Spring has sprung, the grass is ‘ris. I wonder where the birdies is!*
It’s the first day of spring, and here in Central Indiana, the buds are popping out on the trees, and we are itching to dig in the dirt! But when should you start? What should you plant? And hoe? I mean, how?
DECODING YOUR SEED PACKET:
The secret to finding out when and how to plant your garden? The seed packet.
Here’s an example of the amazing amount of information contained in just one little seed packet. Key things to pay attention to:
- Days from planting to harvest and recommended season (front of package)
- Planting information (depth, spacing)
- When to plant and recommendations for indoor seedling starting vs. outdoor direct seeding (really, this and the depth/spacing information tells you everything you need to know to get started)
- Date packaged (the germination rate, or the number of seeds that will successfully sprout, decreases with age, but don’t chuck your seeds from the last season or two! Just plan to plant extra seeds)
For those new to gardening, sowing seeds directly into your garden beds can be such a beautifully simple, rewarding way to plant. You might be surprised at how many crops grow wonderfully just from dropping seed into soil (and actually prefer it), particularly some of the more cold hardy crops planted in early-spring or later in the fall.
Some of our favorites, which we will start seeding sometime in mid- to late-April:
- Greens like kale, spinach, chard, and collard greens
- Root vegetables like carrots, beets, radishes, and turnips
THE NEVER-ENDING HARVEST
The cool thing about lettuces and greens: once they start growing, you can harvest them forever (or in the case of lettuce, until it gets too hot and the plants bolt, or go to seed). With lettuces and other delicate greens, just give them a “haircut” when harvesting, trimming off what you plan to eat and leaving the bulk of the plant and center leaves in tact. Come back a week later, and you won’t even be able to tell you trimmed them.
With greens like chard, kale, and collard greens, harvest the outermost leaves, breaking the entire leaf and stem off from the primary plant stalk. Always leave several of the innermost leaves in tact, and your plants will continue to grow and produce. These types of greens are cold hardy, but they will also last through the heat of summer!
(This is maybe one of the dorkier things I’ve ever searched for on YouTube, but if you’d like to see the technique for harvesting chard, kale, and collards, check it out).
BUT WHEN DO I PLANT WHAT?! MEET YOUR NEW BEST FRIEND, THE GARDEN CALENDAR
Okay, so we’ve identified some cooler weather crops above, but what about our heat loving plants, like tomatoes, squash, peppers, delicate herbs, and other more exotic plants?
The biggest thing: you’ll want to learn your average last frost day (in the spring) and your average first frost day (in the fall) to understand your growing season. Here in Indianapolis, we’re looking at the following:
- Average last frost day (in the spring): Area C – April 26-May 5
- Average first frost day (in the fall): Area F/G – Anywhere from October 6-October 25
Again, a good place to start is your seed packet OR check out the following amazing references:
- “Indiana Vegetable Planting Calendar,” Purdue Extension (HO-186-W) – This provides the dates you can plant almost any vegetable you can think of by your geographic area. Print it, reference it, love it!
- “Vegetable Tips: Resources for Easy Gardening,” Purdue Extension – This page includes a wealth of other links and resources for the beginning to intermediate gardener.
- “Monthly Gardening Calendars,” Purdue Extension – Each month provides guidance for your home, lawn/landscaping, and garden tasks. A very cool resource!
ONE LAST THING…
One of the funnest things about gardening is uncovering your own gardening philosophy and seeing how it aligns – or differs – from what you consider to be “you.”
For a beginning garden, consider purchasing some of your plant starts. And on that note, here’s your shameless self-promotion warning:
- The Keystone-Monon Community Garden is hosting a seedling sale on 4/23 from 10am-4pm at Indy Urban Flea, 1225 E Brookside Ave, Indianapolis!
- Come pick up a few of these beauties, grow your own food, and support the garden, a completely volunteer- and community-driven endeavor!
*Every spring, this pops into my head. It was one of my late, great grandmother Mildred’s favorite quotes each spring. Grandma Farm, as we called her, also had the most amazing backyard garden in the south suburbs of Chicago when I was a kid!