Gardening how-tos

How to Seed Your Plants

Some plants are easier than others to grow from seed. Here are some tricks of the micro-propagation world.

  • Seeds should be at the correct depth according to their size.
  • Flat seeds (aka cucurbit seeds) should be sown on their sides. This goes for marrow, melon, squash, cucumber and other flat seeds.
  • Make sure seeds get lots of light! They need it to germinate.
  • If your seed tray has a cover, remove it as soon as the majority of the tiny seedlings have appeared.
  • Disturb the roots of the seedlings as little as possible. This will help them grow thick and tall!
  • Seedlings (like our cats) hate being soggy.
  • Be ruthless with weak or overcrowded plants! It’s better to pinch out (to cut them at the soil level) one or two healthy plants than to let two plants suffer later by pulling them apart. Sad but true.
  • Handle the seedlings and even the young teenage plants by their leaves – never by their stems – to avoid damaging them.


Plant Spacing For Intensive Planting


What Makes Good Soil? pH!

With soil, pH is the most important number to remember. The acidity or alkalinity of soil is measured on a scale from 0 to 14. The higher the concentration of hydrogen ions in the soil solution, the lower the pH, or acidity. Seven, being the middle number, is neutral, and plants grow best between 6.0 to 7.5.

Certain plants prefer different acidity levels. Blueberries, for instance, like acidic soil because iron and aluminum can be extracted easily from it. Pine needles around blueberry bushes are especially helpful for increased acidity!

Wet and Dry Climates

Rainy climates often have acidic soil because other nutrients like calcium, magnesium and potassium tend to get washed away, leaving hydrogen ions behind. In arid climates, the opposite is true; those important nutrients tend to dominate the top layers of the soil.

Changing The pH

This is where compost is helpful! Compost buffers the acidity of soil by binding to soil nutrients until the plants need them. If compost doesn’t do it enough, to change the acidity of your soil, you can also add ground limestone to make it more basic or sulphur to make it more acidic. The change that these methods create tends to be temporary though, so it’s best to match the right plants with the right soil pH.

Planning Your Garden

It’s hard to know exactly what vegetables we eat over a year. Planning our gardens each spring, we try to remember what worked last year, and what we needed more of, but we tend to rely on vague recollections a bit too heavily.

By following these few simple guidelines, you can get a better idea of what to grow, when to plant it, and how much to sow.

Grab the Data

For two weeks in the fall, write down every vegetable you eat. This list can be kept in the kitchen, close at hand (near the cutting board) to keep top of mind. At the end of the two weeks, you might be surprised! How many meals do you actually eat at home each week? How many of them include vegetables?

For us, it’s about growing not just vegetables, but family time in the garden and at the table.

Organize Your Veggies

Your next step is to organize your two-week inventory. What vegetables do you eat regularly? List them in a column on the left of a sheet of paper. These are “Vegetables We Eat.” Next, make two other columns: “Vegetables to Buy” and “Vegetables to Grow.”

To fill the first column, total the vegetables you eat each week and estimate how that extends out over the year. Some vegetables, you might find, are more staples. Others, more seasonal.

Organize Your Time

Few of us have the time and space to grow all our veggies. Prioritize which ones you will feel best about when you harvest them. Is it better to focus on your family’s staples – like peas, onions, potatoes, or beans? Or do you appreciate the rarer vegetables that get you excited for the seasons?

Reap What You Sow

By planning your garden based on your real wants and needs, you’ll know exactly what to plant. Instead of one garden plan, you might draw three, for the early, mid, and late planting seasons.  

For us, it’s about growing not just vegetables, but family time in the garden and at the table. With this method, we found we can add a family project to the weekend that we can all talk about together, adding more fun to doing what we love.

Planting Potatoes

Potatoes, the source of all delicious fries, hash browns, and scalloped goodness, come from humble beginnings. They are grown from adorable little seed potatoes, or tubers.

Tubers are usually the size of about a golf ball. If they are large, they can be cut into smaller chunks for planting. Each tuber should have at least two healthy eyes and weight about two ounces.

When to Plant?

In the very warm parts of the United States, in places where temperatures don’t drop below 30 degrees, potatoes can be planted from late fall all the way to midwinter. Otherwise, planting time usually falls in spring ‘edge season’ – specifically, many say, on St. Patrick’s Day, unless it’s still too cold then. Potatoes are vulnerable to late freezes, so it’s better to be later if you’re worried about erratic temperatures.

The best time to plant is about four weeks before the last frost in spring, or, if you’re super technical, when the soil has warmed to 50 degrees at 4 inches deep. Plant them in full sun and slightly acidic soil with good drainage, in loose, porous soils. Heavy clay and dry sand are both potato unfriendly. Better to have soils in high organic matter.

Protect Your Tubers

When you plant tubers, cover them just the right amount to protect them from the sunlight, to provide insulation against the heat, and to keep them moist (but never over waterlogged). Gardeners tend to re-cover the plants as they grow higher and deeper. This will continuously protect them.

Harvest in Stages

When new potatoes are ready to harvest about two months after planting, white or lavender flowers start to show. This is the gardener’s cue to carefully uncover one side of the stems and dig down to find the just-formed potatoes. Take a few from each plant without disturbing the rest of it or the roots, and then push the soil back to let the rest of the crop grow bigger. These tiny potatoes are delicious roasted!

The main crop is ready about three or four months after planting. You’ll be able to tell because the leafy tops will have died back. If you’ve planted late, make sure not to leave them until the fall frost!