, have a great day!

Peas and bulbs and phlox, oh my!

a photo of crocuses
Our crocuses are finally in bloom! Gorgeous photo courtesy of Matthew Artz
Tomorrow April begins, and with it us Zone 5-ers can at least begin to expect warmer weather (I have just guaranteed, by making this statement, that we will get one more snow storm here in Colorado. Sorry!). Yesterday it hit 80 here for the first time and that warm weather following so closely on the heels of the moisture last week has caused a flurry of activity in the garden.

As such, I thought I’d divide this post into what you should be doing in the veggie garden and what you should be looking for (or potentially planting later in the season) in your flower beds. Seeing the first crocus of spring (which we had just this week–a full month later than usual!) is as exciting to me as seeing the first spinach and pea sprouts, and my recent posts have been so veggie-focused that I want to give flower gardening a bit of love today too! Read more

Weed Now, Drink Beer Later

Picture of some common spring weeds
Common Colorado weeds (clockwise from upper left): thistle, mallow, dandelion, bind weed
Everyone’s heard the old adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” But I prefer my own slight variant when it comes to spring gardening: “Weed a little in March, sit back and drink beer in July.” That’s right. When many folks are out in the blazing sun pulling deep-rooted perennial weeds this coming July, I’ll be drinking a beer on the patio. Read more

Transplanting Seedlings

Picture of seedlings
Seedlings that are just about big enough to transplant

OK, you’ve identified how much garden space you need, chosen your veggies, planned some container gardensstarted seedlings, completed all of your March garden tasks, and chosen a seed company, now you’re probably ready to transplant some of those seedlings you started!

Check your seedlings and if they’re not quite big enough to transplant, be ruthless and thin to one plant per cell on all vegetables except perhaps onions and basil. Thin by pinching the extra seedlings off at soil level with your fingernails so that you don’t risk disturbing the roots of the one strongest-looking seedling you want to keep in each cell. It has taken me years to get up the courage to murder plants I started from seed, but doing so has made my plants better in the long run. So do it. Read more

Garden Primer 4 – Starting Plants from Seed

My indoor seed-starting setup
Tending to my seedlings last winter

With this post, my garden primer series transitions from the planning stage to the doing stage. I will be writing about what I’m actually doing in my garden as I do it, so if you’re in Zone 5-ish, you can probably follow along in your own garden! So, if you’ve been following along with this series, you’ve already figured out how much garden space you have, how many vegetables you want to plant, and considered whether you’d like to have a container garden this season.

Now it’s time to talk about starting seedlings. Whether you’re starting seeds in a couple of cottage cheese containers in a sunny window or hoping to start most of your vegetables from seed this year, the process is pretty much the same, and so are the benefits. Improved selection of varieties, a desire to know that your food was started in chemical and disease-free conditions, and the need to garden when there’s still snow on the ground are all reasons to start vegetables from seed. Read more

Getting started with garlic

Now that we’re all duly depressed over the upcoming frost, it’s time to start focusing on what the avid gardener can do to beat the fall/winter blues. As the powdery mildew overtakes the squash and the last of the harvest trickles in, I start looking to next year’s harvest and the first thing I do is plant next year’s garlic crop.

Last October, we planted a roughly 5×7 foot plot, and have been harvesting from it since early June. We dug the remainder–a full 5-gallon bucket full–and will dry the best of the bulbs for cold storage and blend the rest with oil & freeze for later use.

Here in Zone 5 (and just about anywhere that gets freezing temps in the winter), garlic should be fall-planted, usually in late September/early October. Read more

Three tips when frost threatens

Here in Zone 5, September brings with it the perennial question: When will the first frost strike? If Accuweather is, well, accurate, this year our first frost in Lyons may well be Friday night, with temps predicted to dip to 31. Although that’s not a “hard frost” (when temps stay at or below 28 degrees for an hour or two, also called a “killing frost”), it would be enough to nip the remainder of this year’s basil, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchinis and peppers, as well as tender herbs and annual flowers.

Rather than curse Mother Nature for the apparent lack of Indian Summer, there are a few things gardeners can do to prepare when frost is imminent. Read more