The Basics Of Starting & Transplanting Seeds

by Dana Kester-McCabe

Up until the third week of April, it looked as if gardeners (and farmers) on Delmarva could be in for another troublesome season, possibly mimicking the drought conditions of the last two years.

Rainfall patterns were well under the normal range, with warmer than usual temperatures, and garden soils were badly parched. The steady rain on the 21st and 22nd of April - around 2" at my house - was a great relief, and the vegetables I transplanted on the 8 th (spinach, lettuce, beets, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage) along with the shell peas, red and white potatoes, and the onion sets I had sown directly into the garden in late March, perked up immediately. Hopefully, we won't have to suffer through another dry spell and can catch up on the averages for rainfall over the next few weeks.

(Check your state's most current drought conditions at the US Drought Monitor: )

I waited about 18 days to transplant the vegetables from the time I started them indoors. By then they had their secondary leaves and a fairly strong stem. (video) By that time too, the peas and onions had poked their heads up out of the ground, and the red Norland potatoes, always fast growers, had begun to burst through the soil.

It will be another week or two before all the white Kennebec potatoes make their appearance. I bought about a dozen of both varieties, cutting up a couple of the bigger ones, making sure each section had several "eyes," in order to have a total of 15 plants of each. (photo) The first Norlands ought to be ready by early June. They will be mostly small to mid-size at that time , but nothing tastes better than new potatoes right out of the ground!

On April 24th I started a second batch of seedlings indoors: more beets, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and lettuce, plus 3 Jenny Lind cantaloupe and 3 varieties of tomatoes. The tomatoes are Gardener's Delight, a cherry; Rutgers, a hybrid; and Paul Robeson, an heirloom. The cantaloupe and tomatoes won't go into the garden until the ground warms up, usually in late May.

On that same day, I also seeded a second batch of peas and spinach, and several rows of Nantes carrots directly into the garden. Serial plantings of these vegetables will extend the harvest for these crops and keeps me from being overwhelmed with too much of a good thing at one time.

For each of the vegetables I've mentioned, I mark the days to maturity listed on the seed packet and make a note in my garden diary. There are too many variables that influence the growth of a plant for this to be a precise measure, but when the 44 days for Tyree spinach or the 70 days for Nantes carrots are up, for example, I'll harvest a few plants to test if they are ready for eating. Plus, this is helpful for knowing when to make plans for subsequent plantings.

I've been enjoying asparagus since early April, at first only a few spears at a time, but now the yield is steady. It takes at least two years for an asparagus bed to be mature enough to yield much. It was among the first things I planted when I moved to Delmarva eight years ago, and bringing in the spears now is a source of great pleasure. Steamed for five minutes, with a little butter added, they are tender and delicious.