It was pretty warm here in Montana today (50 degrees) so I started getting really excited about my gardens again. I went so far as to start some seeds for my lettuce/spinach garden, which is located at the back of my house in a part shade/part sun spot. I planted lettuce there for the first time last year, along with strawberries, and the lettuce did great but the strawberries not so much. So this year, it will be lettuce and spinach, and I’m moving the strawberries out into the pasture in a new bed (which has yet to be constructed).
I’ve got a great little seed-starting system that I bought from Gardeners Supply (www.gardeners.com). It’s just two small trays that have a self-watering system that works pretty well. You have to make sure it doesn’t overwater or the tray will start to grow mold. But, I’ve had really good success starting seeds this way. It’s the APS 40 Seed Starter (Item # 32-572). Once the starts pop up I transfer them to a peat pot and start some more seeds.
One thing that has really helped my success rate is to put a little heating pad under the starter trays. I didn’t buy the expensive, fancy heat mats from Gardeners, though. I went to the drug store and bought the $10 heating pads, and they work great. I just leave them on low and put the plastic dome over the plants at night. I take the dome off during the day so I don’t get too much moisture building up in there.
Today I started spinach, lettuce and scallions for my lettuce bed, and onions, radishes and peas for my veggie garden. The cool thing is that once these items go out in the garden beds, I can start another round so I have a staggered harvest. I plan to grow a lot more onions this year, because last year I underestimated how many I would need. I tend to use a lot of onions in my cooking. I will put all these starts out under frost blanket, then sow more spinach, onion and pea seeds directly into the garden in April. I did that last year and it worked well. All of these seeds tolerate the cold spring weather.
Soon I will start all my big veggie garden starts and put them out in May under frost blanket. The basil and peppers will go out in early June on the back deck, with optional frost cover. We can get frosts well into June so I always have to keep an eye on the plants. Last year I forgot to cover my zucchini just one night and I lost 8 plants.
You have to plan early here in Montana due to our very short growing season, but I find it gets easier every year, the more experience I have under my belt.