Summer may seem a long time off, but many types of seeds, including tomatoes, require an early start, and ensures their availability. Whether you plant a garden to feed your own family or to take produce to a local farmer’s market, a bountiful crop requires research and planning. Whether you live in an area blanketed with snow, or suffering from drought, choosing heirloom vegetable seeds that are resistant to the problems associated with your area will improve the quality and quantity of produce you grow.
Take Stock of Your Gardening Needs
Mid to late winter is a good time to decide whether you were able to harvest enough produce to provide both an adequate seed stock and food, or if you need to plant a larger garden this year. If you are out of corn or green beans in February, but have many more squash than you will use, you may want to adjust for the coming year. Home gardeners generally plant several varieties of seeds to protect the harvest from unforeseen problems. You may want to plant varieties specifically for storing, canning, or freezing, as well as enjoying fresh off the vine. Carefully selecting heirloom vegetable seeds that are recommended for the growing conditions in your area will improve results.
Many gardeners who grow heirloom seeds save seed from the previous year, and mix in a few new varieties annually, allowing them to enjoy exciting new flavors and textures. Home gardeners often keep a journal detailing what was planted and where, to create a crop rotation plan, and keep notes on success rates. This helps reduce insect problems and prevents soil depletion. Planting cover crops or using natural soil additives will also improve quality and productivity.
Starting Healthy Seedlings
Start your heirloom seedlings indoors several weeks before transplanting them into the garden to ensure healthy plants and extend the growing season. Use sterile soil to reduce weeds and the risk of fungus. Keep the soil temperature at 70-85 degrees for the fastest germination rate, unless package directions recommend a cooler temperature. The use of grow lights or placing the tray or pots in a sunny window, turning them regularly, will help keep plants from becoming leggy. Cover the seeds trays or seeds with a light sheet of plastic, without allowing it to touch the plants, to increase humidity. As seedlings become stronger this can be staked and lifted and gradually removed.
Gather Gardening Supplies
The following are some of the supplies you will need to get a head start on gardening this year. Experienced gardeners will have most of these on hand, and may simply want to add new heirloom varieties to their seed collection. New gardeners, or those who are just starting with heirloom seeds, will be pleasantly surprised at the number of varieties that are available. Their intense flavor and color are markedly different than store varieties, and you will be delighted as you test new seeds.
• Heirloom vegetable seeds suited to your growing conditions, i.e., drought, heat, or cool weather.
• Sterile potting soil, which you can make at home.
• Soil amendments to improve growing conditions.
• Pots and trays for starting seedlings.
• Warming pad or a warm area for starting plants.
• Grow lights or a sunny window.
• Plastic to cover the trays
• Cold frames if desired for early transplanting of hardy plants and greens.
Heirloom seeds often sell out earlier than other varieties. Early planning not only gives you the opportunity to make sure the seeds you want are still in stock, but also creates the opportunity for a longer harvest.