Save time and increase success by creating a garden calendar

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Melinda Myers

Melinda Myers Columnist

Check the back of the seed packet to determine when to start seeds indoors and when to move the transplants into the garden. Photo courtesy of MelindaMyers.com

Ringing in the New Year is filled with resolutions that usually involve dieting and exercise.  Gardening is a great way to help accomplish those two resolutions, while also improving your mood, reducing blood pressure, managing anger, maintaining flexibility and much more.

So, gather anyone that shares in your gardening efforts and landscape projects. Grab a calendar and make some gardening plans for the year ahead.  Consider including a monthly project that you all can share and one that moves you closer to your long-term gardening and landscaping goals.

Start the year right by growing some microgreens. They are quick, easy and require no special equipment. Plus, recent research found that many contain as much as 25 times more nutrients as the leaves of the full-grown plant.

Take some time to inventory your current seed collection.  Decide what seeds you want to keep and grow this season and those you want to pass along to gardening friends.  You may choose to make seed art with older or improperly stored seeds and invest in fresh seeds that are sure to germinate.

Once you complete your inventory, review new catalogs, and make a list of seeds and plants you want to include this year.  Order early for the greatest selection and availability. A recent increase in gardeners means more people shopping for the seeds and plants you want to buy.

While you wait for your seed order to arrive, prepare a space and organize supplies for starting any seeds indoors as needed.  Clear a space, check your grow lights, and gather the needed seed starting mix and clean containers. Soak used containers in a one-part bleach and 9-parts water solution for ten minutes. Then rinse with clear water before reusing them this year.

Once you know what you want to grow, it is time to create a seed starting calendar. Check the catalogue, University Extension recommendations, and back of the packet to determine when you need to start the seeds indoors or out. Include dates for starting seeds indoors and directly in the garden. Note the recommended date for moving transplants into the garden. Add in time as needed to harden off transplants. Gradually introducing plants to the garden environment over a two-week period reduces transplant shock and increases your success.

Mark your calendar for peak harvest times in your region. Make sure to allow sufficient time for harvesting and preserving. Supplement your own harvest with produce from farmer’s markets and pick-your-own farms. Most post expected picking and produce availability dates on their website, so you can plan ahead. As the season begins, confirm picking times and invite family and friends for a harvest and preservation party.

Record all this information on your calendar, garden chart or a spreadsheet to help keep your gardening efforts on track.  This will also help you identify the best time to embark on larger landscaping projects or hire a plant sitter when you are away from the garden.

Make this the year you resolve to accomplish your gardening goals in a timely manner. You’ll maximize your harvest, enjoyment, and other gardening benefits.

Test leftover seeds for viability

The beginning of a new year finds many gardeners preparing for the growing season ahead. Clearing space to start seeds indoors, inventorying seeds and supplies, and ordering seeds, plants, and more are usually part of the process.

While organizing, you may uncover seeds from past seasons. Do not discard these just yet. When seeds are stored properly, many can last from one to five years or more.

Seeds stored in a cool location like the refrigerator in an airtight container maintain their viability best. But even those stored in less-than-ideal conditions may surprise you. Older seeds may still sprout once they pass their average life expectancy, but you are likely to see a reduction in the success rate.

The type of seed also influences how long seeds can be stored and remain viable. Start by checking the expiration date on the seed packet. Onions, parsley, and parsnip seeds usually last one year.  Corn, okra, and peppers two years; beans and peas for three years; tomatoes, turnips, beets, chard, and watermelon four years; and Brussels sprouts, cabbage, muskmelons, radishes, and spinach last for five years.

The same principles apply to saved flower seeds. Marigold and zinnia seeds can maintain good viability for two to five years; ageratum, nasturtium, sunflowers, and yarrow for three to five years; monarda four years, and calendula for four to six years.

But the longer you grow plants, the more likely you are to push the limits. This often results in unexpected success or valuable insight for future gardening endeavors.

When in doubt use this quick-and-easy test to see if your seeds will sprout. Place ten seeds on a damp paper towel. Roll up the towel with seeds inside, place in a plastic bag and store in a warm location.

After a week or so, unwrap the paper towel and check the seeds for sprouting. If nothing has happened, rewrap the seeds and wait a few more days.

Older seeds may still sprout, but it is likely there will be a reduction in the success rate. Photo courtesy of MelindaMyers.com

If all the seeds have sprouted, you have 100% germination and can plant the seeds as recommended on the package. If only half the seeds sprout, for example, you will need to plant the seeds twice as close together to compensate for the lower germination rate.

The sprouted seeds can be planted indoors or out depending on the time of year, available space, and your climate.

If none of the seeds sprout, consider breaking out the glue and getting the family involved in turning these leftover seeds into works of art. Select a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors to create your masterpiece on wood or heavyweight card stock. Large seeds like beans, peas and corn are easy for crafters of all ages to handle. Use tweezers for finer seeds that add detail and texture to your creation.

Testing seeds now can help you save money when placing your seed order. You can focus your planting budget on new seeds and supplement with your existing inventory.

Melinda Myers is the author of more than 20 gardening books, including “Small Space Gardening.” She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally-syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and her web site is www.MelindaMyers.com.

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