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6 Vegetables That We Always Transplant in the Garden

vegetable garden

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.



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.



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.



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.





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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5 Corn Varieties To Consider Growing This Spring

It’s January and the temps are plummeting again outside. The last couple mornings here have been below zero, something we’re still getting used to. The land is still frozen, there’s left over snow in the fields,  but I’ve got my mind on spring.

I’ve been flipping through the seed catalogs, trying to put together our 2017 planting strategy. I’m excited for the all the varieties of vegetables and fruit we have planned for this year, but I think I’m the most excited about sweet corn.

We used to buy our sweet corn from a couple of farm stands in Washington, and it was always delicious. We’d buy them by the sacks and we’d freeze what we didn’t set aside to eat on the cob. Because of the timing of our move last summer, we weren’t able to freeze as much corn as we wanted. And this year we get to grow our own!

So I’m doing research on a couple of varieties we’ll experiment with this year. And the more I learn about corn, the more I realize how versatile a resource it really is. Sweet corn is great in summer, but what about growing varieties that will allow you to make your own corn meal or flour? What about popcorn?

Here’s a short list of a few varieties outside of the norm that you might consider growing this spring:


Glass Gem – This is a newer, late maturing (105 days) variety that has quickly created a buzz in the seed world. Its unique colored kernels are translucent and are supposed to sparkle in the sun when dried, just like rare gems. Used as an ornamental, this variety is also supposed to be very good for popcorn (don’t think big fluffy puffs that taste as bland as Styrofoam like you get at the store; these are smaller puffs that are packed with taste) or can be ground into meal or flour. The stalks are also strong, and grow up to ten feet, which is another fall ornamental plus.

We plan on experimenting with this variety on a small-scale. You can buy seed from many of the organic or heirloom seed companies, including SeedSavers Exchange ( or Victory Seeds ( Cost will be around $2.99 for 50 seeds.


Smoke Signals – Another multi colored, ornamental or popcorn variety, but this one is USDA certified organic if that’s important to your planning. Kernels will grow in shades of blue, pink, mahogany, white and yellow. Most plants will grow up to three ears. This is also a late maturing variety (100 days).

You can order this from Seed Savers Exchange for about $2.99 per pack of 100 seeds


Sugar Buns – This yellow variety has more going for it than just its name. It’s a super sweet, early maturing (70 days) variety that boasts of its long harvest capability, remaining tender even two weeks after maturity in the field. It also has shown leaf blight. A perfect option for colder, northern regions. And yellow corn is high in Vitamin A!

You can buy Sugar Buns from Johnny’s Seeds ( for $4.10 for a packet of 150 seeds, or buy in bulk at 1000 seeds for $7.35.



aces-3Aces – Another early maturing (78 days) sweet corn variety. Good flavor and tender bi-colored kernels. Also shows high tolerance against leaf blight. This would make for great grilling or freezing for winter meals. High yield potential.

Harris Seed Company ( has this at $16.20 for 1000 seeds.



Cherokee White Eagle – This variety is a great option if you want to make your own corn meal. Blue and white kernels at maturity (110 days), but yellow and white when young. You can also eat this as a semi sweet corn if picked early. Should be prepared quickly after harvest, or else the flavor diminishes quickly.

These seeds are rare, but you can find them at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds ( at 75 seeds for $4.00.


There are a lot of different varieties of corn available to the small gardener or farmsteader today. Make sure you choose to order your seed from a reputable company. The companies that I’ve listed here have been in business for many years and have great reviews for their quality and customer service. Also, make sure you talk to your local extension office or agronomist about what varieties would do best in your climate.  And whatever you do, don’t be afraid to experiment and have fun.

Happy seed hunting!