Poor Pollination

Poor Pollination, Blog post

Summer is a great time of the year. Our flowers are blooming and our gardens are growing. However, sometimes we have disappointments in the garden such as when our vegetable crops don’t produce viable fruits for us to eat. There are many reasons for that, but most of them we cannot help with. Just be patient and they will work themselves out.

Zucchini, squash, and cucumbers have been known to produce fruits that develop into only a small fruit that then falls off the plant. The reason for this is due to poor pollination. The plants in the cucurbit family have separate male and female flowers. This time of the year, only the male plants are present in the plants. To have a fully pollinated fruit that will develop to maturity, the plant needs the female flower to provide the fruit itself, but it needs to be pollinated by the male flower. A female flower is easily identified because you will see a small forming fruit behind the flower. Often times, people see the flowers on the plant and then get discouraged because a fruit doesn’t form, but both types of flowers are necessary to get fruits.

Poor pollination can also be caused due to lack of pollinators. Bees and other insects are necessary in cucurbits to ensure that the pollen is moved from the male flowers to the female flowers. Some years the weather isn’t desirable to the pollinators or we have a low number of pollinators present, which will lead to poor pollination causing the small fruits to drop off before fully developing. This year it has been quite rainy which leads to less pollination because bees don’t like to fly in the rain. Be careful when spraying for squash bugs and squash vine borers to help reduce injury to pollinating insects.

blossom end rot zucchini

Blossom End Rot on Zucchini

Blossom end rot is another reason that small fruits may not fully develop and then fall of your plants. Blossom end rot is an environmental problem that affects many of the plants in our garden including tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, and watermelons. This is actually a calcium deficiency within our plants. Calcium is often found in adequate quantities in Nebraska soils, however, it cannot be moved throughout the soil and into the plant without even moisture. So, the problem isn’t due to lack of calcium, it is due to uneven moisture in the soils. In Nebraska, especially in the beginning stages of plant development, moisture is typically uneven due to heavy rains in between dry spells. Using calcium on your plants will not help this issue. Give the plants time and they should begin to develop normal fruits with no blossom end rot on them later in the season. Typically, we only see blossom end rot for the first couple of harvests in a season. You can still eat the fruits that develop with blossom end rot, you would just need to cut the rotten portion of the fruit off.

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Squash bugs on a Zucchini

Squash bugs and squash vine borer are coming to take over our gardens soon. This is the time of year to watch out for these problematic, common insects found affecting our cucumbers, zucchini, and the other cucurbits. Pay attention to your garden to help prevent damage. You can scout for the eggs of the squash bug. You will notice a group of tiny, copper colored eggs gathered near the intersection of the veins on the underside of the leaves. Remove and destroy the eggs as you find them to reduce the population. For squash vine borer, wrap the base of the plant in aluminum foil to stop the females from laying the eggs on your plant. You can use insecticides for both of these, just be careful to do it in the evening when the bees aren’t flying and don’t spray the flowers with insecticides to help with pollination.

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Harvesting from your Garden

Harvesting from garden

I love this time of the year, not because of the extreme heat, but because my garden is beginning to produce large quantities of vegetables for my family to enjoy in our meals and to preserve for the winter months. Sometimes it is hard to determine the best harvest time and use for the vegetables from a garden but here are a few tips to remember.

Tomatoes are a great choice for a vegetable garden. They can be preserved in so many ways to be enjoyed throughout the entire winter. The anticipation for our tomatoes to begin to ripen is difficult, but once they begin, they grow strong. This year we have had to wait a little longer than normal for our tomatoes to begin to produce. Due to the high heat in June, poor pollination occurred.

For harvesting tomatoes, it is best to wait until the tomato is firm and colored correctly for the particular variety you are growing. Make sure you know what you planted to know what color they should be. If the temperatures get too hot, they may soften if left on the vine until they are the correct color, when that occurs, it would be best to pick tomatoes early and allow them to ripen indoors.

Tomatoes stored in the refrigerator can only be stored fresh for 4-10 days. According to Alice Henneman, a Registered Dietician with Nebraska Extension, tomatoes can be frozen raw with or without the skins to be used in cooked recipes for months later. Tomatoes can also be processed into salsas, paste, sauce, and juice for storage and use later in the year in other forms.

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Salsa made from my garden

Zucchini is another great plant for your garden. Zucchini plants are easy to grow and will produce plenty of harvest for a family from only one or two plants. If you planted too many zucchini plants they are easy to store as well. Zucchini should be harvested when the fruit is young and tender and when your fingernail easily penetrates the rind. Most zucchini should be harvested when they are 1 ½ inches in diameter and 4 to 8 inches in length. Zucchini is easily missed and they are fast growing vegetables. If you have some zucchini harvest that is too large for grilling or slicing for other recipes or for freezing, you can use the large produce for baking. Remove the seeds and shred what is left for use in many baking activities like zucchini bread or muffins. Fresh zucchini can be stored in the fridge for 5-14 days.

Peppers should be harvested when they are firm and full sized. If it is a red, yellow, or orange variety, they need to be left on the plant for an additional 2-3 weeks for coloration to occur. Peppers can be frozen for consumption later in uncooked foods or in cooked foods. Fresh peppers can be stored in the fridge for 2-3 weeks if handled properly.

Cucumbers should be harvested when they have grown to the size that is best for the use and the size determined by the variety. If you are using the cucumber for a sweet pickle or for baby dill pickles you would want the cucumbers to be 1 ½ to 2 inches long. If you are using them for regular dill pickles it is best to pick them at 3-4 inches in length. For fresh slicing cucumbers harvest when they are 7 to 9 inches long. It is best to harvest daily and harvest cucumbers before they get too large with large seeds inside. Cucumbers can be used fresh for 10-14 days.

The harvest information for this article came from the NebGuide: When to Harvest Fruits and Vegetables by Sarah Browning, Lancaster County Extension Educator. The freezing guidelines came from food.unl.edu

 

Problems in the Garden

Now that summer is in full swing, our gardens should be growing well now. It is at this time of the year when we always tend to see many different diseases and environmental conditions on our vegetable garden plants.

blossom end rot zucchini

A zucchini developing with blossom end rot

One of the most common problems we see early in the growing season is blossom end rot. This is an environmental condition where the end of the fruit that is not attached to the plant begins to rot away. It starts as a flat, dry, sunken brown rot on the blossom end of the fruits. Gray mold can occur in this rotten spot of the fruit, as it progresses. Blossom end rot is caused by a calcium deficiency while producing fruit. In Nebraska, there is rarely a lack of calcium in the soil, but calcium needs to be dissolved in water to be absorbed into the plant, so, it often occurs in conditions of dry soil. Blossom end rot can occur in tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, or watermelons.

Drought stress, low daytime humidity, high temperatures, and rapid vine growth favor blossom end rot. Applying calcium to the soil or to the plant is not beneficial. It is best to just maintain consistently moist but not saturated soil. It will also help to use organic mulch near the base of plants to keep the soils moist. Often the first ripe fruits are affected and later produce is fine. Remove infected fruits at the beginning of the season and later ripening fruits should not be affected.

Scorch is another problem we often see in the summer months, especially when the temperatures range as high as it has been recently and rain is scarce. Currently scorch has been found on bean plants. When scorch appears on our plants the edges of the leaves will turn brown and papery. Wilting and leaf scorch can be reduced with regular watering during prolonged dry periods. Mulching around the base of plants will hold moisture in the soil.

Squash bugs and squash vine borer are seen in our gardens every year. With squash bugs, we will see yellow speckling on the leaves and feeding damage can appear on the fruits. You may also see rusty colored eggs on the underside of the leaves that can be removed and destroyed. With Squash Vine Borer, rapid death and wilting of the plants will occur, once they are found in our plants, there is no cure.. These pests feed on plants in the cucurbit family, which includes zucchini, squash, cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumbers, pumpkins, gourds, etc. Squash vine borer can be controlled by wrapping the stem of your plants with aluminum foil or a toilet paper or paper towel tube to stop the females from laying their eggs on your plants. Other controls include Carbaryl (Sevin), Permethrin (Eight), or bifenthrin (Bifen), or Bt for the squash vine borer. This will need to be reapplied every 10-14 days throughout the growing season. It is best to switch between at least two of these products to avoid resistance from developing. Always follow the label recommended rates and follow the pre-harvest interval listed on the label when harvesting fruits and vegetables after using chemicals. Spray the undersides of the leaves and the base of the plant thoroughly. All sprays should be done later in the evening to avoid damage to bees and other pollinators.

The information for this article came from Nebraska Extension’s Hort Update. This is a monthly news column covering seasonal information for Nebraska’s green industry professionals. It is produced monthly throughout the year by Nebraska Extension Educators from across the state. You can subscribe to this newsletter by going to hortupdate.unl.edu and selecting “subscribe” from the top tabs. You can also get there from the Gage County Horticulture Page from gage.unl.edu

Time to Plant Vegetable Gardens

 

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My mom, Karen, and my niece, Mya.

Mother’s Day is coming and is a great time to honor our mothers. I get my interest in horticulture from my mother and so I like to buy her plants for mother’s day gifts. It is not only a holiday for our wonderful moms, but also a great time to get out and start planting our gardens.

Mother’s day is a great date to remember for good timing for planting warm season vegetables outdoors because we have to wait to plant these frost sensitive crops until after the last spring frost has occurred. Warm season crops include: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, zucchini, garden beans, corn, watermelons, cantaloupe, squash, okra, and sweet potatoes.

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When purchasing plants, be sure to look at the root system. The roots are very important to a plant, it is what is used to absorb water and nutrients for growth and production. Pull the plant out of the container it is sold in and look at the root system. If there are a lot of roots along the outside edge of the soil ball for that particular plant, it may be rootbound. When a plant is rootbound, the roots become entangled because the plant has gotten too large for the container it is growing in. Rootbound plants should not be your first choice for planting because these plants often continue to grow with encircling roots and can cause damage and even death in the plants. If a rootbound plant is purchased, be sure to thoroughly break up the root ball to help the plant grow correctly for better health.

Make sure that the garden is located to get at least 6 hours of sunlight per day, but 8-10 hours of sunlight is best. Make sure that it is planted on level ground to ensure uniform watering. Mulch is necessary to a garden for moisture retention and weed reduction for less competition. Good mulches include wood chips, lawn clippings, and newspaper. Vegetable gardens need 1-inch of water per week. The best option for watering is a soaker hose or drip irrigation to reduce the spread of diseases from splashing water.

Vegetable gardens can be planted in containers or in raised beds. Containers that can be used include shoes, pallets, boxes, ceramic containers, whiskey barrels, tires, and cow tanks, in addition to containers bought at a garden center. Just make sure that your container has a drainage hole in the bottom. Container gardening is a great option for people with disabilities that restrict them from traditional gardening or for those living in apartments or rental properties where they have no lawn to dig up to plant into.

Raised beds are another alternative to traditional gardening for those with disabilities or those with poor soils. Raised beds are gardens built up higher than their surrounding soil level. Raised beds can be made without an enclosure as a berm or with an enclosure using items such as landscape timbers or old railroad ties, as long as creosote does not still ooze from them. Raised beds can typically be much larger than a container garden, but should be only as wide as your reach to the center for weeding purposes. This type of gardening would be a good choice for those facing problems with toxicity from black walnut trees.

Veggies collage

However you garden, just enjoy it and plant the crops that you and your family favor most for meals. If you have extra you can always take it to a local farmer’s market to make a few dollars on your extra produce. Gardening is a fun way to grow your own vegetables, to get some exercise and to enjoy nature all at the same time. This is a fun activity for kids of all ages.

Coldframes & Fall Gardening

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This year, gardening has been difficult. We have faced a great deal of challenges. Our early spring gardens didn’t do as well due to flooding. And our summer gardens were late to get planted in many locations because of rainy weather and water soaked soils. Then, the rainy, cool weather shut off and we were faced with hot conditions and many of our plants had a lot of fungal diseases due to the rainy spring.

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So, now the option is to get a great fall garden to help stock your pantry and freezer with preserved vegetables for the winter. Fall gardens are a great way to grow many of our spring vegetable crops again for more harvest or to get harvest from plants that may not have been very productive in the spring. The good thing about a fall garden is that you can have less insect pressure on the plants in the fall because the peak numbers for many of our insect pests is in the summer, and should be tapering off by the fall. Hopefully you already planted your fall garden. They need to be planted in the beginning to the middle of August to ensure a harvest before frost hits.

If you didn’t get you fall garden planted in the beginning part of August, you still may have a chance to extend your growing season. You can build a coldframe. A coldframe is described by Missouri Extension as “a protected plant bed with no artificial heat added”. This is a good way to keep summer plants protected a bit longer into the fall or keep fall plantings a lot further into the fall. You build a box frame that is higher in the back than it is in the front and cover it with transparent plastic. This box is placed over the garden to increase the temperature of it by 5-10 degrees. You can even get a few more degrees warmer if you place a blanket over top of that on really cold nights.

Photo from Iowa State University Extension

Coldframe Photo from Iowa State University Extension

A coldframe garden should be placed on the south side of a building to receive the highest amount of sunlight to keep it warmest. If it gets warm during the day, you can lift the lid of the cold frame and prop it up to ventilate the garden. A coldframe can also be used in the spring to harden off any plants that you grow from seed indoors.

Coldframes are great to use to get a little more production out of some of our summer vegetable crops, especially if we see an early frost. It is also a great way to extend the growing period for many of our fall vegetable crops. This will allow us to go further into the fall.

What to do with my garden in the fall?

Photo by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

Photo by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

August is here, which means fall will soon follow, and hopefully cooler temperatures. Many of us are just getting started in our garden harvest due to the rainy May and June we faced that led to later planting dates. Some of our vegetables can be harvested and frozen or canned and some need to be dried for winter storage. Here are some helpful tips for produce from your garden through the winter months.

Peppers, onions, and tomatoes can all be harvested when mature and frozen without having to blanch them, or use a hot-water bath for them. These vegetables can be cut into strips or dice, laid on a cookie sheet for initial freezing then placed into freezer bags for long-term freezer storage and used in recipes for cooked vegetables throughout the winter. Tomatoes and hot peppers can be frozen the same manner, but they can be frozen whole with just the stem removed. Many of our other vegetables, such as zucchini and green beans can be frozen, but need to be blanched prior to freezing.

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Many of our vegetables can also be stored, whole, fresh, for weeks to months in our homes after gardens have froze for the year. Carrots can be stored, unwashed, in a container of moist sand in 35-40 degrees Fahrenheit for 4-5 months. Turnips can be treated the same way as carrots for the winter.

Some of our vegetables need to be cured prior to bringing indoors for fresh storage. Onions need to cure for best results of long, indoor storage. Onions should dry in a single layer in the shade or well-ventilated garage or shed for 1-2 weeks or until the tops have completely dried and shriveled. After curing they can be stored for 1-8 months, they store longer in temperatures close to 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Potatoes also can be stored longer after curing. They should be cured at 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit for 1-2 weeks. After curing, they can be stored at 40-45 degrees for several months.

It is in the early part of the month of August that we can also begin to think about extending our growing season with a fall garden. Fall gardens are sometimes more productive than spring gardens, and that may be the case this year if your garden was prone to flooding this spring.

For a fall harvest, plant:

  • Beets August 1-10
  • Carrots August 1-15
  • Chinese cabbage August 1-20
  • Lettuce August 1-5
  • Mustard August 1-25
  • Radish August 1-20
  • Snap beans August 1-5
  • Spinach August 20- September 15
  • Swiss chard August 1-20
  • Turnips August 1-15
    • (from Backyard Farmer online calendar).

The first frost in Beatrice occurs on September 29, on average and is within a week either way for the surrounding counties. So the best way to determine when to plant a fall garden is to count backward from the first frost date and compare it to your harvest time listed on the package. For example, if your lettuce says that it takes 50 days to mature, planting on August 1 will give you mature lettuce by the end of September. This will ensure that you will have a harvest before the frost hits.

Growing Herbs Indoors

Flickr images courtesy of CC license; Oregano-Amy Gaertner, Sage & Thyme-Alice Henneman

Flickr images courtesy of CC license; Oregano-Amy Gaertner, Sage & Thyme-Alice Henneman

It seems so cold and dreary outside these days with less sunlight and colder temperatures. A good way to keep your green thumb working, and to help keep you away from the winter blues, is to grow herbs indoors. This is a great way to keep fresh herbs for culinary usage throughout the winter and into next spring. Herbs that are typically grown indoors include thyme, sage, and oregano. There are many additional choices for indoor grown herbs to have all winter long.

Indoor grown herbs need to be placed in the sunniest windowsill in your home. They need at least 10 hours of light each day to get their maximum growth. Supplemental light may be necessary to get the full amount of light they need each day, this can be controlled with a timer to make sure that it is turned on and off equally each day. This supplemental light should only be 8-10 inches from the plants themselves to get the maximum light intensity for the plants. Along with the amount of light the plants receive, you should make sure that your herbs are not placed near a drafty location in your home.

Herbs like to be in well-drained soil. You can use potting soil or a soilless mixture, which is actually a growing media that doesn’t contain any soil. soilless mixes typically contain perlite, vermiculite, and peat moss. These three components can be bought separately and mixed by you or they can be bought as a pre-mix growing media. Because herbs like well-drained soil, you need to make sure that you do not overwater your plants or allow them to sit in water. There should be drainage holes in the bottom of the pot or tray that they are planted in. Place the pot in a saucer or some type of dish to catch the extra water, but never leave the plants sitting in a saucer of water. Allow the plants to dry out some between each watering but do not let them get too dry.

Harvesting these wonderful fresh herbs throughout the winter is the best part of growing herbs indoors throughout the winter months. The harvest is quite easy, just snip off stems before they bloom to get the best flavor. The plant will continue to regenerate new growth throughout the entire winter. Remember, fresh herbs are different than dried herbs when used in cooking. Generally, you should use three times the amount of fresh herbs than you would with dried herbs to get a similar taste. The information for this article came from an article by Sarah Browning, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Educator in Lancaster County, on growing herbs, specifically thyme, sage, and oregano.

Photo from University of Illinois Extension

Photo from University of Illinois Extension

Herbs are very easy preserve for use later in the year, either dry them or freeze them. The easiest way to dry herbs is to tie them up in bunches, place a paper bag over the herbs, with holes for airflow cut in them, and hang them upside down to dry. You can also dry them on a tray, or with heat such as with a dehydrator or an oven. You can also freeze herbs by placing coarsely chopped herbs into an ice cube tray with water and freezing them. After they are frozen, you can take the ice cubes out and store them in a plastic bag to use as needed.

For recipes and other instruction on “Cooking with Fresh Herbs” visit the food.unl.edu website, at: http://food.unl.edu/fnh/fresh-herbs

 

Fall Gardening

Photo by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

Photo by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

With school beginning again soon, fall will be here before we know it. There are a few things that we can start doing to prepare for the winter or to prepare our fall vegetable gardens. It is good that we can finally see the temperatures starting to go down from those terribly hot and humid days so we can get back outside again, comfortably.

Fall vegetable gardens can be planted soon. Most of our fall vegetables should be planted within the first week or two of August to ensure a good fall harvest before the frost takes the plants out. Those plants that you may have planted in the early spring to get to maturity before it got too hot are the things that are usually planted in the fall. For a fall harvest, plant these crops (from Backyard Farmer online calendar at byf.unl.edu):

  • Beets August 1-10
  • Carrots August 1-15
  • Chinese cabbage August 1-20
  • Lettuce August 1-5
  • Mustard August 1-25
  • Radish August 1-20
  • Snap beans August 1-5
  • Spinach August 20- September 15
  • Swiss chard August 1-20
  • Turnips August 1-15 (from Backyard Farmer online calendar)

The first frost in Beatrice, Nebraska occurs on September 29, on average and is within a week either way for the surrounding counties. So the best way to determine when to plant a fall garden is to count backward from the first frost date and compare it to your harvest time listed on the package. For example, if your lettuce says that it takes 50 days to mature, planting on August 1 will give you mature lettuce by the end of September. This will ensure that you will have a harvest before the frost hits.

If you want to extend your growing season even longer, you can build a cold frame. A cold frame is a miniature greenhouse or a box built over your garden. Cold frames are built with a light-admitting lid, such as glass or plastic film, that helps hold in the heat on the plants growing inside. A cold frame is an inexpensive way to extend your growing season because they can be built at home with only a few supplies. It also keeps the air and soil temperature around the plants up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the surrounding environment.

Photo from Iowa State University Extension

Cold Frame Photo from Iowa State University Extension

Another thing that you can do in the fall is to prepare your vegetable garden for spring. If you are done in your garden and your plants have died due to frost or you are just tired of eating all of those cucumbers, you can clean up your garden in preparation for next year. Removing all of the dead plants will help to reduce the diseases and insects that may use them as an overwintering habitat. Also, after removing those plants you may want to till up your ground to get it ready for next spring. This is also a great time to add any compost or manure to your ground if you need to add some nutrients for better plants next year. After tilling it up, you should put some type of mulch on the bare soil to keep it from eroding or blowing off in the wind, grass clippings are a cheap, easy mulch to use.

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Preparing Summer Gardens

Tilled gardenWe are almost past our frost-free date for 2014. We usually say we are safe to plant all our summer plants on or following Mother’s Day for the year, which is May 11th of this year. This way we are going to be past any fear of frost, in most years, which would injure or kill what we just planted. With that said, we need to make sure that all our gardens are prepared correctly and our plants are planted properly.

Vegetable gardens need to be tilled and the soil needs to be prepared for planting. The time to apply additional organic matter to our gardens would be while we are tilling it up for planting. Spring is the time that we can add compost to our vegetable gardens, don’t apply fresh manure to a garden unless it is done in the fall of the year to allow all the bacteria in the manure to break down. When adding compost to a garden, till through the garden a few times then add compost at a 1-2 inch layer to the soil surface and run the tiller through the garden an additional 2-3 times.

Tilling Garden

After the soil is prepared, and we have come to Mother’s Day weekend or later, you can plant your summer vegetables into that soil. Make sure you follow the spacing recommendations that are on the seeds or labels. If plants are grown too close together they will have a lower vegetable yield and they are more vulnerable to diseases in the environment. Be sure to water all newly planted vegetables and seeds in immediately after they are planted. Granular fertilizers can be applied to the soil when planting to help give the plants a jump-start. A general vegetable garden fertilizer of 10-10-10 or 12-12-12 works very well to help your plants grow well.

Another thing we can do with our gardens this time of year, is cleanup all of our annual and perennial beds and plant our container gardens. If you haven’t already done so, prune back all the dead material on perennials such as coneflowers, lilies, and ornamental grasses. This will allow the new material to grow up and look nice. If there are new perennials you want to plant in your garden, you can plant those now. You can also begin planting annual plants as needed to fill in your flower beds. If you haven’t pruned back roses or butterfly bushes, you can do that now too. Wait to prune back spring blooming shrubs such as forsythia, lilac, and spring blooming spireas until after they have bloomed for the year.

Container Gardens

Container Garden Ideas; Photo from: http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/garden/07238.html

Container gardens can also be planted now. Follow these steps for a great container garden.

  • Choose your  container
    • Make sure it has a drainage hole, otherwise most anything can work for a container
  • Fill the container with a potting soil or soil-less mixture
  • If it is a large container, you can fill the bottom third with aluminum cans, plastic bottles, or gravel
  • Plant your container with annuals, perennials, herbs, succulents, or mixtures.
  • Keep your container plants well watered, as they tend to dry out quickly
  • For a visual display, try to plant the container with a thriller, a filler, and a spiller
    • The thriller could be something tall and eye-catching, such as spike grass
    • The spiller could be something that drapes over the side of the container, such as wave petunias
    • The filler could be whatever else you like to put in your container to fill the space, such as gerbera daisy

Starting Seeds for Transplants

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We can now begin to think about starting seeds indoors for transplanting into our vegetable gardens when the weather warms up.  I know it is hard to imagine that we are that close to spring, but it will be here soon.  March is coming in like a lion so, hopefully it will go out like a lamb.

In March, we can start our transplants of many different types of vegetables for transplanting into our garden around Mother’s Day.  Count backward from Mother’s Day to determine when to start the plants indoors based on how long they need to grow prior to transplanting outdoors.  Below is a table showing germination ranges for common vegetable crops grown in Nebraska.

Based on Information from UNL Master Gardener Training Handbook

Based on Information from UNL Master Gardener Training Handbook

Good transplants begin with good care.  Start with good quality seed and a sterile soil or soil-less mixture.  You can start the seeds in the seed trays or other types of similar containers.  You can reuse pots or seed trays from previous years, just make sure all equipment has been cleaned thoroughly using a bleach mixture.  For growing media, you can use a potting soil, or a soil-less mixture that contains vermiculite, perlite, and/or peat moss.  Just make sure that the growing media is well-drained and has been moistened prior to planting into.

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Transplants need to be grown in favorable environmental conditions.  They need to be kept in temperatures between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.  Too cold or too warm and the seed may not germinate or the plants may grow leggy or improperly.  They need to have a light on the seeds and young plants for 12-16 hours a day.  This light should be kept only about 1 inch above the plants, as they grow, this light should be moved up with the seedlings.  This light source can be as simple and inexpensive as a utility light or shop light with one cool and one warm fluorescent bulb.  You can fertilize the seedlings weekly with a one-quarter strength, soluble fertilizer.  Do not fertilize the seedlings if they were allowed to dry out.  Replenish the moisture in the plants prior to applying fertilizer to avoid burning the seedlings.

Two weeks prior to planting outdoors in the garden, you will need to harden the plants.  This is the process of acclimatizing the plants to the outdoors prior to them being completely immersed in it.  Move the plants outdoors in the shade on non-windy days.  Start out by placing the plants in sun for only an hour or two, gradually increase the length of time they are in the sun and the intensity of that sun.  Be sure to still bring the plants indoors at night, especially if a frost is predicted.  Also, keep them out of direct wind until they have hardened off.

By the middle to the end of March, we can look to possibly start peas, potatoes and other cool season vegetables outside.  It is an old saying that you can plant peas and potatoes by St. Patrick’s Day, but that is only if the weather is favorable for that.  Check the weather outlook prior to planting these to ensure that it is going to be warm enough for these plants to not only germinate, but also stay alive.