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6 Vegetables That We Always Transplant in the Garden

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Here in Iowa its 10 below and everything has been frozen for a week now. Its times like this that April can seem so far away. But January is an important month for us, as its when we do much of the planning and initial prep-work for our market garden. Plots and crop rotation are mapped out on graph paper, seeds are ordered, and here very soon we’ll be starting our first round of transplants under grow lights.

Transplants are an important part of our planting scheme. Many of our crops are grown from putting seed right in the ground. Our corn, beans, squash and the majority of our leaf and root crops are all done this way. But there are certain crops that we always start indoors and then transplant when the ground is warmer. This is where taking the time for proper planning is important. Knowing our planting season, relative last frost, varieties we want to plant and their maturity time frame are crucial.

So why transplant? Good question. Many crops can be started indoors under grow lights rather than by direct seeding. The advantages to this are multifaceted but include stronger disease resistance, protection against late frost or other weather events, protection against birds or other animals that like to dig up seed, and getting a jump on long maturity dates. Not to mention that it’s fun to start seeds indoors when there is snow on the ground.

Certain plants should always be started indoors, or bought as transplants from your local nursery or greenhouse. Here are six vegetables that you’ll have a higher success growing if you transplant rather than direct seed.

Tomato

Tomatoes

Tomatoes are somewhat fickle when they are first starting out. They’re not hard to grow, but exposing them to the elements through direct seeding doesn’t usually have good and consistent results. Tomato seeds are very small. They need the right temperature and amount of moisture to germinate. Most varieties of determinate and indeterminate tomatoes also have long days to maturity, meaning that if you wait until outdoor conditions are right for sowing your seed, you probably wont’ be picking those juicy red slicers in time for burgers and bbq.

For our market, we need to have fresh tomatoes as soon as possible.

In order for tomato seeds to germinate, your soil temperature needs to be around 70 degrees. They’ll need a steady source of light until they sprout, which means you don’t want to plant them too deep. We plant ours at about 1/4 and lightly cover with soil. The soil should be kept moist, but not saturated or the seed can rot. Once your seeds sprout and start to grow you’ll want to keep them under direct light for at least 8 hours a day.

Start your seeds no later than 4-6 weeks before the last frost in your area. We start ours around 8 weeks before last frost because I like to have a little more stem height when I go to transplant. This allows me to bury the stem nice and deep to ensure strong root development.

Pepper

Peppers

Peppers are part of the Solanaceae (Nightshade) family, like their cousin the tomato. Also like tomatoes, they aren’t difficult to start from seed but getting consistent germination can be frustrating with certain varieties.

We plant our pepper seeds just like we do our tomatoes, but we’ll start them at least 8-10 weeks before the last frost as they take longer to grow, sometimes earlier depending on the variety. Hot peppers like habanero can sometimes be fickle, but they’re the most profitable for us at the market. So these we take our time getting right.

You’ll want consistent moisture and soil temps around 70-80 degrees. I’ve found that sometimes an overhead light isn’t enough to get good germination. We start our seeds in Jiffy Peat Pods underneath a hard plastic cover, which creates a kind of extra greenhouse effect under the lights, trapping in the moisture and heat. You can also try a heated pad underneath your seed tray, but we don’t use that method. Once the seeds sprout, we remove the plastic cover and let expose the seedlings to 8 hours of light each day, always checking the soil moisture content.

Broccoli

Broccoli

We start our broccoli indoors around 7 weeks before last frost. In some climates, broccoli can be direct seeded, but we’ve found that our broccoli is much more healthy and better developed when we transplant. One of the biggest factors for us is pest penetration. Flea beetles love to eat young broccoli seedlings as they emerge, often decimating a whole crop overnight. Deer like to munch on broccoli too. Transplanting doesn’t guarantee either of these pests won’t go after your crop, but a bigger, stronger plant has a much better chance at surviving insect (or deer) infestation than seedlings.

Broccoli will germinate in soil temps as low as 45 degrees, and will usually only take 4-7 days. Broccoli thrives in cooler weather, but make sure temps are consistently above 55 before you transplant or else you might have early bolting (your broccoli head flowering and going to seed).

We handle cabbage and cauliflower the same as we do broccoli. All three are part of the same family and having similar growing traits.

 

 

celery-seedling-2x

Celery

Have you ever considered growing your own celery? There’s no comparison to the taste of fresh celery, and its really not as hard to grow as you might think.

Celery is a tiny seed that takes up to 3 weeks to germinate, which makes it a good candidate for starting indoors. We’ll start our celery around 12 weeks before the last frost, under grow lights at a consistent temperature around 70 degrees. Moisture should be even but not overdone.

When transplanting, makes sure temps are consistently above 55 degrees. Celery can withstand light frost, but too many cool nights and temps below 55 will cause early bolting.

Celery takes a long time to mature, so starting with strong plant development is essential. It does well in the high heat of summer here in Iowa, as long as we keep the soil moist, and we will usually start to harvest in August. That’s a long journey from seed to table!

 

 

 

 

 

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DIY Hoop Frame For the Raised Beds

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I’ve been thinking about ways we can extend our growing season. Why wait to plant in May when we can plant lettuce and other cold weather crops in March? And what about harvesting kale and Brussel sprouts in December or January? So I started building these cold frames that fit over the raised beds. They can be removed in the summer and are sturdy enough to weather the spring winds or the winter snows we get here in Iowa. And they’re easy to build.

Here’s what you’ll need to build one frame:

  • 3 – Pressure Treated 2x4x8
  • 4 – 1/2in PVC in 10ft lengths
  • 1 – Roll of 6mil 10x25ft painter’s plastic
  • 1/2in brackets, outdoor treated screws and a staple gun
  • 2 hours of time

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First of all, its important to have good help when building these frames. I have a little boy who loves to work outside, and he was my shadow the whole time during this project.

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I built our frames to match the raised beds I built earlier last month. These measure 40in wide by 8ft long. Cut your 2x4s to match dimensions of whatever sized bed you’re using. The frame is built with simple butt joints and it should be independent from your raised bed box so that you can remove the cold frame when needed. After securing the joints with outdoor screws, I reinforced the corners with 90 degree steel angle bars to take out the flexibility in the frame and relieve the stress on the joints when moving it.

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After the wooden frame is secure, line out your PVC pipe. I wanted my frames to be tall enough to house anything we wanted to plant in the box, so I used 10ft pieces. This should give us enough room for kale or even late season tomatoes.

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Measure out where you want your PVC. For a basic hoop frame, 4 should be enough to support the plastic, but if you’re building a longer frame you might use more. Here I used 1/2 inch brackets to support the bottom of the PVC.

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I then used a second 1/2 bracket to keep the PVC from slipping. You can also screw the PVC directly in to the wood, but I found the two brackets worked nice when it was time to bend the PVC.

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Here’s where that extra hand comes in handy. Bend the PVC into a hoop and attach with a 1/2 bracket on the other side of the frame. After all four pipes are secured you’re hoop frame should look like the skeleton of a covered wagon.

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You have some flexibility on which kind of plastic you use to cover your frame. No need to spend a lot of money here. I used 6mil painter’s plastic because I wanted it to hold up against the elements. But you could easily use cheaper 3-4mil plastic as well. The thicker stuff isn’t going to create much more heat inside the frame compared to the lower grade. I just didn’t want to have to change the plastic every year.

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A good heavy-duty staple gun will shine here. You want to get the plastic centered and then staple to the frame. An added bonus of a hoop frame is that is doubles as a shelter that can potentially keep some of those bugs out. I staple along the outer frame, and then tucked the plastic underneath and staple again on the inside. After attaching both sides, tuck the flaps on the ends tightly over, like you would when wrapping Christmas presents, and then attach. Cut off any extra plastic so it doesn’t interfere with crops inside the frame.

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There are tremendous benefits to having a few raised hoop houses like this. They create a safe haven for those transplants you’ve started from seed indoors. They give you the ability to sow seeds directly outdoors earlier in the season, even when the ground temps are still well below 60 degrees. And they can allow you to extend your growing season into late fall or even through the winter months. And I like the flexibility of being able to take these hoop frame off and move them around based on our growing or rotation needs.

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So what did we plant?

We let the soil rest for a week underneath the hoop frame before planting this weekend. We’re experimenting with seeds strips, which are seeds placed in strips of biodegradable cloth (a very cool option for so many reasons!), and I thought the hoop frame was the perfect place to do that. The picture above shows lettuce and spinach placed in alternate strips. These will be harvested as a “baby” crop for a tender salad mix, so I’ve intentionally placed them close to each other to maximize space. I’ve also sown Siberian kale seeds in short rows at each end of the bed. These will all be harvested in about 25-30 days, and then followed by a successive crop of peas.

Wanna build a hoop frame? Let us know what you think. We’ll be posting more pics on how these hoop frames can be used on our Facebook page and on Instagram. Follow us if you aren’t already and share your own pics if you decide to build one.

Happy planting!

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5 tools to invest in this spring

To do a job properly (and efficiently) you need to have the right tools. I’ve been accumulating several and making a list of others I want or need (or think I need), and thought I’d share some of them here on the blog. Many of these tools will be put to work in our market garden, but they certainly have a place on any scale of growing operation.

Here are 5 tools you might consider investing in this spring:

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Broadfork – This is one of the coolest tools I’ve discovered this year. Invented centuries ago in Europe and redesigned with the modern gardener in mind, the broadfork is the perfect way to aerate and provide deep tillage to your garden beds without breaking your back. You can get them with 4, 5 or 7 steel tines that usually are around 12″, and some are reinforced for harder soil types like clay.

The idea behind this tool is simple. When using a tiller, the blades will only loosen up the soil 4-6 inches deep. Below that a hardpan will start to develop, especially after several years of tillage, restricting how deep your roots can grow. Using a broadfork, you’ll be able to break up the hardpan and allow your roots to grow deep and straight, instead of hitting the compacted soil underneath and spreading out. This will allow you to plant more densely, as root systems aren’t competing for space. This is essential when establishing permanent beds like we are this year, or if you’re growing vegetables on a micro scale.

We’re ordering ours from Johnny’s Seed (johnnyseeds.com) but you can find broadforks other places like Valley Oak Tools or Meadow Creek. They’ll run anywhere from $80 to $220, depending on quality.

stirup-hoe

Stirrup Hoe – It may seem like a crude tool, but the stirrup hoe makes the chore of weeding long beds so much simpler. The sharp steel band cuts through shallow roots and plucks those annoying weeds right out of the topsoil. Can a traditional hoe do the same thing? Sure. But the stirrup hoe has an open design that allows you to move through weeds without disrupting the soil as much as a standard hoe will. You’re not taking divots out of your precious bed or pathway. Its got an oscillating head that allows you to push or pull, and you can change out the tempered blades when they are worn.

Stirrup hoes can be found almost anywhere tools are sold. They usually come with a 5″ or 7″ head, and will run anywhere from $25 to $60. Totally worth the investment.

rake

Aluminum Rake – I’ve used various rakes in the garden for years. They usually have a narrow, metal head that isn’t attached to the wooden handle very well. I should also say I’ve had several rakes that have pulled apart over the years due to poor design.

What I like about switching to an aluminum rake like the one in the picture is threefold. Aluminum is much lighter, which will make a huge difference when establishing and maintaining beds on our 3 acre plot year after year. It’s also better designed, meaning the head isn’t going to pull away from the wooden handle under stress as easily as some of the other models I’ve used. Whether dragging rock or filtering tilled soil, this rake will handle any job.  I also like the ability to put the orange row markets on the tines. You’ll see in the picture that these are just plastic tips that slide over the tines, and when dragged across the top of the bed establish a shallow furrow for seed placement.

Quality matters. Expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $95 on a good aluminum rake.

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Earthway Vegetable Seeder – Even if your beds aren’t 100′ long, having a seeder like the Earthway will make planting this spring easier on the body and more efficient. This seeder is lightweight and easy to use. It opens the furrow, measures seed placement, covers and packs the seed while marking the next row, all in one fluid motion. It’s designed especially with the larger seeds in mind, but should do well with any size. It includes 6 seed plates: corn, peas, beans, carrots, beets and radishes. As an option, you can also include a fertilizer attachment for side dressing.

You can purchase this at Johnnys Seeds for $119.  We’re looking at ordering 2 this year.

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Jang JP Seeder – This model is supposed to be one of the best vegetable seeders on the market today. Boasting precise seed singulation, even when the hopper is low, the Jang JP seems to stand out as a quality option for those with larger gardens who are looking for better seed placement across all vegetable types, from carrot to corn. It has a 1 quart clear plastic hopper that allows the user to monitor seed level, and allows for seed depth adjustment by raising or lower the plow height. Seed rollers are purchased separately but there are a wide option of sizes to choose from. This seeder also comes in a 3-row or 6-row option, and can mount on a 3 point hitch tool bar.

This tool packs a punch! You can buy the single row seeder itself for around $405. Seed rollers range around $20-$30 each. If you’ve got a larger garden and care about precise seed placement quality, this might be an option for you.

Purchasing quality tools is an investment that should have a meaningful return. I think any one of these tools I’ve mention will add value and efficiency to any gardening operation, whether private or market. Do your research and as always, buy from a reputable reseller.

Remember, a good tool makes for a happy gardener!