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We Plant These 4 Seeds in February To Maximize Our Veggie Yields!

In Northern Ontario, our secret to successfully growing pounds and pounds of vegetable crops despite our challenging and short growing season lies in a carefully planned approach.

While a hoop house can provide a valuable extension to our growing season, it is not an absolute requirement. The key to a bountiful vegetable harvest in our chilly climate lies in starting our gardening season well before the snow melts.

Getting a head start on the growing season is mandatory when growing in a climate with short summers. These are the 4 plants that we make sure to start growing indoors under lights in February. That’s right…February is when our growing season begins here on the Wilderstead.

Peppers

The short growing season in our area, zone 3, can make it difficult for pepper plants to bear fruit. Peppers need a long, warm, and sunny growing season in order to produce fruit. In Zone 3, the growing season is often too short and the temperatures are often too cool for peppers to produce fruit unless the seedlings are quite mature before planting in your garden after the last expected frost.

So, if you want to grow peppers in colder climates, you should be starting your seeds much earlier than you might expect. It’s also a good idea to select varieties that require a shorter season or look for varieties that are more tolerant to cooler temperatures. You should also look for varieties that mature earlier so that you can harvest them before the season ends. In our case, the pepper varieties that we grow come from our own saved seeds which we have been developing for the last 6 or 7 years.

It’s a good idea to keep in mind that pepper seeds can take anywhere from 7 to 21 days to just germinate and pop their little heads out of the soil, so take that into consideration when you are planning out your growing strategy with these plants. We start our pepper plants indoors under small LED shop lights and use heat mats under the trays to keep the soil warm while the seeds germinate. Starting pepper plants indoors allows you to get a head start on the growing season.

By starting your pepper plants indoors in February, you are getting them ready for transplanting into the garden at a much larger size. You get a jump start on the harvest by starting your outdoor growing season with plants that are more mature and ready to take advantage of the summer season. You can start harvesting your pepper plants much earlier than if you had started them later in the year. Starting pepper plants indoors months before planting outside reduces the risk that comes with planting smaller seedlings and chancing them being eaten by insects, rodents and other pests that might be waiting for an easy meal.

It usually takes around 2-3 months for a pepper plant to bear mature pepper pods for eating. Once the plants start to flower, it can take anywhere from 30-90 days for the peppers to mature and be ready for harvesting. The exact amount of time for each pepper plant to bear mature peppers will depend on the variety, climate, and other environmental conditions.

We plant our peppers in two spots here. Outside open to the elements in raised beds, and in our small hoop house which provides protection from the elements and also helps to add a little extra warmth during the summer as well as extending our growing season, often into late November or early December.

A hoop house is a great way to extend the growing season and provide protection from extreme weather. However, a hoop house is not necessary for growing peppers, even in our colder northern climate. Peppers can be grown in most climates without the use of a hoop house provided you are giving them a big head start when they are moved outside into your garden. Peppers prefer a long and warm growing season, but they are also tolerant of cooler weather and shorter growing seasons. With proper care and attention, peppers can produce good yields even in climates with shorter growing seasons. A hoop house is a great way to extend the growing season and provide extra protection from extreme weather, but it is not always necessary for growing peppers.

Asparagus

Asparagus is another crop that we start in February. We have a large patch of garden space that we’ve dedicated to growing asparagus. While this particular crop is easily grown in colder climates, and is a perennial food crop, meaning it comes back every year a little stronger than the last, it is a good idea to start new asparagus seeds each year to add to your asparagus crop. This will help to ensure the health and productivity of your asparagus bed for years to come. Asparagus plants can remain productive for up to 15 years, so it is important to consistently add new plants to the bed to ensure a healthy, productive crop. The other option when planting asparagus is to purchase asparagus crowns which are somewhat mature and ready for planting. The downside to using asparagus crowns is the cost. You don’t get much for the amount you pay. Seeds are much cheaper and are relatively easy to start and grow.

Asparagus seeds typically take 7 to 14 days to germinate. The best results are achieved when the soil temperature is between 18 and 23 C (65-75 degrees Fahrenheit.). For this reason, a heating mat can increase your germination rate significantly. For faster germination, and higher germination rates, we soak asparagus seeds in water for up to 24 hours before planting them. This helps to soften the seed coat and helps speed up the germination process.

Asparagus seedlings can typically be transplanted outside when they are at least 6 to 8 inches tall and have 4 to 6 leaves. Because these indoor started seedlings will be sensitive to colder spring weather, unlike their friends outside, it is best to wait until after the last frost of the season to transplant them outdoors. You can either scatter your new seedlings amongst the other more mature plants in your asparagus patch, or start a new spot with each years seedlings. It’s entirely up to you, but knowing where you plant each new generation will help you in knowing when to start harvesting from each of the plants of varying age in your patch. Individual Asparagus plants should be allowed to grow and mature for a couple of seasons before you begin harvesting.

Onions

Onions can be started a couple of ways. You have the option of planting onion sets, and starting from seed. Onion sets tend to grow quickly once planted, but there’s an elevated risk of the plants bolting and going to seed earlier, and the risk of introducing unwanted pests or disease into your garden. They’re also quite pricey when compared to the cost of seed.

Every spring we start our onions from seeds indoors under lights to ensure a successful crop. Onion seeds germinate best in temperatures between 65-75°F, which is ideal for growing indoors. Starting the seeds indoors also allows you to get a jump start on the growing season and gives your plants plenty of time to mature before transplanting them into the garden.

Our preferred method of sowing onion seeds is mass planting. Mass planting onion seeds means planting large quantities of onion seeds at once and it is a great way to get an early start on the growing season, especially if you live in a colder climate. To do this, we fill cell trays with potting soil. Sow a dozen or so onion seeds per cell and cover with a thin layer of soil. Place the trays in a warm spot and keep the soil moist. As the seedling grow, you can give them a trim, or a hair cut to keep their height down and to help promote root and bulb development. When it comes time to start planting into our outdoor space, we’ll just remove each cell, soak it in a container of water and gently pry apart each individual onion, which is then planted into the garden.

Each year we leave a few onions in the ground when we are harvesting. The following spring, these onions will begin to grow again, and being their second year they should theoretically produce a flower stalk which we them allow to go to seed for next years onion crops.

Celery

One crop that we are particularly proud of our growing capabilities is celery. We use a lot of celery all year round, so we grow a ton of it every year. Celery is a very slow growing crop that definitely benefits from having a very early start in the year. We’ve started this as early as the first week of January in the past.

Celery seeds are very, VERY small. When we start them, we scatter a few seeds per cell right on top of the soil, and put a very light dusting of fine soil on top of them. Celery actually needs light in order for the seeds to germinate, so planting them too deep will result in poor germination rates. With these seeds being so small, you are best to use a misting bottle to spray the surface of the soil to reduce disturbance of the seeds. In addition to that, alway make sure your soil is pre moistened before you start planting seeds.

We’ve found that starting plants in early to mid February gives sufficient time for the plants to mature, and we are usually starting to harvest celery ribs in late July or early August.

Aside from dedicating a great deal of time to saving our own seeds here on the Wilderstead, we’ve learned during our time growing a large amount of our own food is that by starting seeds indoors, we can extend our growing season, get a head start on the harvest, and have more control over the environment in which our plants are growing. Starting seeds indoors is especially important in colder climates, where the growing season is shorter and the temperatures are cooler. With a little extra effort, and a few simple tricks, it is possible to have a successful vegetable garden in even the coldest climates.

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