Believe it or not, fellow gardeners, now is the time to start your seeds for your fall vegetable garden. In the next six weeks or so, the weather will cool down to livable temperatures and levels of humidity. Your energy will return, and if you sow some seeds inside now, you will be ready with lovely flats of wonderful fall garden specimens. Isn’t that brilliant of you?
Fall may be my most favorite gardening season here in north Florida. We are no longer plagued by hungry little insects that sneak out under cover of night to eat their fill, and the garden is a little more refined than the wild days of spring, when a machete just might be the most useful garden tool. The fall and winter crops are a cook’s delight…crispy lettuces, collards begging for meaty ham hocks, kale and chard for yummy soups, broccoli, cabbages, and more! Later on in the season, we plant garlic, onions, potatoes, carrots, turnips and other crops that really like cooler weather.
So during the dog days of summer, I sow. And from what I plant today and in the coming weeks, we will feast all fall and winter. To find out what to plant in your area, it is best to consult your local extension office. Here’s a link to ours: Garden Guide. The guide provides all the basic information you will need to get sowing, including what depth to plant the seeds and how far apart to plant them once they are ready for the garden.
Sowing seeds is really easy and fun to do. Pick up some seed starting trays from your local home and garden store along with some high quality seed starting mix. You’ll want some plant markers, too, so that you know what you’ve planted. And you will need to set up a spot for your seedlings that gets really good light. Fluorescent lights work just fine and are relatively inexpensive. The light source should be set up just a few inches from the tops of your seed trays. Since my shelves are a good foot or so from my light source, I set my trays up on old books to get them closer to the light until they sprout. Then I just remove the books as the plants get taller. Please don’t tell my librarian daughter about this.
Fill your seed trays with the seed starting mixture and sow your seeds at the recommended depth. Cover with soil and tamp down gently. Then water your sweet baby seeds. I water from the bottom up by pouring a few cups of water into the bottom of the seed tray. It will be absorbed up into the soil. I also give the seeds a gentle mist on the top of the soil, and that is how I will keep them watered until they are ready to transplant. Make sure there isn’t too much water setting in the bottom of the seed tray. You want them to be moist, but not really wet. There is no need to fertilize seeds at this point. They come equipped with everything they need to sprout. Isn’t that cool?
Place your seed trays under the lighting source. I cover mine with clear plastic domes until they develop their first real set of leaves. The dome helps to control temperature and moisture levels. Give the seedlings at least 9-10 hours of light every day. I just turn mine on in the morning when I get up, and shut it off at night when I go to bed. Seedlings need a little rest, too!
Here’s a list of what I sowed this morning. This is not a promotion, but just in case you are wondering, aside from seeds that I’ve saved from my garden, I get all my seeds from Baker Creek, because I adore their gorgeous catalog, and I’ve had excellent customer service from them for years now. They specialize in organic, heirloom seeds, and I believe that growing these wonderful varieties and preserving the heritage of our seeds is absolutely critical.
- Nero di Toscana or Black Palm Tree Cabbage – Gorgeous in the garden and wonderful in soups, stir fries.
- Calabrese Green Sprouting Broccoli – Produces sprouts instead of large heads. Great for salads and lasts well in the garden.
- Romanesco Italia Broccoli – An Italian heirloom that grows amazing Escher-like spirals and swirls. Can’t wait to try this one.
- Early Jersey Wakefield Cabbage – Produces early, smaller, cone-shaped heads. Nice for small gardens and smaller families.
- Bulgarian Giant Leek – These will take all winter to grow, and they are very pretty in the garden. Perfect for early spring leek and potato soup.
- Georgia Southern Collards – A classic that is easy to grow and necessary in the South. Plant twice what you think you might need!
- Swiss Chard Rainbow – The brilliant stalks of this beautiful plant are a welcome sight in the winter garden. The stalks are pink, yellow, orange, red and white. Chard is a delicious and healthy green for soups, and side dishes. Baby chard is gorgeous in salads.
In a few weeks, when the weather cools, I will plant the seedlings in the garden in soil that we‘ve enriched with lots of compost and organic matter. I will also direct sow lots of lettuce, arugula, Asian greens, snow peas, and spinach. I’ll probably direct sow some more collards and other greens, too. Spreading out the planting in this manner (succession planting) will extend our harvesting season.
I hope you try sowing some seeds! Please feel free to add your own comments or gardening tips.