Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Garden Planning

At the Hub, we revel in the excitement of planning for the coming garden season, especially during the cold months of January, February, and now into March!  As we map out and plan our own community gardens, we offer in-pantry demonstrations on garden planning and mapping, as well as multiple Garden Planning workshops

The first step in garden planning is to know your zone, as well as the plants that thrive during each part of the growing season.  We like to share information about the needs of different plants, and an essential part of the planning process is knowing the difference between plants that need warm soils, and those that prefer cooler weather.  Many wait to plant a garden until May, missing the opportunity for all the cool weather veggies that love early spring in Indiana.  See our Cool and Warm Seasons Crop Chart to start planning your garden!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Starting Seeds Indoors

 Daydreaming about your summer garden in the midst of winter's last weeks? 
No need to wait to get started! The last weeks before spring are a fantastic time to begin planning your garden and getting seeds started inside. Crops with a longer maturity date benefit from indoor starting, which can help counter a shorter growing season than may exist outdoors. So do plants that enjoy cool spring weather when fully grown, but need more warmth to germinate than winter provides. Not to mention, starting seeds inside can be a lovely way to experience some greenery without having to wait on the weather. 

Here's a helpful how-to and some troubleshooting tips that will lead to good health in your seedlings, which will in turn lead to stronger plants once they're moved outdoors. 

How to Start Seeds Indoors
  1. Collect the materials necessary for starting seeds - pots, soil, seeds, light, warmth, water and a fan. First you'll need pots or containers. The containers can be anything, so long as it provides roughly 3 inches of depth, and has holes in the bottom for drainage. 
  2. For soil, try to use a potting soil mixture, which is lighter than garden soil and will allow new roots to grow easily. Wet your soil to the dampness of a wrung out sponge before planting, and then fill your containers to the very top, to provide as much room for root growth as possible. 
  3. Sow your seeds. Most seeds should be buried to a depth of 2 times the diameter of the seed - thus small seeds are close to the surface and larger seeds are buried deeper. 
  4. Once your seeds are covered with an appropriate amount of soil, water them thoroughly with a gentle sprinkle of water, careful not to disturb the seeds. As the days pass, water your seedlings wen the soil feels dry to the touch. 
  5. Jot down the type of plant and variety somewhere on your container, to remember which starts are which later into the season. 
  6. Place the containers somewhere warm indoors to germinate - most seeds require 60-70 degrees to germinate, or specify otherwise on their seed packet. 
  7. Once your seeds germinate, sunlight is very important. A sunny window will do, or a fluorescent shop light with plant grow bulbs. The light should be suspended 2 to 4 inches above the seedlings, and on for roughly 16 hours a day. 
  8. Set up a fan to lightly move air around your starts. This helps to reduce the formation of harmful fungus in the soil, and also encourages tougher stems, making for stronger plants - a little training for the real world! 
  9. When the seedlings have grown their first set of true leaves (3rd or 4th leaves to emerge), they should be fed with diluted liquid feed. At this time they can be potted up into larger containers if their initial pots are too small, or transplanted outside if the weather permits.
Still having trouble? Some common problems are...

  • Poor germination: you could have used old seed, or seed that had been stored in poor (warm/moist) conditions. Some seeds take a very long time to germinate (celery takes 2-3 weeks). If your soil temperature is too cold seeds may remain dormant. Eggplant and peppers like 75 degree soil! If you have over watered the seed could have rotted. 
  • Damping-off: When your seedlings grow normally and then drop over at the soil line they have most likely been attacked by this disease. To avoid this, always use a sterile seed starting mix and clean your containers between uses. Be careful not to overwater and keep a light fan on the starts to minimize the chances for this disease to develop. 
  • Pot bound: If seedlings have been kept in a small pot too long, their roots will get crowded and start growing out the bottom of the container. These seedlings will become stressed and need to be transplanted into your garden beds, or, if it is too soon, they need to be potted into larger containers. Take care not to damage roots during transplanting1
  • Too leggy (tall and weak): If your starts are spindly they may be growing with insufficient light. The plant is reaching for light. When transplanting leggy starts into the garden bed plant them very deep ("sink" them), most plants will form new roots along the stem working to make the plant more robust and productive. 
  • Yellow or sickly looking seedlings: If your starts aren't looking very green they probably need to be fed more or watered less. Allow the mix to dry out, then feed and water with a liquid food at the appropriate diluted strength. 

Happy planting, and may all your seeds grow into beautiful and bountiful plants!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Seed Starting with Recyclables

Garden season is nearing, and with it the time for seed starting! In fact, at the Hub, we've already started some of our cold-hardy and 100 day crops, including leeks, onions, kale and spinach. While traditional plastic seed start containers and flats can be useful for this task in some ways, they can also be pesky. Popping transplants out of them can lead to root damage, and purchasing new trays or replacing broken ones can be expensive. 

Luckily there are other options - and you need look no further than your recycling bin to find them! 
Old lettuce containers, milk cartons, plastic bottles, and newspaper can take on a new life holding your seedlings while they germinate and grow ready to move outside. 

For cans, bottles, or containers, simply clean them well, make sure there are several, small drainage holes in the bottom, fill with potting soil, and plant your seeds! 

For easy transplanting (great for plants with fragile root systems, like peas!) try newspaper pots. Once the seedlings are ready for transplant, newspaper pots can be planted directly into the soil. Over time, the newspaper will break down in the soil, and your plant's root system will be able to push through and continue growing. Just make sure to use only non-glossy newspaper, as glossy ads will not break down as easily.

To make your own newspaper pots, follow these simple instructions...

You will need:
-       Newspaper sheets (one sheet = one seed starting pot)
-       A 10-15 oz. can or small mason jar
-       Potting soil and seed
1.  Fold a sheet of newspaper lengthwise to create a strip. Press along the folded edge. 
2. Set the can on its side at one end of the strip, with the base of the can about 2 inches up from the edge. Roll the newspaper around the can to create a cylinder.
3. Starting at the outer seam, fold the free end of the cylinder inward. Make three more folds inward to create the base of the pot, pressing firmly to make the folds as flat as possible.
4. Slip the pot off of the can or bottle. Starting at the outer seam, fold the top 1/2 to 1 inch of the pot inward to create a stable rim.
5.  Hold the pot with one hand, with some of your fingers on the bottom to keep it closed, and fill the finished pot to the top with moistened potting soil. Plant a seed into each pot, and if desired, place the pot onto a tray to catch any leaks that may happen during watering.
6.  Once your seeds have sprouted and are ready to be planted, simply place the entire newspaper pot into the ground! The newspaper will break down quickly, leaving your plant’s roots free to grow!