Here at The Yardstead we like to get a jump start on our spring garden. We are in north Florida so we have spring like weather as early as February and Kathleen and I get very excited about the spring garden. We like to get our veggies in the ground as early as possible, but we have to be careful. Although there are many warm sunny days here in February, we still have some cold days and night as well. We had a couple of hard freezes in February this year. In order to get our plants started as early as possible and protect them from the weather. We start many of our plants in peat pots, peat pellets, or seed flats. This allows us to leave the plants out on sunny days and bring them inside when it gets to cold.
There are several other advantages to starting your vegetables in containers and transplanting them to the garden. Starting the seed......
......in peat pots or flats allows you to select the strongest healthiest plants for your garden. If you plant a few more plants than you actually plan to plant in the garden, you can choose to plant only the best starts and increase your chances of good production. You can simply toss the unused plants in your compost pile. You can also buy your plants as seedling in containers if you get a late start or only want a few plants of any particular vegetable and don't want to buy an entire packet of seeds. In any case the seedling started in pots or flats have a better chance of making it because you have more control over their environment.
There are many ways to start your seedlings in containers. You can use any small plastic, wooden, or metal container or anything else that will not be damaged by water. Peat pots or peat pellets from your garden store work great as well and are very easy to use. You can also use commercial style seed flats, which are ideal for starting your seedling and can be reused year after year. We have a few styrofoam seed flats that have been around for years. They are about 12 inches wide by 18 inches long and 3 inches deep. The flat is divided into small square cells which taper towards the bottom and each cell has a small hole at the bottom. The tapered shape makes it easier to remove the seedlings and the hole allows water to escape so the soil doesnt stay too wet. You can use any shallow box larger (although it might be hard to transport) or smaller than the one I described. Make sure whatever you use to start your seedlings has a small hole at the bottom for drainage to prevent the roots from sitting in water for long periods. If you use peat pots or peat pellets they are self draining as excess water simply leaks out. The pete pellets usually come with a thin plastic tray to set them in which will catch the excess water and makes it much easier to transport them.
If you are using a seed flat, tray, pot or box, you will also need a little potting soil. Simply fill your container with potting mix and follow the planting suggestions on the seed packet. This is one of the only times we use commercial potting mixes here at the yardstead. I prefer doing almost all of our gardening with garden soil and compost. In the past we have started seedling in pots with compost and had a few problems. Sometimes fungus like stuff would grow in the compost and the seedling would not do well. I suppose if you took great care making your compost then you may not have this problem, but we generate a lot of compost here and the compost pile is added to daily so sometimes some of the matter doesn't completely compost. This has never been a problem in the garden, but it can be problem for your baby vegetables.
Some types of vegetables do better than others being transplanted to the garden. Here is a link to the University of Florida extension site with a chart showing the relative ease of transplanting your vegetables and having them survive. I have to say though that we have transplanted many times cucumbers, watermellons and squash with ease, and they are all listed in the difficult column of the chart. We almost always start our zucchini and squash as transplants and they do very well. Most plants are ready to be transplanted to the garden in four to six weeks. Tomato plants planted at four to five weeks do better and are more productive than tomatoes transplanted after five weeks.
When your seedling are old enough, transfer them to the garden on a day when the conditions are best. After a rain is an ideal time. Your baby vegetables will need a little protection from the sun as they adjust to their new home. Try to plant them on a cloudy day or in the late afternoon. If you are using peat pots or pellets, make a hole about the size of the pot or pellet and place the plant in the hole pot or pellet and all. The peat will eventually break down in your garden. If your transplanting from a seed flat, gently remove the plant and soil from the cell and place into a small hole in the garden. Be sure not disturb the roots as you remove the seedling from the flat. Pulling the plant out by the stem is likely to disturb the roots, so I often use a small twig pushed up in the cell through the drain hole to help dislodge the seedling. If you are using a box, use a knife or other flat tool to cut a square in the soil around each plant and remove the seedling and surrounding soil together. When you place the plants in the garden garden soil, be careful not to compress the soil tightly around the plant. Instead pour water gently around the plant and let it wash the soil into the voids.
Well if you havn't already, get out your seed catalog or make a trip up to your local garden store. Spring will be here soon and if you get your transplants ready you can be enjoying your own fresh veggies in no time at all. We have several trays of peat pellets started this year and the first plants will be ready to transplant in a couple of weeks. If you would like more information about transplanting seedling into your garden or anything else related to urban homesteading, you can search this site using the search box in the upper right side of this pageor post a quick note in the forum.