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While summer may be months away, right now is the perfect time to start preparing for your summer garden, whether in your backyard, on your balcony, or in your community! Here are some tips and techniques you should consider as you jumpstart your summer garden. 

The first thing you want to consider is selecting your seeds. There are a few different types of seeds that have different ‘properties’ that certain gardeners may prefer. Some of the types of seeds are referred to as Heirloom, Organic, Hybrid, and Coated. Many home gardeners prefer using heirloom seeds – these seeds have been saved over multiple generations of the plant’s life, preserving the genetic ‘knowledge’ of climate and soil growing conditions from past generations. These seeds and plants can have unique shapes, colours, and flavours that are distinct from what you may see in the grocery store. Alternatively, hybrid seeds have been selectively bred by scientists to exhibit specific traits for yields, plant shape, skin thickness, and even seedless varieties. Coated seeds are seeds that are coated with certain compounds, in order to affect certain properties of the seed itself, such as longevity or plantability. Organic seeds are produced naturally through pest-free plants, and are not modified genetically.

 

This is the typical back of a seed packet, which tells you all the information you need to know to grow the plant. Note some seed packets may not tell you when to sow indoors. Image credits: https://gardenerspath.com/how-to/beginners/backs-seed-packets-display-valuable-information-gardener/

After you pick out your seeds, the next step to consider is when, where, and how you will be planting those seeds. Many people plant their seeds directly in their garden after the danger of the last frost has passed – in Ontario, this is usually around the May 24th long weekend. While this is totally acceptable, there are some benefits to starting your seeds indoors or under cover in advance. Sprouting your seeds earlier can lead to bigger plants, as well as earlier and larger harvests when temperatures and sunlight increase. The majority of store-bought seeds will have instructions on how to plant and recommend when you should start your seedlings indoors. Keep in mind, that some plants do not transplant well, and should only be planted directly in soil (e.g., root vegetables). Once you establish your plan, there are some additional items you need to purchase or procure, including:

  • A seedling tray, with drainage holes (you can put something underneath the tray to keep things dry – a two-tray system works very well to allow water to filter through the soil and capture in the bottom tray)
  • A clear tray cover/humidity dome (this will come with most trays, but you can just take any clear hard plastic and use it as a cover)
  • Soil & Compost
  • A spray bottle
  • Optional – A seedling heat mat (increases temperature for better germination rates)

Simply fill your tray with soil, plant the seeds as deep as the seed packet recommends, spray with a generous amount of water, and cover the tray with a humidity dome or plastic cover. Occasionally you will need to mist the soil to keep it moist, usually every other day when the plants are small. Once the seedlings germinate, keep the cover on for 7-10 days to maintain a warm and humid environment. After sprouts reach 3-4 inches above the soil, remove the cover and place them somewhere they will get a minimum of 12 hours of light (different plants may have different needs). If you don’t have any space by a window, you can use an LED light to support the plant’s lighting needs. Keep in mind that in each of the tray’s cells, you may have more than one successful seedling, in that case, you should gently remove one or more of the seedlings so that there is only one or two sprouts per tray cell – leaving the plant enough room to grow big and strong without competition from other sprouts. 

An example of a typical indoor germination set up image credits: https://www.heirloomsoul.com/blog/how-to-diy-seed-starting-setup

This is only a general guide as some seedlings have different requirements, for example, lavender needs to experience cold before it germinates – a process called cold stratification. Your seed packet will tell you when to transplant the plant outdoors, but use your best judgment of the temperatures each season. One to two weeks before you plant your seedlings outside, you should begin to ‘harden’ or acclimatize your plants. Plants that started indoors are not exposed to the rougher conditions of temperature and intense sunlight outside and are relatively fragile. By gradually increasing your plant’s exposure to the outside conditions, you are forcing it to toughen up. You can start when your plants have 3-4 true leaves (these are leaves that look like the adult plant’s leaves – only smaller), by placing them outside in the shade for one hour, then bringing them back. Repeat this for a week, increasing the time and the light exposure, gradually.

Seed leaves look the same on almost all plants, while true leaves will typically be more distinct. Image credits: https://www.naturesupplyco.com/blogs/news/seedling-care-tips 

When the weather begins to warm up and stays stable above freezing, there are some other things you can do to get your garden ready for summer. One of the first steps is to get your soil or planter back into shape. Winter can take a toll on soil, as the colder temperatures cause it to compact, which means it can hold less water and is harder for roots to grow through. You can use a spade to break up your soil, making it looser and better for growing. Also, it might be a good time to give your soil a boost with some additional nutrients. When plants grow in soil, they take nutrients from it, which can leave your soil nutrient-deprived for the next season. While some just buy new soil, you can also amend your old soil by mixing compost into it (the compost added should be such that the total volume of old soil + compost is roughly 20 – 25%). If you don’t have any compost on hand, check your town’s website or local garden centers to see if they have compost giveaway days, and get free compost for your garden!

With your soil and plants ready, gardening in the summer will surely be a breeze. Here is a bonus tip to elevate your gardening experience: try companion planting, where you grow certain plants together to gain extra benefits. A famous example, that has its roots in North and Central American indigenous practices, is the three sisters: Corn, Pole beans, and Squash. The corn provides support for the beans. While the beans provide nitrogen for the other 2 plants. The squashes’ big shady leaves keep the soil cool and moist and crowd out many of the weeds. If you want to try this method, check out this link. This is only one of many combos. Consider researching to see if any of the plants you want can buddy up and help each other out. This is a good place to start.

 

 

An example of what the three sisters look like in practice. Image credits: https://goodlifepermaculture.com.au/three-sisters/

By following these few tips, you will be sure to enjoy a bountiful harvest in the seasons to come! Stay tuned for more grower tips and tricks as the gardening season gets closer!

 

 

 

Blog made in collaboration with Boreal Farms.