Time to Direct Sow Seed – May 2022

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” That quote from Connecticut’s own Audrey Hepburn reminds us what the simple act of planting a seed can lead to …..

Welcome to New England Seed’s Newsletter. From time to time, month to month, we will offer up an article of timely information and insight into your garden. What to plant when, how to deal with problems, & activities to entice your children into the garden too. Although these newsletters will be timed to our southern New England region (Zone 6), all the information will be applicable to warmer and cooler areas as their seasons progress.

Although all seeds could be planted directly into the garden, it’s better to start certain varieties (ie: tomatoes, peppers & eggplant) in a controlled environment inside, before you transplant them into the garden.

As the month of May winds down, here in southern New England it’s time to sow seed for many varieties directly into the garden. This article will focus on varieties that are best suited to planting the seed directly into your garden when the soil has warmed up; cucumbers, squash, basil, dill, beans, many root crops, nasturtiums, sunflowers and zinnias. For these ‘warm weather loving crops’, it’s important to check the soil temperature, not just the ’frost free date’. Seeds germinate based on the conditions of the soil around them, not on the air temperature above the soil. This link will help you decide what temperature is best for the varieties you want to grow. https://www.neseed.com/successful-seed-starting-what-to-plant-and-when. Did you miss the best time to plant your peas? You have a second chance to plant and enjoy these varieties too. Cool loving crops can be planted again late in the summer for a fall harvest (lettuce, peas, kale).

Why Direct Sow Seed?

• More varieties to choose from
• Often earlier harvest
• More economical
• So satisfying!

Most gardeners know about Row Planting, the way farmers plant. Drawing a furrow in the soil then planting the seeds in a line at a set distance apart. But there are different techniques that may work better for your garden. If you have a small space, Vertical Growing for vine crops such as cucumbers can be a good choice rather than growing in hills. Pole beans or pole peas can be grown vertically too. The Square Foot Method of planting can be a good choice for small spaces as well. Each ‘square foot’ is planted with a specific number of seeds (one seed per hole), which as they grow, will shade out most weeds. Planting in Hills (a mound of soil about a 2’ wide and 6-10” higher than the surrounding soil) is the most common way to plant pumpkins and squash. Each hill is planted with 3-5 seeds, and once they germinate, they are thinned to 2-3 plants. These mounds warm the soil and allow it to drain, both conditions that pumpkins and squash like. Some varieties like dill or cilantro, a single plant is not enough; Planting a Clump is a better choice. Smooth out an area of soil about 1 foot round and scatter an entire packet of these seeds. Scatter Seeding for varieties you want to fill a space is an easy choice for leafy greens too. Don’t forget to label what you planted where. Many a gardener forgets what was planted and will plant something else right in the same spot!

How deep to plant each seed? The rule of thumb is plant a seed twice it’s width or diameter. Small seeds should have a sprinkling of fine soil over them or just press them lightly into the soil. Large round seeds like nasturtiums and peas should be about 1/2” deep, beans can be slightly deeper and pumpkins up to 3/4” deep. It’s important to remember to gently tamp down the soil over the seed with the palm of your hand, don’t leave the soil fluffy. And water the soil, not just the seed.

When you first plant seeds is when to protect them from critters and insects—don’t wait until the damage is done! Using floating row covers is the easiest way to protect your seeds from birds, chipmunks and insects. Just remember to remove the row covers from the plants when they start to flower to ensure the bees will be able do their pollinating.

Will the plants need support to grow? ‘Plant’ your tomato cages, trellises, fences and hoops when you set out your seed. Once plants become established, it can be difficult to untangle vines or bend stems without breaking them.

Beet ‘seeds’ are actually a cluster of 2-5 seeds in a dry flower capsule. Beets must be thinned to allow for good sized root growth. Eat the thinnings!

To thin or not to thin? Allowing plants to have enough room to grow and mature can be a challenge, but it makes for healthier plants that produce more fruit. There are two options:

  1. Plant initially with the mature plant size in mind—spacing the seed accordingly. This option is best for the gardener who has a hard time cutting off baby plants to make room for the mature plants. If any seeds don’t germinate, there is time to replant or interplant another variety.
  2. Sow thickly, and cut off the extra seedlings to make room for the mature plants. Both these methods work well for root crops.

And Finally … Don’t peek! There are few gardeners that don’t get the urge to poke around under the soil to see if the seeds are germinating. Try to resist! Before you decide to replant, check the seed packet for the average number of days to germination, then double it. Those numbers are based on optimum conditions. Germination is defined as when the seed coat starts to swell enough for the root tip to emerge, not when a green sprout pokes out of the soil. ~Good Seed/Glad Harvest!

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