Want to save money? Enjoy a gorgeous and productive garden? Now is the perfect time of year to direct-sow cool season crops. You will achieve substantial savings and a host of flowers and vegetables this year.
Check out the seed racks at a garden centre or hardware store near you and you will be blown away by the selection. Many varieties of plants are available from seed but not readily available as transplants later in May.
If you take the time to do the math, you will find that the savings are nothing short of staggering. An average packet of zinnias, for instance, will contain 50 seeds. At $2 per packet that equals four cents per plant. If you buy a four-pack of transplants in May, you will pay no less than a dollar, or 25 cents per plant. Seeds, in this scenario, provide a staggering 84 per cent discount for the same results.
Here are some popular and delicious vegetables that we recommend you sow directly into your gardens right now, even with frost still expected over the next few weeks:
Beets are a great crop as they provide the tender root, which stores well into the winter, and fresh greens from the leaves. Kestrel is our favourite hybrid variety, with great disease resistance. It can be harvested early for baby beets, or left in the ground to mature to full size. Red Crapaudine is a harder to find heritage variety, thought to be one of the oldest varieties in cultivation. It has a carrot shaped root with dark coloured skin and a flesh that is almost black. Sow beet seeds directly to a rich, sandy loam much like carrots (which can also be planted now).
Broccoli is the most popular vegetable in our family, indeed it is more likely to show up at a family dinner than some of our relatives. Not naming names. But the name of our favourite broccoli Arcadia is our favourite hybrid, for its large head and dark blue-green colour. Importantly, it stands up well to black rot and downy mildew – common problems for the broccoli grower.
Cabbage moth is another common problem: the best method for growing cucurbits (which includes broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts and kale) is under a “veggie tunnel”. A loosely-spun polyester fabric suspended by U-shaped supports is a great, low cost, pesticide-free answer to cabbage moth. The material allows sun and moisture through, but not insects. A veggie tunnel helps retain heat to improve germination and move the crop along to maturity more quickly.
Salad mixes including spinach, leaf lettuce, mesclun mix and arugula (and kale, if you insist) are all ready for direct sow starting now, and again every two weeks until early July to ensure a continuous supply of fresh greens throughout the entire season. This succession planting helps avoid all your greens coming at once. A Simply Salad Mix includes different shapes and colours of basil, beet tops, Swiss chard, mustards, radicchio and arugula to liven up the mixture. Also consider Bok Choi as part of your greens. Choi is most common in Asian cooking, but also works great in salads. Plant 15 cm apart, thinning to 25 cm as plants mature and barely cover seeds with soil at planting.
Peas, potatoes, leeks and carrots deserve honourable mention for eligible direct-sow crops of this weekend, which you can expect to find us doing.
When the soil warms in mid to late May, consider sowing pumpkins, zucchini, cucumbers, beans and corn directly into the ground.
In the flower department, calendula, zinnias, snapdragons, portulaca, nasturtiums, asters and alyssum can be sown in about two more weeks, when the soil has warmed up.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and holds the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at markcullen.com, @markcullengardening, on Facebook and bi-weekly on Global TV’s National Morning Show.