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The time to start cool-season crops approaches

Posted 3/9/2010

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by Robert Mills

Northern Nevada is known for its sunny, warm summers, but the "growing season" here—whose limits are defined by the last frost in the spring and the first frost in the fall—doesn’t leave enough time for some vegetables to reach full maturity.

That’s why a lot of gardeners start their seeds indoors. University of Nevada Cooperative Extension horticulture specialists say plants like celery, artichokes, endives and onions require up to 16 weeks of growing time and should be started indoors.

"If you’re planting indoors, you’re starting something that needs a longer growing season than we have here in Reno," said UNCE horticulture expert Wendy Hanson-Mazet, the coordinator for the area’s Master Gardener program. "People have problems with melons sometimes because they start them too late and there’s just not enough time."

While some plants require up to 16 weeks of growth time, peppers, tomatoes and herbs may only need six to eight weeks, so you can start seeding them indoors a little later.

"Everybody wants to get a good head start," Hanson-Mazet said. "Germinating indoors is great for the appropriate plant at the appropriate time."

Some plants shouldn’t be germinated indoors. Check the backs of your seed packets to determine the best methods for germination.

"Root plants like carrots and radishes don’t like to be disturbed once you plant them," Hanson-Mazet said. "Once they start to take root, you should leave them alone. Because of this, it’s not good to start root plants indoors. You can still start relatively early."

Hanson-Mazet said the first step is selecting the right seeds.

"Beginning with good-quality seed is critical," she said. "Purchasing seeds from a dependable seed company ensures clean and viable seeds."

Get the party started

If you’re having trouble getting going, former UNCE horticulture expert Leslie Allen suggests hosting a seed party. Seed parties are great ways to sprout your gardening knowledge and nurture new friendships.

"I find my garden is intrinsically more valuable to me if I have started everything from seed," Allen said. "When I’ve started those seeds with my friends, I think of them each time I harvest, and I am grateful for their friendship."

Allen and her friends make their own seeding pots out of recycled newspaper. Using a wooden pot maker—available online or at some local nurseries—Allen and her friends wrap and press their own biodegradable pots and recycle old newspapers at the same time. If you’re budgeting, you can create your own pot maker using a can of soup and some tape.

Most seed packets come with instructions for sowing, thinning and transplanting.

"You’ll have better success if you sow all the seeds in the packet," Allen said. "It’s rare to have a 100 percent germination rate."

Indoor seeding opens the door to other recycling possibilities. By reusing old, see-through deli containers, Allen keeps her pots tidy and her windowsill clean.

"They function as mini-greenhouses, and I can fit nine little newspaper pots into them perfectly," Allen said.

Allen mists her seeds daily and ensures they get plenty of sunlight.

If your windows are treated to filter out some elements of the sun’s rays, you should consider using a growing lamp instead because these types of windows can rob plants of some nutrients.

"Once germinated, I’ll open the container and make sure the baby plants are watered regularly," Allen said.

When the time is right, set the entire plant—paper pot and all—into your garden’s soil, and water regularly.

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