The Great Outdoors


Doug Hackbarth - Broadview Florist & GreenhousesA lot of people are get enthused about gardening early especially when it comes to starting tomato seeds. Trust me, the first of April is soon enough. Instead of sowing tomato seeds too early, let’s simply get ready to sow the seeds by locating the varieties that we want and getting them ordered. One of the best catalogs for tomato and pepper seeds is called Totally Tomatoes and you can get that online through Totally

After you order your seeds, get the growing media and pots or cell-packs ready so that on April first you are ready to begin.

The best growing media for starting your seeds is going to be any of the artificial soils, ones that contain no real dirt but rather a combination of peat, vermiculite and perelite. These are available at all garden centers and “big box” stores. Using an inexpensive, heavy potting soil or worse yet, dirt from your garden is just asking for trouble…poor drainage and disease is bound to ruin your best efforts.

After planting your seeds, cover the top of your soil with a light coating of either dry Canadian peat moss or dry vermiculite then mist it to get it moistened without washing away the seeds.

Now let’s talk about the proper time for sowing seeds in our area. We are zone 5 which in my book means that frost-free date is somewhere between May 1 and May 30, your guess is as good as mine but let’s assume around Mother’s Day. Please note that when that day arrives, you re-evaluate the weather situation and use your best judgement.

If we back up from Mother’s Day to April 1 we see about six weeks. That is enough time for tomatoes to be ready for transplanting outside. Peppers need one to two weeks more so late March for them.

Do you want to plant something now? Pansies, begonias, seed geraniums (why would you want these), petunias, impatiens, and lobelia are a few flowers that need an early start, plant them today.

As for early vegetables, all of the cold crops need to be planted in late February, so right now, get it done. These include broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, head lettuce, kale, collards and onions. In late March plant egg plant, peppers, and tomatoes. Late April is soon enough to plant the delicate vegetables such as cucumbers, cantaloupe, okra, pumpkin, squash and watermelon. Also, fast growing flowers to be included in the list of late April are cleome, cosmos, marigolds and zinnias.

Just a few tips on indoor growing of seeds; use a good artificial soil-less mix, water the soil before planting the seeds, if you use old containers wash with soap then rinse with bleach but only use the bleach at a rate of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Most seeds germinate best at temperatures between 68 and 70 except the cold-crop seeds that would rather start at around 55 degrees.
Transplant seedlings as soon as you have a set of “true” leaves, this helps prevent damping-off disease (Rhizoctonia).

Fertilize once established but at one half the normal rate.

Place cold crop seedlings in a cool place, 48 to 50 degrees in bright light. You may substitute bright light with a twin fluorescent light fixture using two 40-watt tubes, one cool white and one “grow light” (violet). In May when taking the plants outside, do it 2 weeks before planting in the ground and take them out on a cloudy but warm day and let them harden-off in an area that is not full sun.

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Doug Hackbarth

Doug's is the former owner of Broadview Florist & Greenhouses in Waynedale. He authors a garden & landscaping article in the newspaper. In his adolescence he attended Hillcrest, Kekionga and Elmhurst HS. His expertise has been shared in print, tv and radio. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer