How many seeds to get?
The better question may be: how many plants do you want to eat? For example, if you know that you eat 3 heads of lettuce/week between June and September, you would need 3 lettuce x 16 weeks = 48 plants. We tend to buy 30% more seeds than what we think we will need. That would put you around 62 seeds. If you want that steady supply of lettuce throughout the summer, those lettuce heads cannot be planted all at the same time. After 6-8 weeks or so, particularly in the heat of the summer, they start to get bitter and tough, and will eventually flower (which is great for pollinators and seed saving, but not so much for fresh eating). Keep reading!
Making the most out of your space
You can grow a lot of veggies in a small space if you practice succession planting. For example, at Nature’s Apprentice Farm we grow 2 to 4 crops in each bed from May to October. How to do this? Succession planting is a back-scheduling exercise. These are the basic steps:
In our latitude, transplanting is particularly helpful in early spring because it is usually too cold to direct seed. For us, transplanting is pretty much the only way to get ripe tomatoes, peppers, watermelon, and other heat loving, long-season plants. It is also a great option to maximize your growing space. In the example above, you could grow lettuce for 30 days in trays or pots and they would only take space in your garden beds for the remaining 30 days, compared to the 60 days if you seed them directly. In those 30 days that you would be saving by transplanting, you could grow a fast-growing crop like baby radishes or salad turnips. Just like getting a 2 for 1 deal at the store!
We repeat this process for every planting. Continuing with the lettuce example, if you plant all the lettuce you need for one week at a time, you would have to plan 16 plantings (1/week), each including 3 plants (or more like 5-6, to be safe in case there are germination issues or something eats a plant or two). This means planting lettuce every week for 16 weeks! This is a fantastic way to make the most out of your space and have a steady supply of fresh vegetables from your own garden.
When to start planting?
This very much depends on your region and the crop you are trying to grow. There are planting calendars available online for every growing region. The Old Farmer’s Almanac is a good resource for North America. Seed packages usually indicate when different varieties may be planted, either outdoors (if direct seeded) or indoors (if transplanted).
In the Ottawa Valley, where our farm is located, cold-hardy plants such as spinach, arugula, carrots, beets, peas, and cilantro can be seeded as soon as the soil thaws in the spring, although many of them have optimal germination temperatures well above freezing. If you use cold frames or row covers, germination will be faster, and your young seedlings will be protected during cold nights.
We have made the mistake of starting seedlings too early more than once. If you get the gardener itch in late winter or early spring, keep in mind that the conditions may still not be optimal for that plant to grow. In such case, supplemental light and heat may be necessary to keep your plants growing. Even after all that effort and energy, if you start your plants too early, they may become rootbound and take a long time to adapt and continue to grow after you transplant them in the garden. If you cannot wait to plant something, a good alternative is to start some microgreens on a sunny spot in your house, which you could add to your salads and sandwiches. We get our microgreen seeds from Mumm’s Sprouting seeds.