The cold wet weather of spring actually helps germination of cool season crops. Many early crops can become bitter in summer heat. With a couple weeks to go before our last frost, we want to sow as much as we can of these cool season crops now to make the most of the growing season. Here's some of our best tips for success in direct seeding.
Tip 1: It's important to wait for the top several inches of soil to be dry and crumbly enough that the soil doesn't stick to your hoe as you run it across the surface. The soil should fall away in small chunks or crumbles. The danger of working soils that are too wet is smearing the soil, which causes clots and the destruction of the soil structure. Try to stay patient.
Tip 2: It’s also important to prep the garden and do a good preseason weeding. Pay special attention to grasses that spread roots underground and other perennial weeds. Dig 'em now! Follow those root trails and dig 'em where 'er they lead! These become nearly impossible to remove without disrupting tender young seedlings and they grow aggressively.
As a final prep, add any needed soil amendments before planting. Compost can be added and mixed in easily in an unplanted bed. So much easier than trying to remedy a nutrient problem when your plants are already suffering.
Tip 3: Plan for thinnings where possible
Before sowing, consider if the crop could be selectively harvested as young seedlings for table use. If so, sowing more thickly than the plants ultimately need to be spaced, will allow you to harvest tender young ‘thinnings’ for early enjoyment.
Spinach seedlings getting established!
This works great for any crops that are harvested for their leaves, like spinach, lettuce, arugula, cilantro and even beets and radish-- all those crops that can be grown as microgreens! NOTE: It's best to sow certain crops, like spinach, more generously anyway-- to make up for its naturally low germination rates, whether you plan to thin or not!
Just remember to watch and be ready to thin the plants when they reach 3-4" tall. That way the plants you leave to grow to full maturity won't be stressed by overcrowding.
Added bonus! This process allows you to select the strongest, most vigorous plants to let grow-- which will mean a better harvest! A form of survival of the fittest...
Tip 4: Prepping and sowing
Create furrows with the right depth for the seeds you’re planting. Most seeds need a sowing depth of approximately 2-3 times their width or thickness. Follow the packet recommendations. Use a dowel, a tool handle, or the V shaped corner on a piece of lumber to press clean furrows into a well-prepared loose garden bed to the right depth. For small seeds like arugula, carrots and lettuce, this will be an extremely shallow furrow (1/4" or so).
For larger seed crops like peas, beans and corn— consider laying the seeds out on the surface of the soil instead of creating a furrow. Use your finger to poke the seeds into the soil to the desired depth, then pat the soil back over the top, closing the hole.
Laying out corn seed for planting
Following behind, poking in seeds to the right depth
Tip 5: Space requirements
Figure out the proper in row spacing for the crop you’re planting—- the space between the seeds. Decide whether you're planting to harvest thinnings or not-- and how thickly you'll seed. Don't be too stingy with the seed... but don't be too generous either. The ideal is an evenly spaced trail of seeds in the furrow or row. Finally, decide how much space is needed between your furrows or rows.
Tip 6: Keep it firm!
Good seed-to-soil contact is important! Seeds germinate best when they have somewhat firm soil surrounding them. Firm soil does a better job of pulling moisture from the surrounding soil and transmitting it to the seed. Loose soil dries out more quickly and moisture has a harder time moving through the soil to the seed for proper germination.
So now you've poked your large seeds to the desired depth; or placed your seeds in the furrow and brushed soil on top of ‘em to the desired depth. Next tamp the soil so that it's snug-- either with your open palms or stand up and gently tamp the row with the backside of the tines of a ridged garden rake. Don't be over zealous and don't be timid-- just a gentle "tucking in" is all it takes for healthiest germination. If your soil is a little on the wet side, do this gently!
Tip 6: Watering
If you planted into moist soils, you shouldn’t need to water—- the soil will deliver the water to the seeds for germination. Making sure the soil is moist will help with germination.
If it's been a while since you planted and you feel you need to check the soil moisture to ensure it is still moist enough, check next to the row at the same depth you planted the seeds. If there is moisture there, don’t water.
If you have sandy soils or have had a dry spring, you'll need to assess and monitor the soil moisture carefully and water if needed. Resist the urge to water too frequently, especially with cold water, which will keep the soil cooler.
Special consideration!! Moisture is this absolutely critical for establishing carrots. We've had good success planting carrot seed into moist soil and sprinkling a thin layer of hay or straw across the row. The thin layer allows the strands of hay to shade the ground just enough to prevent the soil from drying out. But the emerging carrots have enough sunlight to grow. If you use this method make sure you don't get the hay or straw too thick.
Others have had good success covering the row with a board to prevent the sun from drying the soil surface. Another strategy is a single layer of wet burlap strips. These strategies require keeping a CLOSE eye, checking at least 2x a day to watch for signs of seedlings emerging. Remove the board or burlap when you see them coming.
Tip 7: Weeds and Weeding
Invest the majority of the season's weeding energy upfront. It'll pay BIG benefits. Tiny seedlings are quickly overwhelmed by weed competition. Pay close attention to when your seedlings come up and any weeds that may be getting established. Resolve to weed and thin religiously during that first month. This will get your garden well established. Once established a little weed competition won’t be AS detrimental.
We like to ‘rub out’ tiny weed seedlings. Or just pinch them off if they're coming up between your plants. Another option-- if you have loose dirt, you can just bury them! YUP! No kidding! Just make sure all the leaves are buried.
Tiny weeds are tiny problems. They're so easy to take care of when they’re little—but timing is everything. Weeds can grow inches in a matter of days. The bigger the weed, the bigger the problem. So investing dedicated time upfront-- when the weeds are little-- will save you A LOT of time and frustration.
Get 'em when they're little!
Your future-self will "thank you" for getting those weeds early! Your mantra when it comes to weeds is: "Get 'em when they're little!" Little weeds—little problems. BIG WEEDS-- BIG PROBLEMS!!
Our best to you,