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how to grow marijuana from seed part 1

Managing Weeds With a Light Touch (Part 1 of 2)

Before you declare an all-out war on weeds, learn more about them

If I were to rank the garden pests I’m most frequently asked about, I’d place weeds high on the list. Weeds manage to gain a foothold in even the most meticulously tended vegetable gardens.

A “weed” is commonly defined as a plant growing in a place where it is not wanted. This designation is somewhat subjective, since the same plant species can be considered a weed in one setting and a wildflower, medicinal herb, or nectar source for beneficial insects in another. Nevertheless, there is a consensus on the weedy nature of certain plant species such as thistles, docks, crabgrass, and many others. These species share characteristics that enable them to take over garden habitats when conditions are right.

To the degree that you gain a better understanding of the conditions suited to weed growth and are able to design and maintain your garden in ways that minimize such conditions, your battle with weeds will become briefer each year, and the need to resort to toxic weed control will be minimized or eliminated.

Weeds: The first soil conservationists

When examining a place where weeds grow, a little detective work usually reveals that the soil has been subjected to a disturbance at some point, leaving its surface bare of protective vegetation. In most vegetable gardens, soil disturbance is a routine part of gardening, associated with rototilling, hoeing, overhead irrigation, and other activities that disturb the soil. The mix of weeds that emerges is largely determined by the “seed bank” buried in the soil during previous seasons, or recently blown or flown in via wind or birds.

In nature, the correlation between disturbed soil and the appearance of weeds is part of a natural process called vegetation succession, a term referring to the fact that the first plant species to colonize a patch of bare, open soil will, over time, be displaced by other plant species in response to changes in the soil microhabitat. Thus, a meadow, if left undisturbed, may eventually become a forest.

Weed survival strategies

The early colonizers tend to be fast-growing annual broad-leaf plants like lamb’s-quarters and knotweed that produce thousands of seeds annually (over 72,000 seeds per year in the case of lamb’s-quarters). Moreover, the seeds of many such species can remain viable in the soil for decades, just waiting for the right conditions, such as soil disturbance, to enable them to germinate. The seeds also have special adaptations that enable them to migrate to new areas via wind, water, clothing, automobile tires, or birds.

Perhaps the most important agents of seed dispersal are migratory birds, many of whom fly thousands of miles in their seasonal travels. According to Mea Allan in her illuminating book Weeds: Unbidden Guests in Our Gardens, “Alfred Newton, a professor of zoology at Cambridge University, sent Charles Darwin the leg of a partridge with a hard ball of earth weighing 6½ ounces adhering to it. Darwin kept the earth for three years, but when he broke it up, watered it, and placed it under a bell glass, no fewer than 82 plants grew from it.”

Cultivating a tolerance for weeds

Given the bad press that weeds have received over the years, many gardeners find it difficult to develop a realistic tolerance level for weeds in their garden. Although keeping weed populations to a minimum is definitely important to the growth and vigor of edible garden plants as well as to overall garden appearance, complete eradication of all weeds is neither feasible nor desirable.

The bottom line is to recognize that the presence of some weeds is not only inevitable, it may actually be good for vegetable gardens. In his book, Weeds: Guardians of the Soil, Joseph Cocannouer describes the way in which deep-rooted weeds such as thistles, pigweeds, and nightshades are able to penetrate the subsoil, increasing openings for water and root movement and absorbing minerals such as phosphorus and potassium stored in the lower soil layers. Those minerals are brought up to the topsoil where they are made available to less aggressive plant species upon the death and decay of the weed that “mined” them.

Thistle (left) has sharp prickles, and nightshade (right) has poisonous berries, yet both have deep roots that penetrate the subsoil, increasing openings for water flow and root movement.

Sometimes weeds assist the work of gardeners in unexpected ways. A succinct example is provided in Mea Allan’s book: “F.C. King, for many years in charge of the famous garden at Levens Hall in England’s Lake District, found that the best way to secure a good crop of sound onions was to allow weeds to develop in the onion bed after about the first week in July. The growing weeds, by denying the onions a supply of nitrogen, improved their keeping qualities, and by digging in the weeds in the autumn, provided a supply of humus for the next crop.”

Other weeds should be tolerated because they can assist the gardener by serving as trap crops for pest insects. For example, gardeners in South Dakota report that by encouraging weedy grasses and broad-leaf weeds such as the annual kochia (Kochia scoparia) to grow as a barrier between the garden and adjacent open fields, grasshoppers that normally migrate from the dry pastures into irrigated gardens in the summer stop instead to feed on the weedy trap crop.

These examples of the beneficial role some weeds play in gardens are offered not as rationalizations for tolerating any and all weed growth, but rather as counters to the incessant barrage of media information that threatens all manner of horticultural havoc if weeds are tolerated at any level.

In setting weed tolerance levels it is important to ask at least five questions:
1. Which weed species are growing in the garden?
2. How aggressively do they grow and spread?
3. Where in the garden are they growing, and how visible are they?
4. How much damage to the crop plants, structures, or the overall aesthetics of the garden are they likely to cause?
5. What positive contributions are they making to the garden?

These questions can be answered by monitoring the garden through the growing season and by learning the names and behaviors of the weeds found growing there. By recording this information in a garden journal for a season or two, much information can be gained. The more adept you become at recognizing garden weeds, particularly in the seedling stage, the better you can judge which need immediate attention and which can be removed later or left alone.

The easiest way to identify a weed species is to compare your live specimen with a good photo-illustrated narrative description of common weeds in your area. Some useful books for identifying common garden weeds are listed in the source box at right.

Another good reason for learning to identify weeds is that some weeds act as indicators of relative levels of soil pH, salinity, moisture, and so on. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, a protégé of Rudolf Steiner, makes the case in his classic Weeds and What They Tell. By learning to recognize indicator weeds and what they say about soil conditions, the observant gardener can learn a great deal about general problems and/or opportunities in the garden.

Integrated weed management

Learning about the connection between weeds and disturbed soils often leaves gardeners wondering how they can maintain a vegetable garden without creating conditions that perpetually favor weeds. After all, isn’t at least some tilling, mowing, hoeing, or spraying required to plant and maintain a garden?

The answer is quite simple. In order to minimize weeds in the first place or to prevent their return, any tactic used to remove weeds must be combined with an action designed to modify the soil habitat so it becomes unfavorable for future weed growth. It is this element of habitat modification that is missing from conventional weed control strategies, particularly those that rely on herbicides.

Read Managing Weeds With a Light Touch (Part 2 of 2). Part 2 of this article focuses on ways to use integrated weed management methods to modify the habitat of the vegetable garden to exclude excessive weeds.

For a more detailed look at weeds, see the Bio-Integral Resource Center’s pamphlet Non-Toxic Weed Control.

—This article was originally published in Kitchen Gardener #24 (December 1999). It is a condensed version of chapter 9 of The Gardener’s Guide to Common-Sense Pest Control.

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037-Starting Seeds Indoors: The Non-Negotiables for Success, Pt. 1

Have you considered starting plants like tomatoes, eggplants, lettuce, and herbs from seed but worried that it was too hard and that you would kill them before they even get started? According to Craig LeHoullier, a frequent podcast guest, and joe gardener® blog team contributor, you’re not alone; but don’t let this hold you back from the joy that comes when you start seeds indoors.

As a longtime gardener, tomato expert and grower of thousands of seedlings, Craig equates growing plants from seed for the first time to be as scary an option for new and even experienced gardeners, as learning how to use a computer for the first time can be for senior citizens.

Craig emphasizes that you can’t let fear of failure hold you back from great potential success and the chance to grow varieties of plants that would otherwise not be available except for as seed.

Seed starting expert, Craig LeHoullier worked around our cameras and crew to demonstrate his very successful seed starting protocol. (Watch this show. A link in notes below.)

That’s part of it, ask any gardener, we’ve all killed our share of plants. So, before you even fill up a tray with soil, follow these non-negotiable keys to success with starting your plants from seed.

Start With Sterile Seed Starting Mix

Avoid problems up front by using a sterile seed starting mix or a soilless mix.

There are plenty of organic options too. Just make sure the package says sterile on it. This way you avoid introducing potential disease spores right from the start that can lead to dampening off later.

Sterile, soilless seed-starting mix is one of Craig’s non-negotiables for ensuring seeds have the best chance of thriving, even when planted densely as Craig commonly does. (photo-Craig LeHoullier)

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These mixes are fluffy and light, therefore root systems thrive, and the mix dries out quickly which means soils won’t be waterlogged. There is also less chance of fungus problems like damping off.

When it comes time to transplant seedlings like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, and you have them planted thickly in a nice fluffy sterile soil mix, the plants will come apart like a dream, transplant and adjust very quickly to their new homes.

With heavy clingy potting soils, serious root damage can occur during transplanting.

Maintain Sufficient Moisture

When you are trying to get seeds to germinate, consistent moisture is key. Using a watering can you can keep it near the surface of the soil and direct the spout, getting only minimal water on the foliage. The plants do a good job too of indicating when they need water.

Once they germinate, check them regularly. If they are vigorous, and their leaves are rigid, they don’t need water. If plants are getting thirsty, they start visibly wilting.

For a measure of how moist the soil should be, think of the consistency of a damp sponge.

Sow Seeds at the Proper Depth

How deep to sow seeds is a question many gardeners ponder. On the back of the seed pack, it usually indicates how deep to plant individual varieties of seeds. And while some seeds need light to germinate, most don’t. Warmth and moisture are more important.

Another key to germination success is to sow seeds at the proper depth. Most seeds don’t need light to germinate. These tomato seeds will get a light covering of soilless mix. (Photo: Stephen Garrett)

Use A Heating Mat

Most seeds prefer warm soil for optimum germination. A preferred range for many seeds is between 70-80 degrees F.

A heat mat is a thin, reusable, waterproof mat that is placed under the seed tray. It’s an excellent resource to raise soil temperature into the preferred range. The heat from the mat will increase the germination rooting area soil temperature about 20F.

Simple heat mats are very helpful in raising soil temperature to a range where seeds germinate quicker. Once germinated, the mats are no longer necessary. (Photo: Craig LeHoullier)

You can also purchase heat mats with optional thermostats that allow you to fine-tune the desired temperature. And if you really want to dial in a precise range, an inexpensive soil thermometer will get a more exact read on the soil temperature.

Check the back of the seed pack or with your local cooperative extension service, or online guides for information on the optimal temperatures for germination of seed varieties.

The Best Seeds to Sow Indoors

One of the factors that influence what seeds benefit from indoor sowing is seed size. If seeds are tiny, like lettuce and herbs like basil, they can easily get lost if you direct sow them in the garden. The problem is once they germinate, it’s hard to separate the weeds from the desired plants.

Another factor is how long it takes a particular plant to mature and produce. For tomatoes, eggplant and peppers, starting them indoors give them a jump on the season since it takes about two months from the time you sow the seeds until they are ready to be transplanted to the garden.

By sowing these seeds indoors, you get a head start with good sized plants into the ground outside at the earliest possible moment. For tomatoes, this means more fruit sooner!

Don’t be afraid to experiment too. Even with plants that you typically direct sow in the garden like beets or Asian greens. By starting these indoors, by the time they are ready to go into the garden, you can plant them exactly where you want them and not have to compete with weeds. Try new things and take notes so you can share your successes and failures with your gardening friends.

But just because instructions may say to sow directly outdoors, don’t let that inhibit experimenting with starting those same seeds indoors. Experimentation really is half the fun.

Age of Seed & Germination Test

If you’re like a lot of gardeners’ chances are you have seed left over from previous seasons. Is it still viable? Some seeds will be good for ten years or more. You won’t know until you try to germinate them.

If you’d like to gauge the overall viability of the lot, select 10 or 20 seeds and place them in a damp paper towel, so the seeds are thoroughly wrapped within. Place the towel in a resealable plastic bag to retain the moisture.

A germination test is a simple way to estimate the viability of a group of seeds.

In a few days, start checking for signs of sprouting. Once sufficient time has passed for the fresh seed of the same type to have germinated, make a note of the number of seeds sprouting from your total sample. This will give you a reasonable assessment of the germination percentage likely for the entire lot, and you can plan accordingly.

When Direct Sowing Makes Sense

Some seeds germinate and grow so quickly; there’s no reason to take up indoor space to start them early. Corn and beans are good examples.

Other seeds, even if started indoors, languish outside until soil temperatures reach a certain level. In such cases, it’s easier to sow those seeds directly outdoors. Squash, cucumbers, and melons are good examples.

Ideal Time to Start Seeds Indoors

Know the date for the possible last frost for where you live. Many online resources or your county cooperative extension service can provide this information. Once you know the date, work backward from there.

Seed packets and other online information will guide you in how many weeks before the last expected frost to sow seeds indoors.

For example, tomatoes take about eight weeks from sowing to planting outside after the last risk of frost has passed. Assume that date is April 15. You would sow seeds indoors around February 15. Then around March 15, as Craig does, transplant them to a larger container for the remaining month. By April 15 they are ready to be planted safely in the ground.

Peat Pots & Soil Blocks

Starting your seeds in peat pots (formed from peat moss) offers you the chance to skip the transplanting step.

Peat pots can be planted directly into the garden once your seedlings are ready.

Sometimes peat pots take longer to dissolve so you may want to peel away some of the peat, especially for any exposed material above the soil surface to prevent wicking moisture from the soil.

Soil blocks are an efficient way to grow out seeds without the use of plastic or extra casing. The added benefit is no transplant shock. Eliot Coleman uses soil blocks for all his seed starting. (Watch the episode of this scene. Link below)

Soil Blocks are a compressed or formed cube, made from a soil medium typically consisting of a sterile mix and compost.Well-known organic farmer, Eliot Coleman is a huge fan of using soil blocks for all his indoor seed starting. (We filmed an episode with Eliot for our television series where you can watch him working with soil blocks in his greenhouse.) A big appeal for fans of soil blocks is that you’re not using plastic or pots or unnecessary packaging.

A mechanical mold takes a damp soil mix and forms it into a plantable cube. You can pack many of these molds in a tray. You don’t transplant to a pot but you can bump up a seedling started in a smaller soil block to a larger one, several times if necessary.

When the seedling is ready to plant outdoors, place it directly into the garden and it quickly takes root with no risk of transplant shock.

I also include an entire section to soil blocks in my online gardening course, Master Seed Starting. I share videos on how to mix the block medium and how the blocks are designed to make transplanting really easy.

Soaking Seeds Before Planting

Some seeds will germinate faster if you soak them before planting, but no longer than 24 hours to prevent rot.

This applies to hard-coated seeds like morning glories, chard, beets, and okra. Refer to the back of the seed packet for information about which varieties to pre-soak.

Tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers do not have a hard seed coat and therefore don’t require pre-soaking before you plant them.

Simple Steps to Sowing Success

The following example is what Craig uses for growing out tomato seedlings. But this technique works well for many varieties of edibles and flowers too.

  1. Fill a flat of plugs/cells or other containers with a sterile seed starting mix and water it well. An egg carton with 12 planting areas or a milk carton with the top cut off will also work. Don’t be afraid to get creative. You don’t have to spend money on fancy containers. The one requirement is that whatever you start your seeds in must have a hole in the bottom of the container or a hole in each planting space. Good drainage is critical.
  2. Place the seeds on top of the moist medium.
  3. Sprinkle planting medium over the seeds, just to cover them, about 1/16th of an inch.
  4. Place the flat on top of an inexpensive heating mat in or near a sunny window.
  5. Place a piece of plastic wrap loosely over the flat.

A single layer of plastic wrap draped over seed trays is an efficient and inexpensive way to trap moisture until seeds germinate. Heat mats placed under the trays aid in rapid germination. (Photo: Craig LeHoullier)

  1. Every morning flips the plastic so that the moist side is on the outside and the dry side is what touches the soil. This prevents too much moisture, and if there are some disease spores, you won’t get dampening off. Dampening off happens at the soil line.
  2. The plastic keeps sufficient moisture in the mix for rooting.
  3. Once the majority of the seeds have germinated and are pushing against the plastic, remove the plastic.
  4. In essence, you have created a mini greenhouse. Germination of remaining viable seeds should happen within a day or two.
  5. Each cell may have 25 to 50 seedlings or more.
  6. Gently separate and transplant individual seedlings to larger, single containers after they have reached about 3-inches in height.
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Supplemental Lighting

During germination seed trays or containers resting on heat mats are located near a window and for a few weeks after that. In Craig’s case, no supplemental lighting is used yet.

But once seedlings have emerged, reached a height of about 3-inches and have started to form true leaves (the leaves that appear after the first set of “seed leaves” known as the cotyledon leaves), they also start to lean towards the light. This is the time Craig moves them under lights.

The heat mats no longer needed. Its job was to aid in germination.

Standard 40W shop lights have been Craig’s go-to choice for supplemental lighting for 30 years. While not as efficient as today’s LED lights, fluorescents are still an effective choice for starting seeds. (Photo: Stephen Garrett)

Craig uses shop lights (40-watt fluorescent bulbs) in his garage on a table for his sole source of supplemental lighting. The trays are placed on the table, and the lights are lowered to within about an inch of the seedlings. Now, the vertical growth begins to slow, and the root growth is encouraged.

Ensuring that seed trays are kept watered is also important at this stage.

Hardening Off

Direct sun is always better than artificial light. As soon as you are able (weather permitting), the sooner you can gradually expose the seedlings to direct sunlight the better. This process is called hardening off.

Progressive, incremental exposure of young plants to sunlight and outside weather, will acclimate them to the growing conditions of the garden and help make them strong, sturdy and more productive once they’re finally planted outside.

These tomato seedlings are getting their first sun exposure. This gradual process is known as “hardening off.” (Photo: Craig LeHoullier)

Temperature- Keep in mind that 32-degrees F is the temperature of death for tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and many other warm season plants.

Once the daytime temperatures are above freezing, set the seedlings outside for an hour on the first day (a cloudy day would best at first), two hours the next day and so on, building up to a full day. After you expose them to their daily dose of sunlight, bring them back inside and put them under the artificial lights. (Regular fluorescent bulbs are fine, you don’t need special grow lights). Once the nighttime temperatures are above 35 to 40-degrees F, you can leave the plants outside.

Wind & Moisture

During the hardening off period, wind can quickly dry plants out and kill them. Make sure to keep them watered. Hot or cold winds and cold rains can wreak havoc on young seedlings, leaving them tattered and damaged. Pay attention to the weather, especially during the hardening off period.

Bottom Watering

With bottom watering, cell packs are placed inside a water-containing tray. Water is wicked up through the bottom holes of the cells into the root zone. This is especially useful if you will be on vacation and can’t water the seedlings as needed. I came up with an easy and inexpensive DIY self-watering system for my seedlings. I demonstrate it in my Master Seed Starting course, and it’s saved my seedlings on more than one occasion when I’ve been busy and wasn’t able to monitor watering.

Make sure the reservoir is full if you will be gone for more than a few days. But, be careful not to overwater because you can starve your plants of oxygen if the roots get waterlogged. It’s a fine balance of providing enough moisture for your plants and then letting them dry out a little between waterings.

Transplanting Seedlings

  • Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants benefit from being transplanted to a larger container and growing on before you plant them in the garden.
  • Assuming seeds were started in small-celled packs or containers, it’s time to transplant seedlings when they are 3 to 4 inches tall and have their second set of leaves (called true leaves). At this point, one plant per container gives them plenty of room to grow and establish roots.

Craig takes his densely planted seed starts and plants them into their cells once they are about 3-inches tall. (Photo: Stephen Garrett)

  • Plant deeply. This helps seedlings form more roots along the stem and eliminates leggy and spindly plants. This also results in strong, sturdy plants by the time they are ready to go into the garden. You can plant most seedlings deeply to encourage strong stems and roots to develop.
  • Use a sterile seed starting mix. If you add compost, make sure you have not composted last year’s tomato plants which could harbor potential disease spores. The challenge is that a lot of the diseases like Fusarium wilt and Alternaria (which causes early blight) are not triggered until temperatures are in the 70’s or 80’s and then a sudden onset of fungal disease can quickly attack the plant through the roots and shut off the plant’s access to water. What you’re left with is a yellow wilting plant.

Links & Resources

joegardener Online Academy Three popular online courses on gardening fundamentals; managing pests, diseases & weeds; and seed starting!

Master Seed Starting – My newest online course teaching you how to master the art of starting your own plants from seed and seeding care! Registration closing soon, so don’t miss out!

Milorganite® – Our podcast episode sponsor and Brand Partner of joegardener.com

About Joe Lamp’l

Joe Lamp’l is the creator and “joe” behind joe gardener®. His lifetime passion and devotion to all things horticulture has led him to a long-time career as one of the country’s most recognized and trusted personalities in organic gardening and sustainability. That is most evident in his role as host and creator of Emmy Award-winning Growing a Greener World®, a national green-living lifestyle series on PBS currently broadcasting in its tenth season. When he’s not working in his large, raised bed vegetable garden, he’s likely planting or digging something up, or spending time with his family on their organic farm just north of Atlanta, GA.

How to grow marijuana from seed part 1

It’s that time in (technically) Spring when I already have my garden planning focused on fall crops. Not just the quick crops, I am pondering my root cellar veggies, the ones that will be feeding us in December, January, February, March, and hopefully into April. Now is the best time to create this garden plan, and some fall plants will benefit from being started from seed before the middle of June to have time to fully mature in our short growing season.

I partition my fall garden into the following categories:

Veggies that take all season to produce and are largely harvested all at once in late summer or early fall.

Veggies that take a solid half season to produce and thus need to be started in early Summer.

Veggies that mature quickly and are largely enjoyed fresh, those that are sown directly in the garden in late summer. (A subject for a future blog post.)

Sown in late February, these cabbages are just now starting to really head toward maturity in early June.

This blog post will focus on the middle group, what I am currently preparing to sow this week to ensure a successful fall garden in our growing zone. I will include how many weeks before last frost I aim to sow the veggies I discuss here so that if you live in a warmer zone, you can estimate when to sow for your growing zone. My best guess is 2-3 weeks later for each zone warmer, but that’s just an educated guess.

From my personal experience, there’s nothing worse than confidently sowing cabbages in the heat of mid-July, transplanting the stout seedlings out when it’s still warm and summery a month later in mid-August, only to have them not even form a full head by mid-October. With each passing year as I sow them a little earlier, I’ve realized that for some fall crops, an early June sowing is necessary for these foods to be given the opportunity to fully mature.

Soil blocks are our preferred seed starting method. They reduce the amount of plastic and provide a faster transition into the garden because they don’t get pot bound.

Once we hit late September, if the brassicas haven’t matured enough to start forming a head or curd (cauliflower), there’s little chance they will fully mature before the end of the season. Conversely, if they are more than halfway to maturity, they will continue to mature even as the day length shortens. It’s a fine line between starting too early and too late, so I encourage you to try a few different sowing dates with the same seed and see how they do for you.

Year to year weather fluctuations will also directly affect the speed with which the crops will mature. It’s always best to dig in and use your own experiential knowledge to fine tune your sowing schedule. I’ve started my fall broccoli too early and they’ve all been harvested by middle of September, which I considered a garden fail because they matured too quickly and a time in the garden when we were still flush with the late summer glut.

Long Season Crops

These foods are already in our garden, and include potatoes, onions, garlic, and brussels sprouts. They will be harvested at various times throughout the growing season, though largely later in summer with only enough time for a short crop to follow them as in the case of garlic and onions. All of this food will be tucked away, more or less as-is straight from the garden into our storage areas, for longterm consumption. I love these shelf-stable foods; they are the backbone of our winter diets. And we didn’t really start growing these in earnest until we had our current space. Before that time, we dabbled in onions and carrots, and occasionally grew brussels sprouts, but they were all for immediate consumption.

Potatoes go into the ground here right around the last frost and we leave them in the ground, patiently waiting in the ground for us to get around to harvesting them, which is usually around end of September.

Hopefully, you have some of these already planted in your garden if you’re living in short-season growing zones and have the space to grow these. If you have any extra long growing season, brussels sprouts and potatoes can probably still be added to your garden. Brussels sprouts can probably even still be sowed here in Minnesota for a fall harvest if they are under 100 days to maturity.

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Half Season Crops

This is really what I want to focus on today. These are foods that take more time than you think to mature, cool season vegetables that don’t seem like they need to be started until maybe August, but trust me when I tell you now is the time to start some of these. If you live in a slightly warmer zone, you can probably wait until the end of June or beginning of July to sow many of these.

Past experience has taught me that in order for cabbage and celery to develop fully in the fall, I must sow them in early June. It’s before my first ripe tomato and when my cucumbers are mere seedlings. And it is quite frankly the hardest thing to do in June: think about my first fall frost and work backwards to give these plants the best start possible.

I am not sowing them directly in the garden, but rather am using my soil blocker, indoor lights, and all the same resources we relied on so heavily to get a jumpstart on the growing season a few months ago. In case you missed it, you can read my Seed Starting post here.

I find sowing starts indoors during summer gives them a gentler welcome into the world, is easier to monitor moisture levels, and produces strong starts that are more resilient against pest and disease pressure, producing what will hopefully be a smooth transition to the garden in mid-July.

That being said, these plants still need to have the same, gentle hardening off process, slowly acclimating them to natural sunlight which is much stronger than our compact fluorescent shop lights. So a few weeks after germination I will start bringing them outside on our deck which gets partial shade for most of the day. Given our close-to-home mantra this year, our garden tasks are feeling much easier to accomplish as I am home most of the time and can tend to these plants between gardening and parenting tasks.

The fall garden is always here and there, tucked in and made possible by constant openings created as crops mature throughout the growing season.

Another imperative factor as you plan for this fall garden is where will you fit these seedlings into your garden? Do you have room right now, or will you have room soon? I keep a 4×20 foot long bed just for fall cabbages, and plan to tuck the rest of my fall garden in after my peas and then the faster maturing fall garden follows things like onions and garlic. So, think about your dynamic patchwork and how this garden will come to life amid your summer jungle.

Cabbage, Celery, & Cauliflower

The three slowest to mature fall garden friends are these wonderful vegetables. And along with some more heat tolerant lettuce, herbs, and beets, these will all be sown imminently indoors in my 2” soil blocks. To be honest, I am a little behind as I’d intended to sow these the first weekend of June this year based on my garden notes from 2019.

Sown in mid and late June, this Mardi cauliflower had just enough time to fully mature, and was remarkably cold hardy, surviving several chilly nights before harvest.

It does seem early, but most of the varieties recommended for fall harvest and storage and main season or storage varieties are recommended to sow in late Spring. Incidentally, all of these varieties need a lot of time in the garden to mature. And that does mean setting them out in the heat of summer, because as you know if you live in a cool zone, the heat can turn off as quickly as it turns on, and your fall garden must be well on its way before we start the rapid descent toward Autumn.

Sowed in mid-June and harvested November 13, 2019, this is a Passat green cabbage.

All the most delicious, root cellar-friendly cabbages we love growing need a good 3 months in the ground (as 4 week old transplants) to fully mature. That’s about 100 days. Think of all the cabbages I sowed at the same time as those super early Tiara cabbages, who I harvested in late May, all going into the ground on the same day in the end of March under row cover. Most of them won’t be ready until end of June or early July. That’s a full 3 months of growing, and the last 6 weeks were during some really ideal conditions and even some good heat.

I think of the fall garden as the reverse of that time frame. We start them during the height of summer and day length, and for their first six weeks outdoors (as four week old seedlings) they soak up the final heat of summer, and then the weather moderates to more similar conditions to our spring weather.

Savoy, Integro, and Tendersweet as an early summer harvest. We grow these twice a year for a near-constant supply of cabbage for slaws and krauts and stir fries.

My favorite fall garden varieties are:

Red cabbage: Integro (85 days) and Kalibos (74 days)

Savoy: Famosa (75 days)

Green cabbage: Capture (75 days), Tendersweet (71 days), and Passat (90 days)

Vitaverde (71 days)

Romanesco (73 days)

Can you see the theme here? Most of these things need almost a full 3 months in the garden to fully mature. Days to maturity typically means the time from when you transplant a seedling into the field to when it matures. These are merely guidelines, as you and I know that rarely do plants mature at the exact days to maturity.

I will sow a mixed tray of cauliflower, cabbage, celery, and head lettuce – plus herbs (cilantro, dill, and basil) – for ease of management. I will keep these under lights for the first few weeks until true leaves emerge on all seedlings, and then will start to harden them off in late June or early July. They will be sown indoors about 14-16 weeks before our first fall frost and transplanted into the garden in mid-July, which is approximately 10 weeks before my last frost.

This is not the only fall planting I will sow indoors this month.

Belstar broccoli sowed June 22, 2019 endured a little early November dusting of snow and ice. It was a near-perfect planting all maturing around the same time and sweetened by a few light frosts.

I will sow another tray of brassicas in another week or two during the second half of June. This will include things like my Tiara cabbage, which are faster to mature at 63 days – and, in complete disclosure, an experiment this year, as well as Belstar broccoli (66 days), which, as mentioned above, has been known to fully mature too quickly here if I sow it too soon, though I know this is one of the hardest ones to time right.

An October 2018 fall harvest included some quick maturing salad turnips seen here that were direct sown in early August.

Additionally, at that time, I will probably also sow my last heat tolerant head lettuce succession and even more herbs to ensure we have a steady stream of cilantro and basil all summer and well into fall. Beets will also be sown again in late June for a fall harvest, though I seem to have better luck with spring and summer beets than fall beets. And I am sure I won’t be able to resist a few more cauliflower, just to keep pushing my season and keep experimenting and learning. Some lessons take several failures to learn completely.

Taking Cover

The other thing we do in fall, as needed, is add row cover to our fall plantings if multiple hard frosts are predicted. Similar to how we approach our spring garden, you can read more about our methods in my succession planting post called Take Cover

The Direct-Sown Fall Garden

Another fantastic fall garden crop is the carrot. Carrots can be sown any week from now through the middle of July here in Minnesota, maturing in the fall, at which time after a few fall frosts they will be ready for harvest whenever you need them in the kitchen. There are varieties specifically for storage so enjoy perusing seed catalogs and choose your varieties carefully. We currently enjoy growing Bolero, Danvers, and Nelson for our storage carrots, though I find availability of certain hybrid carrot varieties changes every few years.

We grow dozens of pounds of carrots each fall, tucking them carefully into our root cellar for winter consumption, and I just sowed my first main season carrot bed and will sow carrots a few more times in the coming month to ensure we have as full as basket of fall carrots as possible.

Carrots for months! We grew enough carrots to feed us well from November through about mid-April in addition to all the carrots we enjoyed fresh from July until November.

It’s one of those foods I don’t think we will ever grow enough of, but I guarantee we will keep trying until we do.

The Quick Fall Garden

There are other fall garden veggies that mature much faster and thus don’t need to be sown until July such as bok choy, kohlrabi, broccoli raab, mustard greens, and such. Additionally, there are many other direct-sown fall garden suspects like arugula, spinach, radishes, and others which will be the subject of a future blog post as their timing and succession planting is not for another month or more, so the good news is we have a little time before we have to find space in the garden for these goodies.

I hope if you’ve made it this far, you now have a pretty good understanding of how we make the most of the fall season in our garden, and can see that it involves most of the summer months to successfully come to fruition. The garden has a way of keeping us humble and perennial students, and I hope this article helped you formulate a plan for your own fall garden.