Getting Started on a Summer Garden — in Winter
With the dead of winter upon us, the hot vegetable growing season seems so far away. Believe it or not, your nose will soon be running with the spring pollen and your shirt will be wet with the summer heat. Yes, I am speaking of the not-so-great parts of summer.
Although I prefer winter, one of the great things about summer is the garden and all it produces. I dream of that first juicy vine ripened tomato and cool sweet watermelon.
So, when do I start planting the highlight of my summer, the garden? Just as the plum blooms before the oak, your vegetables and herbs are going to have specific sprouting times and requirements.
Like me, I am sure that you do not have time for setting aside many different planting dates. I have obtained great results with setting apart only a few days to plant. Here’s how I do it.
- 6 weeks before last frost date. Plant the “nightshades,” tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant in flats. I also sow herbs such as basil, parsley, sage, thyme, summer savory, sweet marjoram, and chives to get a head start. Now is the time to get your garden tested.
- 2 weeks before last frost date. Transfer my vegetables to larger containers. Seed carrots and additional thyme directly in garden. If the soil is workable (crumbles when rolled into a ball and pressed with your finger) in the garden, this is a good time to amend it.
- 2 weeks after last frost date. If the soil is workable, transplant plants in containers to garden. Seed other vegetables, cucumber, squash, pumpkin, watermelon, melon, corn, beans, and peas and the herbs such as cilantro, dill, oregano, and borage. The reason for sowing these plants directly in the ground is that they do not transplant as well. Don’t hesitate to sow more of what you planted in containers if you wish. Plant another batch of tomatoes for late season harvest. The ground should be a consistent 70 degrees for most of the plants to germinate correctly. Before I plant, I check the forecast to ensure the week ahead will be warm. It is the average last frost that we are going by; there can be freak cold spurts every decade or two. If the weather has been cold, don’t hesitate to wait a week.
- 4 weeks after last frost date. Sow the okra. It also would be prudent to seed another batch of squash, cucumbers, and beans, for they tend to quickly peak in their fruiting cycle.
Sample Planting Calendar for Zone 8
- Feb. 1: Basil, parsley, sage, thyme, summer savory, sweet marjoram, chives, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant in flat trays or containers.
- March 1: Sow carrots and thyme directly in ground.
- April 1: Sow cilantro, parley, dill, oregano, borage, chives, cucumbers, beans, peas, watermelons, melon, squash, pumpkin, and corn in garden. Wait a couple more weeks to plant your okra.
Well, there it is! A day to plant all of your vegetables and herbs, set up on just 4 different days.
Sure, you’ll be in the garden a lot more than that, having war with bugs and disease and pulling weeds, all under that hot summer sun. But oh, how it will all be worth it when you get that first large ripe tomato for that first tomato sandwich!