Spring is in the Air!

April brings the primrose sweet, Scatters daisies at our feet. –Sara Coleridge

I’m not too certain about seeing daisies or primroses this early, but the long, hard winter is finally over! Spring is in the air! The birds are coming back from points south, daffodils and tulips are poking their heads above ground, and there have been reports of the sounds of peepers further south. By mid-month, we should be able to put out hardened-off pansies and dianthus, and definitely will be seeing signs of perennials emerging from the soil. Forsythia will be blooming soon, their bright yellow blossoms bringing us sunshine even on the cloudiest of days. And from the way April has started off so far, we should certainly be seeing some May Flowers next month.

If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to start vegetable or flower seedlings indoors so they will be large enough to get a good jump on the season when they can finally go outside. Use a light mix, formulated for seed starting. The little seedlings will not be able to break through mix that is too heavy or packed, resulting in poor germination rates or weak seedlings. A warm spot is best for starting seeds; the top of the refrigerator is a favorite of mine. An adjustable-height grow-light or full spectrum fluorescent bulb is helpful or necessary for proper germination of some seeds, and a must have for any sort of significant seedling growth. The light should be on at least 12 hours a day, and positioned so that you do not observe any sort (or at least minimal) stretching or reaching of the seedlings. Ideally, the bulb should be approximately 2-3″ above the tops of the seedlings at any time. Take care not to keep the seeds or seedlings too damp; it is best to water them from the bottom. Fill the catch tray with water and allow the soil’s capillary action to take up as much as it needs. Make sure you do not let the seedlings sit in a wet tray!

Once the weather has warmed sufficiently outside and the seedlings are large enough, they should be subjected to several days of ‘hardening off’. Being grown indoors under the calmest of conditions, with no wind, no variable temperature, and light only from a bulb does not prepare them very well for the difficulties of the outside world. To help the seedlings adjust to the outdoors, they should be gradually introduced to varying degrees of sunshine and shelter. Start by bringing them outside on a calm, slightly overcast day, or put them in light shade. Be sure to bring them inside at night; the walls of the leaves have to thicken to adjust to cooler temperatures, which takes several days. Over the period of about a week, leave them outside for a little bit longer into the evening, and subject them to more sunshine and wind exposure each day. You will be able to observe that the plants themselves appear stronger, their leave possibly a darker green than when they were growing indoors. Once the night time temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees, it is safe to plant outdoors. Usually around the end of May, in this area of the country.

Once the soil dries out a little bit from all this rain that’s been falling, plants like peas, lettuce, and carrots can be directly seeded into prepared beds. They are much more cold-hardy than tender tomatoes, squash and peppers, and the sooner they are planted, the sooner we can have salads fresh from the garden!