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Gardening & More: Time to start those seeds for some cool-weather veggies

I LOVE BROCCOLI — If you want to start gardening now, begin with cool weather vegetables, such as broccoli. You can start these plants from seeds now, but wait a few more weeks before starting seeds for tomatoes and other tender crops. Photo courtesy of Burpee Home Gardens.
HAMBURG — After this long, cold winter, I know you are probably aching to do some gardening. It is finally time to take the first step: Start some seeds for cool weather vegetables inside.

Mid-March is a great time to start seeds inside, for vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, according to Julie Emerling, a grower at Lockwood’s Greenhouses, located at 4484 Clark St. in Hamburg.

Unlike tender vegetable plants such as tomatoes, you can plant these cool weather vegetables outside earlier, around the beginning of May, because they like the cooler weather and can take some light frost. That is why you should start your seeds now.

You cannot start seeds for every plant, just yet. Wait until the end of March to start lettuce and spinach. They are cold-tolerant, but they cannot take frost the way vegetables like cabbage can.

It is still too early to start seeds for tender plants; wait until Memorial Day to plant them outside. Start most seeds six – eight weeks before you are going to plant them outside, and Memorial Day is still 10 weeks away. You can start those seeds around the first week of April.

In my experience, if you start seeds too early, the plants get leggy and die before you can even transplant them outside. Emerling pointed out an additional problem. If you use small seed-starting pots, your plants could become too large for the pot and become rootbound.

“Don’t jump the gun and start your seeds too early,” Emerling said.

Planting seeds and transplanting outside
You need a very sunny window or grow lights to start the seeds inside. Before you transplant them, move the seedlings to a cooler, protected spot, such as a basement or garage.

If you do not want to start with seeds, you can buy plants in the middle or end of April.

While cool-weather vegetables can generally be planted at the end of April or beginning of May, you cannot go by the calendar alone. You need to wait until the ground is dry enough to be worked; do not plant in mud. You also need the weather to be warm enough for this process.

While the plants can take some light frost, if it is going to get very cold outside (like 27 degrees Fahrenheit), protect the plants. Before the temperature drops, cover the plants with a cloth, milk jugs, pails or other containers, to retain the heat.

Broccoli
If you plant these vegetables in the beginning of May, you will harvest around the end of June.

When you cut the main head out, the plant will produce side shoots that you can harvest.

You can get two crops with broccoli. Plant the fall crop at the end of August or beginning of September, and you will harvest in approximately a month and a half, depending on the weather. Broccoli can withstand a frost.

Cabbage
Plant cabbage at the beginning of May and you should harvest in approximately two months. Bigger varieties of cabbage take longer to grow and will not be ready to harvest until August or September.

If you want a second crop of cabbage, plant one of the smaller, early varieties in early September.

If we get a bad rain, the head could split. The cabbage will be fine to eat, but it will not look as appealing.

Cauliflower
If you plant in springtime, you will probably harvest in mid-June. You can get a second crop, if you plant seeds at the beginning of August. You will probably harvest in late September, depending on the weather.

When the plants are getting big and the head starts to form, tie up the leaves, to protect the head. You can use a zip tie, twine or string. This will keep the head white and prevent it from turning purple, plus it will keep bugs out.

Connie Oswald Stofko is the publisher of Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email Connie@BuffaloNiagaraGardening.com.
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