When to Plant

Four basic instructions for planting your next vegetable garden or planter bed.


I was hit hard by an epiphany this morning when I realized I should do a video post about germination.  As I thought through what the video may be, I then realized I should back up and do a post about how I got to that point.  What is the first steps in deciding how to grow your food?

I’m assuming by this point you’ve already figured how much space you have available and have a rough idea of what you might want to plant.  There are a few basic phases to growing which are 1. germination 2. transplanting to larger pot 3. hardening and 4. transplanting to garden.  Some vegetables do not require all four steps and some even allow you to skip right to step 4.

Before you get into the steps, make sure you know your growing zone.  If you don’t, check the USDA Plant Hardiness Map to find out.  Our farm is located right on the cusp of zones 5a and 5b in Michigan.  Since 5a is a bit colder, it’s best to err on the side of coldness to ensure your seeds or plants will not succumb to frost damage.

Step 1:  Germinate Your Seeds

There are some great resources for figuring out which seeds need to be germinated.  One site I purchased seeds from, Seed Savers Exchange, included the growing information right on the page of the seed which was helpful.  I used two other sites when buying seeds which did not include the growing information so for those I would refer to the Old Farmers’ Almanac.  By the way, if you prefer gardening with the moon (like me) the Farmers Almanac has some great steps you can be taking each day to get you there!

After reading a few hundred seed instructions you will begin to notice patterns.  For example, all varieties of tomatoes need to germinate.  All of my herbs are germinating as well.  Some others that needed to start early were kale, cauliflower, broccoli and peppers.

For germinating your seeds you will need containers and a warm, sunny location indoors.  We have a great South facing window for this and I purchased Burpee Seed Starter Kits for $7.99 each at a local Tractor Supply Store.  These trays come with pellets that expand when you add water, however, I couldn’t figure out what was in them so I just threw them away.  If I could do it again I would have saved time and waste by just getting some basic seed trays.  I plan on saving the trays for next year’s growing season.  I plan on a separate post that will include all of the information for this step of the process including how I chose the soil for the seeds, so for now, let’s move on to step 2.

Step 2:  Transplant (to a larger pot)

Seed trays can be excellent for germinating seeds, however, you may find some plants outgrow them quickly.  Our tomatoes were an example of that.  After just one day they had poked through the soil and in less than two weeks they’ve grown about four inches high!  As of right now (two weeks into germination) we are still in seed trays, however, I can tell they will need to be transplanted soon.

At this point, some growing instructions will tell you to use a biodegradable pot that you can transplant into your garden without disturbing the roots of your plant.  For this, I found Burpee biodegradable pots at Tractor Supply and stocked up.  You can also find them on Amazon (10 for around $7).  These remain indoors where the seed trays were located until the next step.

Step 3:  Hardening

Hardening is the process of gently exposing your plants to outdoor conditions before planting them in your garden or planter box.  I purposely bought a metal rack with big, fat castors just for this purpose.  Once we get to this step I will be able to gently push the whole rack anywhere I need it.  It just happens that our garage is South facing and will be the perfect spot to harden our plants when the time comes.  You want to start this at least a week before you plan to have them in your garden but no more than 10 days ahead of time.  Start with exposing them for 3-4 hours at a time and gradually work in 1-2 extra hours each day.

Step 4:  Transplanting (to garden)

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations!  Your baby seeds are ready for their forever home.  For us, that will be our garden.  By this time, the most important thing is to follow the spacing instructions on your seed packet (or refer to the Old Farmers’ Almanac if you can’t locate it).

So there it is!  The basics you need to know when you’re getting ready for planting your garden.  If you’re interesting in planing this year, you still have time!  I started mine as early as possible, hoping to be able to harvest some of my vegetables and fruits more than once this season.

Happy growing and best of luck!

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