Start with brassicas
It’s almost time to start your brassica seedlings. The Brassica family is extremely cold-hardy. It includes things like broccoli, cabbage, collards, kale and Brussel sprouts. They can be transplanted outside 2-3 weeks before the last frost date, which in ND means you can plant around the first of May. That means you’ll want to start your seedlings no later than the first of March.
Other cold weather plants
Other plants you’ll want to start early include onions and leeks. Yes, you can buy onion sets at any garden store. They’re pretty inexpensive. But if you want a special onion–like one that stores for a long time or a Walla Walla Sweet–you’ll have to start them from seed and now is the time to do it.
Brassicas and onion are plants that you’ll soon want to start indoors from seed right away. But some seeds are sown directly into the garden before the last frost. These include peas, which can be planted a month before the last frost date. Around here that means we can start planting peas the third week of April. For a continuous supply, plant half a row every week between late April and the first of June.
Swiss chard, spinach and lettuce are early spring crops that are also sown directly into the garden. They can go in about a week or two after the peas–late April or early May. If you want a continuous crop of lettuce, plant 1/4 a row every week between late April and early June. Lettuce and spinach do not tolerate heat well and want to bolt (that is, starts to produce seed and the leaves become bitter) as soon as it gets too warm or doesn’t get enough water. You can prevent bolting by picking leaves every day and covering the plants with shade. Swiss chard is less likely to bolt, which is one reason it’s one of my favorite early spring plants.
As you nurture your plants along from seedling to full-grown plant, your plants may encounter some rough spots or bumps along the road. You can help your plants along and encourage them to grow bigger and stronger with a little foliar feeding.
Why foliar feeding?
The leaves of plants are amazing things. Their primary function is to take sunlight and convert it into sugars that the plant uses as food. But leaves also take in and regulate moisture for the entire plant. If the leaves are healthy, chances are the rest of the plant will be as well. So when you feed the leaves, you are feeding the whole plant.
Perhaps (hopefully) you have my eBook on starting plants from seeds. There you’ll see how I like to feed my seedlings to get them off to a good start. When you start from seed, the first leaves to emerge are the cotyledon leaves and they are similar to the size shape of the seed. At this point both the leaves and the roots are nourished by the nutrients in the seed itself. These leaves do not process light or other nutrients for the plant. But in a few days, the true leaves will emerge. They look more like the leaves of a mature plant and you can begin to identify the plant by its true leaves.
The true leaves can use photosynthesis and the nutrients from the soil to feed the plant. So after there are 4-5 true leaves, you can begin spraying a foliar fertilizer. Be careful not to overdo it. Like feeding too much fish food in a fish tank, unused fertilizer will just sit on the soil and harbor mold and bacteria.
But the time the plants will really benefit from foliar feeding is during times of stress, when the roots aren’t able to nourish the plant very well. Spray your plants with a foliar fertilizer after you transplant seedlings to a larger pot or into the garden. If you’ve had a few days without rain or water, spraying the leaves with a feeding solution will help the roots take up the water from the ground more readily.
Easy does it
Now, the leaves are limited on how much nutrients they can take in. Too much fertilizer will create mold or scalding spots on the leaves, so a little goes a long way. Use a very diluted fish emulsions, liquid