MOUNT VERNON — There may be traces of snow on the ground and a nip in the air, but avid gardeners, not to mention greenhouse operators, are already turning their thoughts toward what are called cool weather vegetables.
Troy Cooper, extension educator and director of the Knox County branch of the Ohio State University Extension Office, said cool season vegetables should be started six to eight weeks before they are due to be transplanted into the garden. Greenhouses and some gardeners, he said, have begun starting onions from seed, because onions should be planted early in spring as soon as the soil can be worked.
Broccoli is being started too, because it does best when set out as transplants rather than planted from seed. Since broccoli is frost tolerant, it can be set out in the garden as early as April 1.
Cooper suggests testing seeds before serious planting begins, especially if they are a year or more old.
“Make sure the seeds are still gong to be viable before you plant them,” he said. “You will save yourself some headaches by trying it now. You could save yourself some money, too, if the older seeds are still good. Wet a paper towel and wring it out until it is just damp. Take 10 seeds from the packet, fold the towel in half, place the seeds down the middle, fold the towel to cover the seeds and put it in a ziplock bag and seal. Place the bag on top of your refrigerator and leave for seven to 10 days. If the towel dries in less than a week, dampen again with a spray bottle.”
“I always write the date that I started it, so I know how long it was on the fridge,” Cooper continued. “I check them in seven to 10 days. They should have started to send out roots and started to germinate by then. I count them: If at least eight have started, that’s good. If only four or five have germinated, I need to do it again or I need to buy new seeds. Four out of 10 is too low.”
Cooper said home gardeners can also test their warmer weather seeds, such as tomatoes and corn, this early, too.
Once the seeds are known to be viable, seeds for cool weather crops can be started indoors right now. To start seeds indoors, Cooper said, it is necessary that the starter pots be sanitized if you are using last year’s pots. It is also important to start with a high quality potting soil. Moisten the soil after the seeds are sown, but do not over-water. The containers should then be placed under a grow light. Some gardeners use a heat pad under the pots, Cooper said, because soil temperature is more important to get seeds to germinate than light. Fertilizer should be used after the seedlings have sprouted, but, Cooper said, it is important to not over-fertilize.
“Fertilizer is only needed after the seeds germinate and leaves begin to form, he said. “Many gardeners will mix the liquid fertilizer according to the label instructions and then dilute it in half and then fertilize every time they water the plant.”
Egg cartons can also be used to start seeds. The egg cartons do not need to be sanitized, but Cooper said to make sure there are some holes in the bottom to provided for drainage. The egg carton, unlike peat pots, should not then be planted into the ground.
Some cool season vegetables can be seeded directly into the soil. Ohioline.osu.edu is a good source for more information. The following tidbits are an example:
•Potatoes, depending on the variety, can be planted as early as mid-to late March.
•Peas can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked, and the seeds can be sown directly in the garden. Depending on the average temperature, peas planted in early spring could be ready for harvesting by June 10.
•The carrot is a hardy, cool season crop that can be planted in the garden as soon as the soil can be prepared in the spring Directly seed carrots into a well-prepared soil early in the spring.
•Garlic must be planted very early in Ohio (March or April) to permit full leaf development.
•Asparagus can be planted throughout Ohio from mid-April to late May after the soil has warmed up to about 50 degrees F.
•Beet seeds can be planted in a well-prepared seedbed as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring.
• Rhubarb crowns are best planted in early spring when the roots are still dormant or plants are just beginning to leaf out. Rhubarb can also be planted in the fall after dormancy has set in.