- Make sure the area is weed free before you plant any seeds. Besides the competition for water and nutrients, it’s easy to mistake sprouting weed seed for your flower or vegetable seeds and accidentally pull them out.
- Most of the sowing information will be on the seed packet if there is one. The rule of thumb is to plant seeds 3 times as deep as their circumference, but some seeds require light to germinate. If that is the case, gently press them into damp soil, so that they are making good contact.
- Pay special attention to the information on the packet about when to sow. Some seeds or seedlings won’t survive frost. Some require a cold period to germinate.
- Mark the spot. You may think you will remember where you planted, but there’s a lot going on in the garden in spring. You’ll forget.
- Water gently. Don’t wash the seeds away or have them all flow into a pile. Better still, dampen the soil before you plant. Then water gently as needed, until you see germination.
- Keep the soil moist until the seed germinates, then be sure to water whenever the surface soil looks dry. Seedlings don’t have much of a root system and they can dry out within hours. Pay special attention to young seedlings if it is very windy or if the weather suddenly turns hot and sunny. Both of these weather conditions can dry the soil and desiccate the seedlings.
- If you’ve had good germination, you’ll need to thin the seedlings, to give them airspace and room to grow. You can pull the unwanted seedlings when they are a couple of inches high. If that seems to disturb the roots of the seedlings you want to keep, you can snip the extras with a small scissor or simply pinch off the leaves with your fingers. (If they are vegetable seedlings, you can snip them and save them to eat in salads.)
- Many plants benefit from being pinched back once they have developed about 3 sets of true leaves. This will encourage the plant to send out more branches and become a fuller, bushier plant.
- Continue to pamper your seedlings until they become established plants. Be on the lookout for four-legged pests. Tender young seedlings can be eaten in one bite.
- Vegetables sowing and planting through the year
- The difference between ‘sowing’ and ‘planting’
- Explanations of terms used above:
- Direct Sow Like a Pro: How to Get Strong Germination Outdoors
- Create the perfect seedbed
- The art of sowing
- Sowing methods
- Secrets of growing from seed: 10 tips to get your garden going
- Garden Doctors: The pluses of ‘planting in hills’
In order to grow plants, you have two options – you can buy plants already grown at a greenhouse or nursery and then plant them in your garden, or you can grow your plants from seed. Growing from seed is usually the most affordable option, but it is the most labor intensive and requires the most time. It will also require that you sow seeds.
The word “sow” means nothing more nor less than planting seeds. Whether you choose to sow your seeds on the surface of the soil, or bury them beneath a light covering of soil, you’re still sowing seeds. Of course, there are many different sowing methods depending on the type of seeds in question and your goals with the plants.
For instance, growing grass often requires a sowing process called broadcast spreading. You can use a spreader, or do it manually, but it ultimately comes down to throwing grass seeds out in long arcs, until the entire yard is covered.
Vegetables are different – you need to sow them according to the directions on the seed packet in the area where you’ll be planting. You may be using rows in your in-ground garden. You might be using containers, instead. Each plant has different conditions necessary for seed germination, which is the point of sowing seeds in the first place. Some need to be 1/2 to 1/4 inch under the soil. Others only need a light covering of dirt. Yet others need to be sown on the surface, and then watered in, and nothing more.
Ultimately, know what you’re sowing and why, and then follow the directions on the package to ensure that you’re giving your plants the best possible start.
sowing and planting through the year
home or Selection menu at foot of page
This is a very rough timing guide to sowing and planting vegetables in the UK, even within the UK, the climate varies, so due allowance must be made for local conditions.
- Sow Early Peas and Broad Beans in the soil in mild areas, protect with cloches
- Sow Bulb Onions seeds under glass
- Continue to sow Early Peas and Broad Beans in mild areas
- Sow early Carrot seeds in a cold frame
- Sow Bulb Onions and Lettuces under glass
- Sow Beetroot, Spinach and Carrots in the soil, protect with cloches
- Sow Parsley in the soil unless the weather is cold or wet
- Sow Lettuces, Radishes and Spring Onions in the soil
- Sow Summer Cabbages, Leeks and Brussels Sprouts in a seed bed
- Sow Tomato seeds in trays or pots and keep at 18°C (65°F)
- Sow Beetroots, Carrots and Turnips in the soil
- In the south, plant Early Potatoes and Onion Sets from mid month providing the soil is not excessively wet
- Continue to sow Lettuces, Radishes and Spring Onions in the soil
- Sow Cucumbers, Marrows, Pumpkins and Squashes under glass
- Sow Winter Cabbages and Late Summer Cauliflowers in a seed bed
- Continue to plant Onion Sets
- Plant out Onions grown from seed under glass into the soil
- In the north, plant Early Potatoes providing the soil is not excessively wet
- Plant Main Crop Potatoes
- Plant Onion Sets and Potatoes in the middle of the month unless the soil is excessively wet
- Plant Tomatoes in the greenhouse or in cold frame
- Continue to sow Lettuces, Radishes and Spring Onions in the soil
- In the north, sow Runner Beans under glass
- Sow French Beans, Runner Beans and Long Rooted Beetroot towards the end of the month
- Plant out Late Summer Cauliflowers
- In the north, plant out Brussels Sprouts
- Plant out Cucumbers, Marrows, Pumpkins and Squashes towards the end of the month
- Continue to sow French Beans, Peas and salad crops in the soil
- Continue to plant out Cucumbers, Marrows, Pumpkins and Squashes
- Plant out Brussels Sprouts and Winter Cabbages
- Plant out Tomatoes
- Plant out Leeks
- Plant self Blanching Celery
- Continue to sow salad crops in the soil
- Complete planting Brussels Sprouts, Leeks and Winter Cabbages
- Sow early Winter Lettuces and Spring Cabbages
- Sow early Carrots
- Sow Broad Beans, Spring Cabbages, Carrots and Lettuces under cloches
- In the north, plant out Spring Cabbages towards the end of the month
- Continue to sow Broad Beans and Lettuces under cloches
- In the south, plant out Cabbages
- Plant Winter and Spring Lettuces
- Continue to sow Broad Beans under cloches
- In the south, continue to sow Lettuces under cloches
- Sow Early Peas under cloches
- Continue to sow Broad Beans, protect with cloches in colder areas
- Put you feet up on the 25th !!
The difference between ‘sowing’ and ‘planting’
- Sowing involves putting seeds into a soil, the seed then (hopefully) germinates and a plant grows – until the seed goes into the soil, the seed is dormant and needs no special attention (usually ‘fresh’ seeds have a shelf life of 2 to 4 years).
- Planting involves taking a living plant which needs water and light, and putting it into the soil. Plants can either be grown by a gardener from seed, or purchased from a nursery.
Explanations of terms used above:
‘cloches’ – a small, easily moveable ‘mini-greenhouse’ used to protect plants from the weather and to warm the soil.
‘sowing under glass’ – normally means within a heated greenhouse, (alternatively, small quantities can be sown indoors) normally the young plants will be planted out later. By sowing under glass, the plants get a ‘heads-start’ resulting in earlier crops after they have been planted out.
‘seed bed’ – a specific area of the garden where seeds are sown for germination and later ‘planting out’ to another area. The area is normally level and with a fine soil, this helps the young plants to grow and makes it easy to lift the plants for planting out.
‘planting out’ – applies where seeds have been sown and germinated in one place, and when the plants of an adequate size, the plants are moved to another area where the plants can mature.
Direct Sow Like a Pro: How to Get Strong Germination Outdoors
Moxie planting peas in her garden
It’s easy to assume that growing food from seed in the garden is a piece of cake. There are no lights or heat mats, no germination domes or pots or potting soil to worry about. Just make a hole, stick a seed in the ground, and water, right? Well….sort of. While some plants are as straightforward as that, others may need a bit more coaxing to germinate in a nice uniform stand. So next we’ll talk about 5 ways you can improve the germination rate of direct-sown crops.
1) Follow the directions. As a kid I’d often try to make cookies or cakes, then complain to my mother when they weren’t coming out right. Inevitably her first question would be, “Did you follow the recipe?” and inevitably I would look away and admit that I’d made some adjustments – maybe I didn’t have brown sugar, so replaced it with white, or swapped baking soda for baking powder. “It’s chemistry!” she’d always admonish. And gardening is much the same.
Use good ingredients (seeds, soil, compost), follow the directions on the packet, and the plants will largely take care of themselves. This is especially true as regards planting depth. Large seeds need to be planted deeply to ensure good seed-to-soil contact, darkness, and adequate moisture. Small seeds often need to be planted shallowly because light is part of their trigger to germinate. For small seeds like onions, some growers cover them with just a light sprinkling of sand to ensure they are covered but still have access to light.
Timing is important too. If the packet says to direct sow seeds after all danger of frost has passed, wait until that date. Many gardeners have been tricked by unseasonably warm springs, only to feel intense dismay upon hearing of a frost advisory just after planting. Spring is fickle, and a week in the eighties is no guarantee that it will stay that way. Remember that the warmest, clearest, sunniest days are the ones most likely to be followed by frost. Even the hardiest varieties are vulnerable just after germinating, and should be protected with row cover in the event of frost.
Flat, smooth seed beds support strong germination at Pete’s Greens
2) Ensure constant moisture. Just like transplants started indoors, the soil must never dry out while seeds are germinating. This can be challenging outdoors, as an ordinary day might begin calm, but then be ferociously windy by noon, and calm again by dusk. It’s not uncommon to arrive home from work to find parched seedlings even when it wasn’t a particularly hot day. The wind is just as drying, if not more so, than the sun—so it’s best to check the weather every morning, and if it’s forecast to be warm or windy, water thoroughly before you head out for the day.
But there’s another side to this coin – keeping the soil wet won’t do much good unless you also make sure the seeds are making good contact with the moist soil. Before sowing, rake out the bed so that it forms a relatively smooth and stone-free surface. You don’t need to pulverize the clumps of soil (that will make crusting worse) but creating a flat surface will make it easier to form furrows that are the correct depth, while providing fine-textured soil that will make good contact with the seed.
Large-seeded crops, like peas, need more moisture to germinate
3) Water proportionally. What do I mean? I mean that in order to germinate, different seeds need different amounts of water. It’s always a good idea to make sure the top few inches of soil are thoroughly soaked after planting. But large seeds, like peas, beans, nasturtiums, and squash need a LOT of water to germinate—enough that their entire seed coat can absorb it like a sponge, double in size, and have enough left over to feed the growing roots and shoots. So make sure those large-seeded crops are watered thoroughly and deeply every day that it doesn’t rain during germination.
4) Keep it covered. Smaller, more delicate seeds like carrots and lettuce will germinate poorly if any crust forms on the soil surface. One thing I’ve learned by now is that crust in baking is good, but crust in gardening is bad news. Crusting usually happens when you water heavily initially (which compacts the soil surface), and then it gets hot or windy and this dense layer dries out, with your seeds suspended somewhere inside, unable to break through the hardened soil.
Seedlings under row covers are protected from frost, sunburn, drying winds, pests and more
To prevent this scenario, lay a piece of lightweight row cover over the bed right after planting. The row cover will help reduce evaporation from the soil surface, retaining moisture and preventing a crust from forming. As soon as the seeds have germinated, remove or raise the row cover to give them room to grow.
Alternatively, mulch. A bale of straw mulch goes a long way, and will dramatically reduce the time spent weeding on hands and knees. Before direct sowing, mulch to a depth of at least 4”, then make furrows in the mulch and soil below, plant your seeds, and water well. The mulch will serve many useful purposes—preventing a crust from forming over the germinating seeds, keeping roots cool and moist, discouraging weeds, and adding organic matter to your soil.
If you’re planting a cool-season crop like lettuce, kale, spinach, or peas in warm soil, as often happens when planting in midsummer for fall crops, you can use a little trick to cool down the soil before planting. Simply cover the bed with cardboard for a week prior to planting. The cardboard cools the soil by shading it and reducing evaporation. After planting, replace the cardboard over the bed to keep the soil cool during germination, lifting it daily to water and check for seedlings popping up. Be sure to remove the cardboard as soon as the seeds have germinated.
Thinning carrots is a time and labor-intensive task that can be eliminated with careful seeding.
5) Don’t sow too thickly. Many gardeners, even experienced ones, are guilty of sowing too much seed for the available space. It might seem like “crop insurance” – maybe the seed was a few years old, or the conditions seem challenging – so you think “What the heck, it can’t hurt.” Well I’m here to tell you otherwise–sowing too thickly can turn into a major headache.
Carrots must be properly spaced for good yields
Thinning is a time consuming task and must be done when seedlings are still very small – think wispy 1” tall carrots that must be distinguished from grass, horsetail, and any other weeds, then carefully culled so that they’re no closer than 1” apart. Proper spacing of carrots and beets is essential for good yields–each root needs room to develop, and foliage needs room to grow thick and lush to support root growth.
But by the time you’ve finished thinning a 20-foot bed with three rows in it, your back, knees, eyes and fingers will be complaining. So why don’t people avoid this whole situation and simply plant the seeds 1” apart from each other? That part is still a mystery to me. My guess is that it’s simply easier to sow seeds thickly. But given the additional work this makes later, I think precision seeding is a better way to go. The lesson is, mulch, take your time and seed like a minimalist—it’s more economical and a lot easier than the alternative.
Sowing indoors is pretty easy – you’ve got lots of control over the environment so essentially, less can go wrong. But propagating space is limited, all that watering takes up precious time and you get far stockier plants if you sow outside. Plus, crops like carrots, parsnips and other roots fare much better if sown direct. Luckily, warmer weather means that more of us will ditch our windowsills and venture outdoors with those seed packets, but how do you guarantee success when there are so many potential pitfalls out there? Here are a few tips:
Create the perfect seedbed
This is crucial if you want your seeds to germinate well. Dig over the soil to remove all weeds and allow it to settle for a few days otherwise it will slump (or, if you can’t wait and provided the soil isn’t wet, tread it down gently with your feet), and then rake it level, rake it some more – and then once more for good measure: you’re aiming to remove all large stones and clods of earth. Work the rake in different directions to get out as many lumpy bits as possible. That way, your seeds will make perfect contact with the soil for that all important germination.
The art of sowing
One key thing to remember: the larger the seed, the deeper it can go. As a rough guide, 4cm is fine for peas and broad beans, 2cm for beetroot and chard, and for salad leaves and carrots, 1cm is ideal (seed packets will give specific depths). If the weather is dry, sow a little bit deeper than recommended as a main cause of failure is seed drying out.
Create a shallow drill (or wide trench for peas) using a trowel or the edge of a hoe, sprinkle your seed along it, backfill with soil, tamp down with the back of said rake and water in. There are variations on this theme, though, that are worth applying to different conditions: Dry:
If the soil is really dry, soak the ground thoroughly before creating your seedbed (ideally, the day beforehand) as if you water it thoroughly afterwards you run the risk of washing finer seeds away and “capping” the soil (I’ll explain this in a bit). Covering the sown drill with newspaper will help prevent it drying out, but it’s essential that this is removed as soon as your seedlings appear. Clear plastic cloches are more forgiving and can be left in place for a week or so (ideal if you can’t get to the plot that often). Both these covers are also quite good at keeping birds and mice at bay if they’re a problem on your plot. Wet:
Heavy rainfall after sowing can play havoc with your seedbed, specifically sudden downpours that cause puddles in the soil or rivulets of runoff. Both such watery conditions can cause “capping” where the soil creates a crust of very fine particles as it dries out. This can be impenetrable to seedlings that are attempting to emerge. Prevent it with cloches/newspaper covers or by filling over your drill with compost rather than soil as this won’t cap. And never walk on your soil when it’s wet, especially if you’ve dug it over, as loose, fluffy soil is very prone to compaction. If you must walk on moist soil, lay down boards to distribute your weight and walk on those.
Different crops require different sowing techniques, so let me run through the main ones: The basic method is to sow thinly along your drills, sowing a little more thickly than final crop spacings to take into account losses via poor germination or pest /disease attack. For carrots, beetroot, radish, spinach and salad leaves, this is the preferred method. Once germinated and emerged, thin for a first time and then, once established and less vulnerable to attack, thin to final spacings (don’t forget to eat the leaf thinnings of beetroot and radish as they’re great salad additions). Some companies sell seed tapes, where paper is impregnated with seeds at their final spacings – handy if you’re not too dextrous when it comes to thinning.
Certain crops, like parsnips, french beans and squashes, are grown at wide spacings, so rather than sow in a drill where there will be lots of wastage, it’s best to carry out “station sowings”, where four or five seeds are sown in clusters, positioning these clusters at their final spacings. Once emerged, simply thin to leave the strongest seedling. With parsnips and maincrop carrots that are sown in rows and are slow to germinate, you can intersow with quick-maturing crops like radish or salad leaves. Not only does this mark the row before the slower veg germinate, but it also makes maximum use of your space: the quick crops can mature and be harvested before the slower ones require the room. Nifty. Those quick-maturing crops, like aforementioned salads and radish, along with beetroot, spinach, baby carrots and oriental veg should be sown successionally in short drills, so that you don’t run out of fresh supplies. As a general guide, sow your next batch once the previous have germinated and thrown out two or three “true” leaves to ensure continuity of supply. You can also “broadcast” a patch of seeds, which is a great method for sowing green manures and also for setting up a little patch of seedlings that you later transplant to their final spacings (this is an old-school technique for sowing winter brassicas, for example). Just sow as you would lawn seed, gently scattering your seed on a prepared bed and then lightly raking it over. A bit of netting over the top keeps birds away. Job done.
Lucy Halsall is Editor of Grow Your Own Magazine which contains a wealth of information about growing your own vegetables plus even more resources on the website including the new growing guides section.
Secrets of growing from seed: 10 tips to get your garden going
Close-up of the flower of Ammi visnaga. Photograph: Richard Johnston
Late February is also a good time to sow the seeds of broad beans (spring varieties such as Witkeim, Express and the compact The Sutton) and leeks (varieties such as Hannibal) into trays/modules under cover for transplanting outdoors later in the year. It’s also a good time to plant certain varieties of garlic, including Cristo and Solent Wight, directly outdoors.
Another job for this time of year is checking any dahlia tubers that you’re overwintering in a cool shed or basement for signs of rot/decay. Any that you find showing obvious signs of bruising/softening/rotting should be added to the compost heap to prevent decay from gradually spreading to the rest of the fleshy tubers and rendering them unusable.
It’s also a good time to order stock of new varieties of dahlias while there’s still wide availability. Recommended suppliers include all good garden centres as well as Tullamore–based Beechill Bulbs, Halls of Heddon and Rose Cottage Plants.
Dates for your diary
Thursday, February 22nd (8pm), National Botanic Gardens visitor centre, Glasnevin, Dublin 9 To the Mountains of Myanmar – A Burmese Adventure: a talk by horticulturist, award-winning author, plant-hunter and head gardener Seamus O’Brien, of the National Botanic Gardens Kilmacurragh, on his recent travels to Myanmar in the footsteps of Lady Charlotte Wheeler-Cuffe and Captain Frank Kingdon-Ward. See botanicgardens.ie
Saturday, February 24th (10am-4pm) and Sunday, February 25th (1pm-4pm), Mount Venus Nursery, Mutton Lane, Tibradden, Dublin 16 Hellebore Weekend, a celebration of this valuable genus of highly ornamental, late winter-early spring flowering plants, including plant sales. See mountvenus.com
Should you chuck seeds straight into the garden or grow them in modules or seedling trays first? Knowing where and how to plant could be the factor that takes your garden from good to great.
First, it’s important to remember that plants are not so different from people. They each have their own set of likes and dislikes and, because of this, there’s no single rule to guide you through the planting process. However, understanding the basics of direct sowing and transplanting is critical and taking time with your plants — getting to know them as individuals — is your golden ticket. Caring for seedlings from start to finish with a little extra personal attention can not only increase plant survival and health but also optimize your growing season while maximizing space.
BENEFITS OF TRANSPLANTING SEEDLINGS
Seeds have almost everything they need inside them to germinate and thrive. Give them a place to grow, add water, the right amount of heat and light and the magic begins. But as we all know, this is also where promise can turn to frustration in an instant. One minute your seedlings can go from hardy and robust to leggy and yellow, wilted with disease or simply disappear — the easy lunch of a passing bird, snail or other visitor.
Control the Environment
Growing seeds in paper pots, modules or seedling trays allows you to control the environment in which they grow. Providing protection from the elements and garden pests while also controlling soil, moisture, fertility and heat. This is particularly important if you’d like to get a jump start on your growing season. Plant seeds indoors or in the comfort of a cold frame or greenhouse when it’s still cold outside and move them out to the garden when the weather warms — chances are they’ll be ready to flourish.
Starting seeds indoors also gives your crops more time to mature within the growing season. This is critical if you live in a cooler climate or you’re working with slow growing plants. Pumpkins, peppers, melons, leeks, cabbage, gourds and tomatoes all need more time to mature.
Maximize Garden Space
Your garden may be like mine, jam packed with little extra room. In fact, every square inch counts, which is another reason why I sow as many seeds as possible in trays or pots and transplant them out when ready. I can dedicate the garden space I have to the plants that need it.
I’m also not second guessing my crop, waiting to see what might come up. When transplanting, the seed is germinated, it’s showing vigor and my chances for a successful garden are more likely from the outset. This is particularly important to me because I need to optimize a limited number of warm summer days.
The saying, “sow little and often,” is one to live by, especially if you’re a small space gardener. Sowing a handful of seeds in trays on a frequent basis means you’re more likely to enjoy a continual harvest. Time planting so when one crop has reached the end of its life cycle there are replacement seedlings waiting in the wings for transplanting. Try this with greens, tender herbs, bush beans and other plants that don’t take long to reach maturity. Use the “days to maturity” information on your seed packet to get the timing right but also take notes as you go. Days to maturity in your garden could be very different from those given on the packet.
BENEFITS OF DIRECT SOWING
There are many plants that perform just fine or better if sown directly in the garden. Annuals, plants with large seeds, plants that require weathering, plants with fragile root systems and root crops being some.
Minimize Root Disturbance
Seeds sown directly in the garden can grow where they’re planted. There are no interruptions in growth due to moving them from one place to another. However, biodegradable paper pots and coir pots help keep root disturbance to a minimum, there is still a whole new environment to get used to. The bottom line is plants must recover from transplanting.
Hardening Off Not Required
Plants that are grown in a protected environment with the intention of transplanting out to the garden must be transitioned slowly to the outside world. This is known as hardening off. To harden off seedlings take them outside for a short period of time each day for a week. Start with an hour the first day adding an hour a day for a week. After the 7th day, when they’ve been left out for a total of 7 hours, they’ll be ready to transplant.
Root crops such as carrots don’t take well to containers. If their tap root comes in contact with an object such as the bottom of a container it will most likely fork or grow in a funny shape. It’s best to sow them directly into the garden when the temperatures are just right (they prefer warmer soil temperatures for germination). Not all root crops are as fussy, but if you have room and the weather is in your favor, plant them straight into the garden and save yourself the step of transplanting.
Some plants, such as wildflowers like lupines, require environmental weathering to germinate. You can do this yourself by scaring the seeds or let nature do the work for you. Scatter seeds in the fall for spring blooms.
Self-sowers & Volunteers
I have a soft spot for volunteers and generally encourage heirlooms, open pollenated veggies, edible flowers and annuals to self seed. Let your plants live out their life cycle before cleaning up. Leave a few fruits such as tomatoes and cucumbers to decompose in the garden. Let sunflowers, calendula, violas and other annuals drop their seeds. I wish the seeds I grew matched their vigor — they always come up at the perfect time and end up being the best plants. Move them about if you must but let them grow whenever possible.
No Special Equipment Required
Direct sowing seeds is simple. You don’t need anything special, no grow lights or special containers, just a place to plant, good soil, water and sun.
BEST DIRECT SOW PLANTS
- large seeds (that are planted deeply)
- root crops
- swiss chard
- onion sets
- sweet alyssum
- sweet peas
BEST PLANTS FOR TRANSPLANTING
- brussel sprouts
- melons (though they don’t like to be in containers too long)
*Note: The lists above are suggestions. I often start plants like kale, chard and corn in containers and plant them out when the soils warm up. Beans can be sown directly in the garden but if you’d like to guarantee your crop, start them in containers first. I tend to grow about half my hollyhocks in containers and direct sow the rest. In the end your plants will show you what’s best.
For information and tips on transplanting and growing plants from seed read these links:
How to Make Paper Pots for Starting Seeds
Tips for Growing and Transplanting Seedlings
How to Make Your Own Seed Starting Mix
8 Tips to Prevent Damping-off of Seedlings
How to Transplant Seedlings
How to Grow Greens from Seed
Seeds 101: Seed Selection & Terminology
Garden Doctors: The pluses of ‘planting in hills’
Mira M. of Sebastopol asks: What does “planting in hills” mean?
I overheard a few people talking about doing this when planting his or her vegetable seeds and I didn’t get a chance to ask them what that meant.
Planting “in hills” is a term used for the method of planting certain vegetable seeds in clusters. These clusters are not necessarily planted literally in raised mounds to form hills.
When they are planted in raised mounds, 4 to 6 inches high, the advantage is that the soil warms up faster and drains better, and water that collects around the base encourages roots to feed more deeply. Pumpkins, squashes, cucumbers and melons are the more common vegetables planted in hills, with 4-6 seeds per hill.
Once the seedlings are established, the hills are thinned so that only the sturdiest 2 to 3 seedlings remain.
Jessica C. of Windsor asks: I would like to start some vegetable seeds indoors, but don’t have a place in the house where I could put the seed trays near a window. How could I start them outdoors and protect them from the cold weather and frost?
If you plan to start a number of seeds prior to transplanting them into the garden, there’s nothing more satisfactory and helpful, short of a greenhouse, than what’s called a cold frame.
You can buy one that’s ready to assemble from a kit, or make your own from old storm windows and whatever lumber you happen to have around. Thick, clear plastic works well also, if you don’t have access to glass windows.
They can be of any size to suit your needs and in the shape of a square or rectangle, where the sides are made out of wood, which will be the framework of the cold frame.
The top and perhaps the sides, depending on the height you make it, will be the windows or plastic.
Cold frames should be constructed so the top is on a slant to allow the southern exposure into the entire inside area. That means the back end of the cold frame is higher than the front. The window orientation should be slanted toward the south. The top piece is attached to the back end with hinges to allow you to open and close it.
A cold frame allows you to sow your seeds outside, eliminating clutter inside the house, and keeps the germinating seed and the seedlings growing even through a frost or two.
When the top is closed, the temperature inside is slightly warmer than the outside, which keeps the plants from freezing. It’s a good idea to hang a thermometer inside to keep an eye on the temperature, to make sure it’s warm enough for the specific vegetable seeds you want to grow.
If you hear that there’s going to be a hard frost coming, throw an old heavy blanket or thick moving tarp over the top of the cold frame, to give them that extra bit of protection.
At the other extreme, when the sun gets hot, it can roast the plants, so keep the top open during the day. You can use a sturdy piece of wood to prop the top open. Remember to keep the plants watered! Keep the seedlings damp and not soaking wet or you could have a problem with diseases and root rot.
(Send your gardening questions to The Garden Doctors at [email protected] The Garden Doctors, gardening consultants Gwen Kilchherr and Dana Lozano, can answer questions only through their column, which appears twice a month in the newspaper and online at pressdemocrat.com.)