The weather has been so unpredictable these days, it’s a confusing time to be a gardener. One sunny day hits 75, while the next brings an 18-degree night. The trees are budding, the garlic greens are going gangbusters and every warm day feels like a jumpstart to spring.
But, let’s be real. it’s still March, and while we are still a few months away from planting those first tomatoes, there are plenty of things you can do to get growing. Here’s what I’m up to:
Starting warm-weather crops
Now is the perfect time to get your heat-loving, long-season seedlings started, especially peppers, which sometimes take a few weeks to germinate. By mid-March, I will have started all of my seedlings so they are big enough to plant outside around the second week of May.
For only about $25, you can build a lo-fi light setup that will get up to four flats of seedlings off to a great start. All you need is a shop light with two 4-foot fluorescents. No need to spring for the expensive grow lights; a regular white fluorescent has the full spectrum of light seedlings need. You can even turn an old bookshelf into a seed-starting station by mounting to the inside top part of the shelf.
Once you have your lights installed, your seedlings will need about 10 to 12 hours of light, which is easy to set up using a standard timer. Seedlings also benefit from airflow (it makes their stalks stronger), so try to have a fan nearby that provides a gentle breeze.
Then, in April, when it starts warming up, you’ll want to bring the seedlings outside a few hours each day so they build up a tolerance before you plant them in May.
Now is also a great time to start working on structures for climbing varieties such as peas, cucumbers, edible flowers and more. I like to make trellises from materials that are found nearby, such as large branches or dried bamboo stalks, but you also can buy trellis materials and netting. One year I used a copper plumbing pipe to make a large trellis for our pumpkins.
Plant peas, shallots
and onions now
All of my farmer friends’ Instagram and Facebook pages are being flooded with pics of people planting outside a full two weeks ahead of schedule. As soon as your ground can be worked, you can plant peas outside. You also can plant onion seedlings and bulbs.
Every St. Patrick’s Day I like to plant shallots. If you’ve never grown them before, they are like the alien of the onion world. Each shallot divides to grow six to eight, which adds a nice geometric flair to the gardening landscape. And, they are delicious, a mix between garlic and onions. They are especially great for caramelizing, roasting and cooking into soups.
If the weather stays on the warmer side, you also can start direct sowing kale, carrots, radishes, lettuces and other cool-loving crops to get a jumpstart. Warmer temps speed up germination times, so any days that are in the 50s would get those spring greens growing fast.
For more information regarding an indoor garden, please visit ReadingEagle.com.