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Gardening and More: Start seeds for cool weather vegetables

THINK SPRING –If you want to start gardening now, begin with cool weather vegetables, such as broccoli. You can start these plants from seeds now, but wait a few more weeks before starting seeds for tomatoes and other tender crops. Photo courtesy Burpee Home Gardens.
SPRINGVILLE — After that long, cold winter, I know you’re aching to do some gardening. It’s finally time to take the first ste. Start some seeds inside for cool weather vegetables.

“The middle of March is the time to start seeds inside for vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower,” said Julie Emerling, a grower at Lockwood’s Greenhouses, located at 4484 Clark St. in Hamburg.

Unlike tender vegetable plants such as tomatoes, you plant these cool weather vegetables outside earlier, around the beginning of May, because they like the cooler weather and can take some light frost. That’s why you should start your seeds now.

“But you can’t start seeds for every plant right now. Wait until the end of March to start lettuce and spinach,” Emerling said. “They’re cold tolerant, but they can’t take frost the way that vegetables like cabbage can.”

It’s still too early to start seeds for tender plants– the ones that you have to wait until Memorial Day to plant outside. You start most seeds six-eight weeks before you are going to plant them outside, and Memorial Day is still 10 weeks away. You can start those seeds around the first week of April.

In my experience, if you start seeds too early, the plants get leggy and die before you can even transplant them outside. However, Emerling pointed out an additional problem. If you use small seed-starting pots, your plants could become too large for the pot and become rootbound.

“Don’t jump the gun and start your seeds too early,” Emerling said.

Planting seeds and transplanting outside

You need a very sunny window or grow lights to start the seeds inside, Emerling added.

Before you transplant them outside, move the seedlings to a cool, protected spot, such as a basement or garage.

If you don’t want to start with seeds, you can buy plants at Lockwood’s in the middle or end of April.

While cool weather vegetables generally can be planted at the end of April or beginning of May, you can’t go by the calendar alone. You need to wait until the ground is dry enough to be worked; you can’t plant in mud. You also need the weather to be warm enough.

While the plants can take some light frost, if it is going to get very cold outside (like 27 degrees Fahrenheit), you want to protect the plants. Before the temperature drops, cover the plants with a cloth or milk jugs or pails or other containers to retain the heat.

Broccoli: If you plant in the beginning of May, you’ll harvest around the end of June. When you cut the main head out, the plant will produce side shoots that you can harvest, Emerling said.

You can get two crops with broccoli. Plant the fall crop at the end of August or beginning of September and you’ll harvest in about 1 ˝ months, depending on the weather. It can withstand a frost.

Cabbage: Plant cabbage at the beginning of May and you should harvest in about two months. However, bigger varieties of cabbage take longer to grow and won’t be ready to harvest until August or September.

If you want a second crop of cabbage, you can plant one of the smaller, early varieties in the beginning of September.

Tip: If we get a bad rain, the head could split. The cabbage will be fine to eat; it just doesn’t look as appealing.

Cauliflower: If you plant in spring, you will probably harvest in mid-June. You can get a second crop if you plant seeds at the beginning of August. You’ll probably harvest in late September, depending on the weather.

Tip: When the plants are getting big and the head starts to form, tie up the leaves to protect the head. You can use a zip tie, twine or string. This will keep the head white and prevent it from turning purple, plus it will keep bugs out, Emerling said.

Connie Oswald Stofko is publisher of Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email Connie@BuffaloNiagaraGardening.com.


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