Saturday, June 6, 2009

What do plants need to produce food

I'm moving on in my garden conversation. I know there was a lot to take in with my last posting about heat units and frost dates and micro climates. But just by reading it you will know something helpful about your growing issues and one day it will come in handy.
I love Sunset books.
Mine are really old but they have wonderful drawings. Look at the drawing above.
Looks like we are growing a crook neck squash.
It's looking like a scientific experiment.
Yes every time we plant something we are playing mad scientist.
See all the tubes coming off the plants beaker? The tubes are taking in fertilizer and soil nutrients and moving them to the plant
Another tube is pulling in the water and above it all the sun is blazing to make the experiment happen.
All those nice things being pulled into the plant makes it produce those tasty squash.
Looks easy enough.

Do you have seasons where you live?

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter?

Maybe just warm and cool?

Plants grow foundation growth in cool weather

They put down roots to find what they need and branch out with green etc.

Plants increase growth, produce food, food ripens in warm weather

Plants stall growth in cold and burn in Hot

Click to enlarge the seed packets above. Each company does this differently but the important information should be there. How long does this plant take to sprout (germinate) How long does this plant take to produce food. How deep should I plant these seeds and how far apart. Some seed companies even suggest where to plant and what to do to the soil. All of this very helpful

1) How long does it take to become food. This helps me play 'trick the weather' by allowing me to plant sooner and harvest longer.

These carrots take 65 days

The Lettuce takes 45 days

The Beets take 60 days

Why is this important? If I plant tender plants early I might have a freeze when the plants are just young and they would die.

If I plant too late then my plants might have green food on them when the season cools down in the fall and nothing will ripen. Happens here in the Pacific Northwest all the time. We eat a lot of green tomatoes

These seed packets say plant carrots as soon as the soil is workable (not frozen or soaking wet), beets plant from March to August, and Lettuce start early indoors, mid spring and again late summer to early fall.

With that in mind I think a planting calendar would be fun for everyone!

1) find out your last frost date

2) take a piece of printer paper and divide it by your growing seasons. For me it's May-Sept. but I will add a couple of months at the beginning for early starts

3) Draw a red line through the month with your frost date

4) check seeds you'd like to plant, how many days can they be planted before a the end of frost?

Here is an example of what I'm thinking you could do. Even if you only chart three plants or four it will help you plan for next year or your fall plantings

Carrots can be planted as soon as soil is warm......3 weeks after last frost, 4 weeks? count those weeks and put plant carrots on the time you can plant

Beets seems happy with most anything so it says anytime between March and August

lettuce can be put out after danger of frost....start it in doors 4 weeks before your last frost or start seed after your frost date. Put that on your chart

Here is a chart to give you an example. It comes from the "Square Foot Garden" book where you will find many helpful planting charts. However it is just as easy to take the things you want to grow and make your own chart.

Click to enlarge and see chart key

The other helpful thing I'd do for my garden is learn how to plant for continuous harvest.

If my carrots take 65 days to harvest and I want carrots each week I'd start threes weeks before the last frost and I'd plant 1/3 of my area in carrots, in three weeks I'd plant another 1/3 or my area for carrots, and I'd keep doing that every three weeks, planning the last harvest just as we go into the fall freeze.

I've harvested carrots even with the snow coming down they are so hardy.

Let's do it for the lettuce which I really do want some salad every week, every day even.

I'd plant the first seeds outside 7 weeks a head and then every week I'd plant another group. It feels funny at first leaving some of the planting area bare but as each group grows the space fills up and you collect leaves or whole lettuce bundles from the back are that you planted first. When the back area is harvested you can add some compost and re-plant as long as your calendar allows for the 55 days. It's like singing a round where one group is done singing they start the verse over again...Row Row Row your boat!

Lettuce will die with the first freeze of fall if left un-protected. Guess I should stop planting 45 days before the first frost of the fall.

Here is another chart to give you an idea of how to do this. If you really love these charts you can buy the book at

So make a chart, it's a useful way to grow food.

(If you are puzzling over the seed packets please know I plant heirloom seeds when possible and hybrid seeds only when it's something I won't want to collect seed from but would like to eat)

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