Cool season lettuces and spinach in germination tray, ready to transplant into bigger pots
A friend of mine said the other night that she stopped trying to grow lettuce because it always gets too bitter. But growing lettuces in the spring can be easy-you just have to start earlier than you think you do. If you start seeds in late April, you’re too late as the weather can go from cold days to hot days very quickly and that is when they can bolt and become bitter so you’ll want to harvest earlier.
Since most lettuces are cool season crops and take around 45-55 days to mature, we need to back up our start date to sometime in February/March or even earlier inside under lights (like I did) and harvest in April or early May before it gets hot.
Be sure to grow lettuces that are cold tolerant-it should say on the seed packets. This year I started the first lettuces back on January 15 inside my house under grow lights with no heat-this is very early so I’m pushing it.
Lettuce transplanted un into bigger pots or pony paks.
Then I transplanted them up from the germination tray into a pony pak on January 20. Then I transplanted the plants into my greenhouse on February 17. That’s about 4 weeks old when I put them out in the ground. My greenhouse is unheated so I have to cover them everynight and on cold days with 2 layers of row cover but so far they are doing well. Tonite is 13°F so let’s see if they survive…
Meanwhile I started more from seeds on Feb 03 and they were transplanted into the pony paks February 25 so if tonite kills the others in the greenhouse, these should go out into the greenhouse in another 1-2 weeks. Basically the whole process from starting lettuce seeds to putting out into a greenhouse or coldframe or as the season goes on takes about 4-5 weeks.
You can even put them in a raised bed or mini hoophouse with heavy row cover directly over them by the time April rolls around. So if you plant them in first week of March, you will be able to pick leaves 45 days later or around April 15. By the time everyone else is just starting their lettuce seeds, you will be enjoying the lettuces while they are sweet before it gets too hot.
Many of you are asking when can you take your row covers off your tomato plants. Leave row covers on tomatoes for now-I know we are all anxious to take them off. I leave mine on till the monsoons come and they are NOT here yet. One of our local weather stations said that the monsoons might be delayed till July 25 and so I will leave mine on till the monsoons really come-this occasional rain we’ve been getting are not the monsoons and will not drive the leafhopper away. The leafhopper kills tomato plants by biting your plant giving it (CTV) Curly top virus which is fatal to your tomato plant but should leave when the monsoons come. The row covers are a physical barrier so the bug can’t get to your plant. So for now, (sigh) I will leave them on even though I’m dying to remove them like you.
I will post when I take mine off so you all know.
Here it is May 21st and I’m now glad I waited to put my tomatoes in. I have wanted to get them in the ground since early May, but it was not to be. Last year was much warmer and I got my tomatoes in by May 6th. What a difference a year can make. Last night, it got down to 32°F and snowed. Not enough to stick on the ground but we are past the magic date of May 15th which is suppose to be the first frost FREE date here in zone 6b according to USDA. We’ve had a different spring here in Santa Fe with colder temperatures and lots more precipitation throughout winter and spring than last year.
So my babies are waiting to go into the ground in wall of waters till this Friday when it looks like this cold snap will be over. Wait. Wait. Wait. It will be in the 70s in the day and 40s at night for the next week and hopefully last nite will be the last of the freezing weather. And even though we will hopefully be past any more freezes, it still gets plenty cold for a tomato plant at night. They hate the cold. A good way to ensure they won’t get stressed or die if we get more cold weather again is by planting them in wall of waters. Here is a post on Wall of Waters 101. Meanwhile I wait—ahh crumba!
I hope my apricots will be ok. I’ve got a treeful of them right now and haven’t had an apricot harvest in 12 years! I will keep my fingers crossed that this freeze didn’t kill them. Ahh mother nature, whata ya going do?!
This past Friday, April 19, all the baby tomato seedlings were transplanted from the germination trays into 2.25 pots where they will stay until we plant them outside. There are 155 total tomato plants.
My main helper, Linda Archibald has been doing this with me for about 4 years and this year Tom Pollard joined us to learn how to do it all. It took us 4 hours to transplant them. Thank you folks! There were 4 tomato no shows which isn’t bad for how many we planted. It is amazing how fast the seedlings grow since it has only been 16 days since we planted seeds.
We use Moonshine potting soil from Agua Fria Nursery to grow them in-amazing stuff as everything grown in takes off really fast. So now they are off the heat mats and still inside under lights that will be 3 inches away from the tops of the tomatoes. I put the lights close so they grow sturdy stems. If you put the lights higher they can get too tall and lanky. As the plants grow, I raise up the lights with them. I will actually have around 28 tomato plants and Linda will have 59! The rest are orders. Looks like it’s going to be a big year for tomatoes for Linda! I hope she buys another freezer to store all that sauce she’s gonna be making! I’m hoping to get them out in early May again this year but Mother Nature will decide when they will go out, not me!
The tomato seeds are starting to germinate in their trays. It has taken only 5 days! Still more to germinate but many are already up. A few haven’t germinated so I will replant if they don’t come up in a few days. They are under fluorescent ‘daylight’ T-8 lamps that are in a standard 48″ fluorescent light fixture that I got from Home Depot. They are also on heat mats and I have a heat mat thermostat set to 80 degrees. The heat mats and thermostat I got at Amazon. I never use to use a thermostat but one year without it, the temperature went to 100 degrees and the seeds fried. With a thermostat, it controls the temperature perfectly to whatever is the optimum temperature for each crop. In this case, the optimum range for tomato seeds for germination is between 70-85 degrees.
150 tomato seeds planted this year in these germination trays. 42 varieties
Every year it seems, I adjust my tomato seed planting schedule. This year is the latest I’ve ever started my tomato seeds-April 5th. Still trying to tweak it out about when the best time is to start them. If I plant seeds too early, the plants will get too tall before I transplant them outside in wall of waters. Last year I started seeds March 29th. So we will see how they do.
A couple of things have allowed me be able to start them later and get them in the garden earlier.
First, since I changed to Batch 64-Moonshine soil mix (from Agua Fria Nursery), the plants take off growing like a rocket as soon as they germinate. The list of ingredients in it is unbelievable. Once the seeds germinate, there is enough nutrients in this soil mix to basically fertilize your seedling for 6 weeks without adding anything else (except maybe liquid seaweed and Vitamin B at transplanting time to reduce transplant shock). Now I can plant them outside in 5 weeks instead of the 7-8 weeks in years past.
Secondly, I now start my seeds in these germination trays (see pic) where the cells are close together. The trays being shallower, seem to speed the germination process too—less soil to heat. These are a 20 row seedling flat.
Thirdly, it seems to be getting warmer sooner in the spring here in Santa Fe or at least that is my experience. Using wall of waters to protect the young tomato plants from cold nights, I was able to transplant my tomato plants outside on May 3rd, shaving 13 days off the ‘frost free’ date of May 15 that we have here in Zone 6b. They did just fine in their wall of waters. But last year we were in a warm drought and this year may be different with all the precipitation we got this winter. We’ll see.
And lastly, maybe, just maybe, I’ve become a better gardener through the years…
April is a great time to plant greens like spinach, lettuce, cabbage and mustard greens. Plant now so you will get some greens to eat before it gets too hot. When it is hot they will bolt and become bitter. They can be grown in part shade to last longer when the heat comes. The spinach was actually started last spring and made it through the winter and the chartreuse and purple bok choi were put out 3 weeks ago. All are covered at night with row cover.
Other good crops to plant in April are bok choi and chard. They are real workhorses in the garden being able to withstand our cold and hot seasons. They can be grown in part shade to full sun.
Also good crops to plant in April are beets and carrots. Be sure to plant these in areas of your garden that are getting full sun and water 2 times a day until they are up.
Of course all this is dependent on your soil being warm enough now. How warm should your soil be? Between 40-60 degrees. How do you know how to tell? Get a soil thermometer and stick it in your soil about 2 inches deep. Here is a soil temperature chart to help you know when to plant veggies.
And these plants should still be covered with row cover at night because of our cold temperatures.