If you are anything like me, you can’t wait to get your hands on as many packets of vegetable seeds as possible over the long winter months. It’s mid April now and all of my sunny windowsills are full of trays with seedlings popping up from those seeds I meticulously collected. In the basement, I have fluorescent lights hung over the trays of plants that have already sprouted and are now thriving and waiting to be given the chance to grow outside. It’s still far too early for that though, as it’s still too cold, especially through the night. The seedlings really can’t be put out into the garden until the first week of June to be safe, which should be past the last chance of frost.
I speed this process up by placing a large cold frame into the worked soil in my vegetable garden. This manages to give me an extra 2 full weeks prior to our short growing season.
You should have already started any seeds for tomatoes & peppers at the beginning of March to give them the full growing season they need to produce bountiful amounts of produce late in the summer.
Once these plants are one or two inches tall, I get them right under the grow lights (fluorescent) and to make sure they don’t get leggy and weak, I keep the lights just above the first set of leaves. This enables the seedlings to branch out easier and get strong. Tall stems make for weak plants that die easily.
The longer you are able to leave many peppers in the garden, the more chance you have of them turning from green to red. If you are a lover of leeks and onions, I’m sorry to say you will need to buy seedlings from the garden center, as their seeds needed to be started way back in mid February to be successful this year. The benefit of leeks and onions though is the fact that they are cold weather crops and will last longer into the fall than many other vegetables. From my experience, they can also winter over and come up early in the spring (if you are lucky and they have a sheltered spot to grow).
If you want to grow broccoli and cauliflower from seed you had better get those seeds planted right away, as they do best when planted in early April. I would not be doing you any favors if I didn’t mention that by growing your vegetables from seed, you are increasing the varieties you can grow tenfold.
You will find many more varieties of seed than you will ever find of the ready to plant seedlings in any of the many garden centers around the Edmonton area.
As of this writing, it is the perfect time to start your seedlings for all of the varieties of zucchini, summer squash and cucumbers that you intend to grow. Once these chunky plants break the top of the soil, you will be encouraged, as they look substantial from the beginning, but I urge you to get them under lights if you have them, sooner rather than later so they can stay chunky. A bright sunny window works well too, so they get the light they need to flourish. Remember, these plants are vines and will grow vigorously, so give them the space they need.
Lettuce, spinach and other salad greens can be started in early May. These are the easiest to grow, and will grow fast, so they can be enjoyed on a sunny windowsill even before you transplant them into the garden. You needn’t harvest the entire plant, you can harvest the outside leaves to prolong the life of the plant. These are fair weather plants and can tolerate some cold, just be sure to plant outside after the last frost, unless you can provide something like a cold frame to protect the seedlings from overnight frost. Many of these won’t do well once the hot summer months arrive, so enjoy them early.
My preference is to sow some of these seeds every couple of weeks throughout the entire season so that you can replenish the plants that you have taken for your table, right up until fall frost sets in.
Once the first inch or two of soil in your garden is warm to the touch, it’s finally time to plant your root vegetables, these are potatoes, carrots, beets and any other vegetable that resides under the soil.
If you are adventurous enough to try and grow corn, treat these seeds as you would a root vegetable seed and you should have success. If you want to get a jumpstart on the season for corn, success can be had if you plant the kernels in peat pots no sooner than two weeks prior to the last frost, then plant the peat pots. This allows your corn to mature before the fall frost sets in.
Just remember, success can be had with growing your vegetables from seed, but timing is the key to that success.