Extension Educator, Local Food Systems and Small Farms
Extension Educator, Horticulture
February 22, 2010
It's now approaching early March. Although winter may still be with us, it is time to plan for starting your own transplants. There are quite a few details to begin your own transplants. Starting your own will only pay benefits for you if you want to transplant several plants, otherwise the seed cost (and it has gone up this year) may be more than a four-pack of plants. Of course, some people just enjoy raising their own from seed, or you do it to make sure you get a variety you want.
I'll begin with the hardiness zone. All of Logan County lies in zone 5b, but we are on the border with 5a. What difference does this make? "It makes about three weeks difference in seed starting date" is the answer. In zone 5b, we would want to start broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and lettuce (if that's something you want to transplant) as early as March 5. Eggplant, herbs, pepper, and tomato would be started about March 25. Cucumber, muskmelon, and watermelon are started as early as April 15. The rule of thumb is to allow about six weeks before you want to set the plants outside.
You should use a sterile growing medium to start seeds in. There are several kinds of soilless germinating mixes, potting soils, peat cubes, and compressed peat pellets that are available. These media are generally free from insects, diseases, and weeds. Enough fertilizer is generally present in these to allow for three or four weeks of plant growth.
As far as sowing the seeds, traditionally seeds have been put in shallow boxes in rows about two inches apart and covered lightly with vermiculite. Soon after the seeds come up, they are transplanted into other containers. An easier method is to start the seeds directly in the final growing container. For small individual, or sectioned containers, it is common to plant two seeds per section. The final container should match the seed (or plant) planting depth to what it would be directly seeded in a garden.
Most seeds will germinate in a growing medium temperature of 60 to 70 degrees, but the melons and eggplants like it a bit warmer. Watering and fertilizing are just as important as seeding directly into a garden. Water can't be too much, or too little. The medium you are using also makes a difference, as peat pellets tend to dry out quickly. Fertilizer should be in the medium for the first three to four weeks. You can add a soluble fertilizer to the water at the rate of one tablespoon per gallon, to be used about once a week on established seedlings. Non-fertilized water should be used between the fertilizer applications.
Vegetable plants need direct light. Natural light only goes so far in the winter months. We want to try and provide about 12 hours of light a day on these transplants. Artificial lights work well to supplement natural light, or provide all light in a basement setting. Grow light bulbs work well, but are expensive. A combination of cool white fluorescents and incandescent bulbs provides about the same light spectrum. Lamps should be about 12 inches away from plant leaves.
Before your starts are transplanted outdoors, they should be hardened gradually by exposing them to outside conditions. Start by placing the plants outside a few hours a day. Use a very sheltered area to protect from direct light and winds. Gradually extend the time outdoors as planting time approaches. Remember, this process takes at least six weeks, so don't wait until the week before you are ready for transplants. Otherwise, you'll be standing in line buying your plants.
February 22, 2010
As you finish your garden and bed plans, it's always interesting to check out the new All-America selections. This year, all the winning varieties are available immediately. We could call 2010 the year of the zinnia, with three zinnias making the grade. They include "Double Zahara Cherry," "Double Zahara Fire," and Zahara Starlight Rose."
Additional winners include the coneflower "PowWow Wild Berry Echinacea," gaillardia "Mesa Yellow," marigold "Moonsong Deep Orange," snapdragon "Twinny Peach," viola " Endurio Sky Bule Martien," pepper "Cajun Belle," and watermelon "Shiny Boy." You can view these selections online at http://www.all-americaselections.org/winners.asp
February 1, 2010
If you have recently noticed rusty-brown patches of dead grass showing up in your lawn after a frost, you may have an infestation of crabgrass.
Crabgrass is an annual weedy grass that, from a distance, blends into your lawn during the summer. Upon close inspection, it can be identified by its wide leaf blade and light green color. During the summer, this low growing weed can also be identified by its seed spike that looks like a turkey foot. The seeds turn a lovely maroon color with cool temperatures. Freezing temperatures kill this pest leaving you with splotches of brown throughout your green lawn.
As an annual, crabgrass seeds germinate during late spring and summer and die with the first frost. Plants do not overwinter.
The primary means of controlling crabgrass is by providing a vigorous, dense, competitive turf. Thin, weak lawns should be treated with a pre-emergent crabgrass weed killer to prevent infestation.
Pre-emergence weed killers, for controlling crabgrass, are applied to lawns in early spring to prevent the appearance of crabgrass. The "crabicide" forms a chemical barrier or blanket at the soil surface that prevents crabgrass development from germinating seeds that have absorbed the weed killer.
In central Illinois, crabgrass pre-emergence weed killers are generally applied in early to mid April. Because this protection does not persist for the entire season, University of Illinois turf specialists recommend a second application of pre-emergence crabgrass weed killer be applied 6 to 8 weeks after the first application at half the recommended rate.
The second application should be made about mid May. This second application will provide extended control of crabgrass that may get started in June.
If you are in southern Illinois, applications should begin the middle of March. For those in northern Illinois, you may be able to wait until mid-April for the first application.
Rains in midsummer often provide excellent conditions for crabgrass germination during this period. If you did not make a second application of a crabgrass pre-emergence weed killer, you may be leaving your lawn wide open for crabgrass to invade.