Once your garden’s soil is in good shape you can think about planting. Actually, you should have been thinking about planting some crops like tomatoes about 6 weeks ago. And I don’t mean planting in the garden.
Warm season crops like tomatoes generally require several months to mature and produce fruit. Even if you live in Kansas and can expect seven or eight frost-free growing months, you will want to give those jalapeno peppers a jump start by starting seeds indoors. It’s really easy.
Four to 6 weeks before the last frost date for your area, you’ll collect some likely containers: peat pots, small plastic pots, fiber egg cartons and even plastic water bottle bottoms will work if you poke some holes in them for drainage. Once you have your containers in hand, source some quality potting soil or seed starting mix, fill your containers and plant a couple of seeds in each.
Water thoroughly and gently and place under a grow light, in a well-lit window or even in a temperature controlled greenhouse if you have access to one. In a week or so seedlings will start to appear — by the time the seedlings are well established you should thin each pot to a single robust plant by pinching off the stem of those you want to get rid of. As the seedlings outgrow their starter containers, you can transplant them into larger pots and grow them on until they are ready for the garden.
Planting starts in the garden is easy, but you need to harden them off before they can live outdoors. This is accomplished by moving the plants outdoors to a relatively protected area for an hour or two at a time initially. Avoid windy full-sun sites until the plants can withstand a day in their protected area without harm.
Once you get the hang of starting your garden from seed, you will reap the rewards offered by thousands of fruit and vegetable varieties instead of the score or so available as plants from your local nursery or garden center. Either way, you'll be able to eat the freshest, most delicious produce there is.
Watch the full episode! Hanks shares hints like these in each episode of Tough Grit. Visit Tough Grit online to view this episode and many more. The flight zone tips above appeared in Episode 15, “Green Thumb.”
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.