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Potting

Benefits of Directly Sown Vegetable Gardens

By Ashleigh Smith, True Leaf Market
Photographs courtesy of True Leaf Market

I love starting my seeds early indoors, but did you know some plants grow better when directly sown (in situ) outdoors? Knowing what to plant and when can help you elevate your gardening skills with each season as you continue to keep your hands dirty and heart happy. With the knowledge of how to correctly plant your seeds outside and why direct sowing is the best growing method, you won’t want to rely on starting your whole garden indoors any longer.

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While many flowers prefer to be started indoors, some are better directly sown because of their growth habits. Wildflowers are a great example. Unlike flowers, most vegetables actually prefer to be directly sown. Cool-season vegetables do very well when planted in situ because they are able to tolerate the lower soil temperatures at the start and end of the growing season. These include root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, beets, and radishes. Leafy greens can be started indoors, although it is best to avoid root damage that may occur when transplanting by direct sowing instead. Popular leafy greens include lettuce, kale, spinach, cabbage, and chard. Get your spring kicked off right with fresh salads made from a variety of spring greens right from the garden.

The best thing about growing greens is their ability to be harvested a few leaves at a time as needed. Growing fresh means you don’t have to worry about an entire head of lettuce going bad while sitting in your fridge. Besides cool-season veggies, there are several warm-season types that also prefer direct sowing. These include cucumbers, winter and summer squash, corn, bush and pole beans, eggplant, and melons. Herbs also do incredibly well when directly sown. I love to keep my herbs close to the kitchen so I can easily harvest them for use in my everyday cooking. Using containers like a stackable garden planter can make it easy to grow a variety of herbs and leafy greens throughout the season.

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Planting shouldn’t be a one-time event. Throughout the growing season, in most temperate climates, the weather changes from cool to hot to cool again. This arc in temperature allows you to increase your harvest potential by taking advantage of seasonality changes. Most cool-season vegetables like those mentioned above can be planted in both the spring and fall for enjoyment throughout the growing season and storage throughout the winter. Depending on how quickly your fall frost arrives, harvest yields may differ substantially. Something is better than nothing, right?

Check your soil regularly as spring approaches. When the soil is workable several inches deep, and you have passed the snowy weather, start planting! Always check seed packets and supplier websites for specific seed-growing instructions. Most cool-season varieties will start germinating around soil temperatures of 45-70 F. Warm-season vegetables should be planted when the soil temperatures have reached the preferred range. For most warm-season varieties, this will fall between 65-95 F. Usually, the soil is cooler than air temps during the day but warmer at night. For an accurate measure, I suggest using a soil thermometer.

Don’t let yourself feel too cramped for growing space. Many spring/fall planted vegetables can be harvested before your main summer crops bush out and require more space. Throughout the growing season, experiment with succession planting of short and quick-to-mature varieties around your slow-growing plants.

Once you have selected your vegetable seeds and the weather is starting to warm, it is time to get planting! The actual act of direct sowing your seeds is very easy. Start by clearing your growing area of weeds and any large rocks that may prevent healthy growth. Lightly rake the surface so the soil is light and “fluffy” where you will be planting. Deep raking or tilling is not required for success. My favorite practice for direct sowing is to make a small trench for the seeds to go. The edge of a rake, hoe or shovel can be used for ground-level beds. For small planting spaces, your hand or a trowel can be used as well.

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The trench should match the appropriate planting depth for your seed. Planting depths can be estimated as twice the width of a seed. Place each seed at the right spacing intervals as determined on your packet or seed source. I recommend utilizing a seeding tool to prevent over-planting. Then, brush the loose soil that piles on each side of your trench over the seeds. Slowly and gently water over your planting area, avoiding high pressure and splashing that may displace your newly sown crops. The soil should be fairly moist for several hours without being wet and soggy. Keep in mind that water will spread from wet to dry areas. If possible, start working with soil that isn’t powder dry or muddy but somewhere in between.

The biggest reason for direct sowing is healthy root development. Plants don’t like to be moved and jostled around. When transplanting, it is common for roots to get ripped and shock in the form of wilting to be observed. When they can develop established roots in their final growing location from the planting stage, you will see stronger growth and resilience throughout their life. Plus, the individual cells of the plant will become stronger and better able to manage water loss with natural temperature variation, wind, and rain that are rarely imitated when started indoors.

In addition to healthy growth, this is a great opportunity for teaching the basics to young family members. The concept of plant spacing can easily be taught with the principles of gardening in squares. Try using a seeding square for easy planting with little hands. We wish you the best garden ever this season! Learn more at www.trueleafmarket.com.

Ashleigh Smith is the Managing Editor at True Leaf Market with a bachelor's degree in Horticulture from Brigham Young University - Idaho. True Leaf Market is a national certified organic, non-GMO seed and horticultural company based in Salt Lake City, Utah. The True Leaf Market staff specializes in supplying a large selection of conventional, heirloom, and organic seeds to home gardeners everywhere. Learn more about our seeds, supplies, and other growing ideas: www.trueleafmarket.com.


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