by Kent Petterson, columnist
Hey, vegetable gardening friends—we’re almost there to spring planting time! It may not look like it today, but in a couple weeks you might be able to spread some seeds in your garden.
The biggest miscalculation made in the Minnesota vegetable garden is to wait too long to start planting. If you think you are supposed to feel warm on a sunny spring day late in May before you plant seed, you have missed 6-8 weeks of prime growing weather in our Zone 4 climate.
I generally target mid-March for planting. The key is soil condition, not how warm it is outside. Several plant favorites are cold, even freeze tolerant. Nighttime temps in the high 20s are okay for all our cole crops (broccoli, cabbage, kale brassicas) plus onions, lettuce and spinach. These plants want cool weather and will be more productive if planted earlier. Remember, it takes a week to 10 days for seeds to germinate, so it will not be until close to April that those seedlings-to-be are exposed to air temps.
For buying seeds, we are lucky to have two local garden centers: Leitner’s (945 Randolph Ave.) and Highland (1742 W. 7th St.). Of course, instead of planting seeds, you can instead purchase plants from them if you prefer. That is especially useful with those that cannot be planted early. Don’t plant beans and squashes, for example, before the soil is warm. Other warm season plants won’t grow and might be set back if planted before May 15.
Always check for timing related to germination. Read the seed packet. Most have great information. If it says to plant “as soon as the soil can be worked,” that might be about March 15th. Each year is different, but when the soil is crumbly and not soggy, get planting!
Here is one fun trick: Set aside a small sunny area where the soil is ready sooner. For the price of a seed packet, you can get enough plants for your needs and every one on you block. In about a six-inch square area, spread an entire packet of seed (approx 100 seeds). In about 3-4 weeks you will have oodles of seedlings ready for transplant. This works especially well for annual flowers such as marigolds and for all of those cole crop plants. Market growers use this technique to save on greenhouse space for those and other florae intended for second and third plantings.
What does all of this mean? You don’t need a greenhouse or grow lights to have an early garden. Get to it early and plant your vegetable garden over several weeks not in one day. Spread the work out, take it easy, and have fun!