Finishing the indoor planting

 by David Hinks

Another week and it still feels like winter is dragging on forever. However the forecast for the next week is more promising. In order to be ready to start planting I bought a couple of packages of onion sets. These are one-year old onions that have been grown under controlled conditions. They will grow into sizable onions for harvest towards the end of August. While it is possible to grow onions from seed they would have to have been planted indoors in February. In the case of my main onion crop for storage onions I usually opt for the ease of sets – these are the simplest and most dependable method.

As soon as one of the raised beds is dry enough the onion sets will be planted. For their early growth onions prefer cool weather conditions and plenty of moisture. But as I stressed last week don’t try to work the soil too early. In order to determine if soil is workable, take a handful and squeeze – if it stays together in a ball it is still too wet, if it crumbles it is ready.

While things appear to be moving slowly outdoors the indoor seedlings are growing at a great rate – I start to ask myself again if I planted the tomatoes too early as they reach for world domination. I am starting to leave the window open a crack on sunny days to reduce the growing temperatures to about 20 C. – hopefully that will slow down the growth a bit.

The sweet potatoes are also starting to produce slips – hopefully these have some roots on the bottom end.

It’s now time for our first harvest. The mesclun mix that we planted on March 21 is now ready for clipping enough leaves for a very tender salad – just three weeks after planting! I try not to clip more than one-third of the plant at any one time – this gives it a chance to re-grow for another harvest. I will keep it under lights until it is warm enough to put outside and get the much more intense rays of the sun. The plants are relatively frost hardy but I want them to keep growing fairly quickly so I will put them outside if the daytime temperature is forecast to be above ten to twelve C. but will bring them back indoors if the night-time temperature is forecast to drop below 7 or 8 C.

We are now about 5 weeks away from the magic May 24 weekend when we will be planting most of our frost-sensitive heat-loving vegetables outdoors. I am going to start my last trays of seeds and bulbs that I will be growing indoors under lights so that they can get a real head-start when it is time to put them in the garden.

Many of the seeds that I am planting do not like to have their roots disturbed when they are transplanted into the garden.  I am using pots that I can put the plant and its pot directly in the garden. I use a pot that is biodegradable and will break down over time as it lets the plant’s roots grow through the pot wall. There are three possibilities for pots that I am familiar with – peat pots, coir pots and CowPots. I have used peat pots very successfully in the past but some gardeners are opposed to them as they use a non-renewable resource. Coir pots are made of Coconut husks – I have used them the last couple of years but found that they did not break as much as I had hoped in the soil. This year I am trying something new – CowPots – they are made from the composted solids of cow manure and are marketed as breaking down very easily. I am using the 4 inch (10 cm) size. I will keep you posted as to how successful I am with them.

The seeds I am planting today include okra, bitter melon, cucumber, cantaloupes, squash and pumpkin.

I am also planting some tubers – dahlias and cannas – in 5-inch pots (14 cm). I am using plastic pots as these will transplant very easily into the garden or into containers as they will have developed a healthy root mass in four weeks.

I mentioned last week you would be hearing very soon about community gardens and growing your own food from the Neighbourhood Tomato – one of the first events will be at the Mill of Kintail Gatehouse this Saturday April 20 from 10am until noon with yours truly talking about the garden calendar and helping you to develop your own plan for growing a vegetable garden. Check out the Neighbourhood Tomato website to register – it’s free!!