Winter Planning and Prep for Spring Planting
The winter season provides necessary respite to many farmer and gardeners in our region who are so active during the growing season. And it can be just as important to rest the mind from garden tasks as it is with the body. But eventually, the first seed catalogs of the season show up in the mailbox, coupled with a few abnormally warm winter days, and before you know it the green thumb’s mind starts to spin.
And planning now isn’t all that premature. Despite the fact that we don’t seed most cool-season crops until early February (6-8 weeks before the last frost) there are still a few errands we can take up over the holiday break to lighten the load later on.
Pull out the calendar – whether it’s a fresh 2020 farmer’s almanac or the calendar app on your iPhone, mark seeding dates now so plants are ready to transplant to the garden at the proper time. To do this, select a transplant date for a particular fruit or vegetable, and count back the number of weeks necessary to grow it. Onions are one of the first vegetables to be seeded for transplanting and then broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and leafy greens.
Secure your seed – order your planting material early especially for rare or new varieties—from bare root fruit trees to potatoes and beyond, supplies are limited. Store seed in a cool, dark and dry place—in the refrigerator using an air-tight container with a dry paper towel to absorb moisture. Using saved garden seed is a great option but even in best conditions seed only remains viable for about three years, germination decreases more quickly in the carrot family, e.g. parsnips and parsley,
Set up the lab – clear off the garden bench, rack or shelf. Get a new bag of media specifically formulated for seed germination, these usually contain a mixture of peat moss and shredded pine. Clean out seed starting containers (i.e. trays and flats). Sterilize used plastic containers by rinsing off the debris and soaking in bleach or other food-safe disinfectants for 30 minutes, then rinse before reuse. If you’re looking a few other things to spend on with that holiday gift card for the local nursery, a heating mat and a thermostat regulator can be very helpful to assist with germination
Light it up – although most plants will germinate in either darkness or light, you’ll definitely need artificial light once emergence occurs; and the south-facing windowsill is not enough to grow a great transplant. Most gardeners who are growing their starts are using ordinary shop lights that are available from any home supply or hardware store (T5 bulbs are recommended). Check to make sure your lights and fixture are in good working order. Some growers will replace bulbs every couple of years as the brightness does diminish with use. LED strips can be more durable, energy-efficient and are increasingly affordable. Set up chains or another method to raise or lower the height of the light as the plants grow. Check out K-State’s guide to build your own light stand from PVC. An outlet timer can be a nice addition to ensure 14-16 hr periods of light/day when the time comes to start your seedlings.