Late May News: Hardening off Seedlings Before Transplanting

Flint prepares flats of onions for their move outdoors.

Flint prepares flats of onions for their move outdoors.

Garden seedlings can be put into two basic categories: seedlings that are tender, and seedlings that are hardy. Tender plants will not tolerate temperatures below 32℉ (i.e. they will die), while hardy seedlings can experience frosts and freezing temperatures and survive. There is a range in each category, some plants being very tender like basil, and some very hardy like onions. For specifics about the hardiness of your seedlings, check out Johnny’s Seeds Grower’s Library. They some wonderful tips on hardening off specific types of vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers.

At Cate Farm, we start everything from seed here in our greenhouses, in East Montpelier. Once plants have been potted up, some remain in a greenhouse before being sold, while others are grown outdoors on benches to harden them off. The plants that remain in a greenhouse benefit from a gradual transition to the outside growing environment before transplanting to your garden.

Cate Farm greenhouses have roll up side walls, so seedlings experience some wind even though they are not outside. That being said, the greenhouse plastic diffuses and reduces the impact of direct sunlight, provides plants with extra heat during sunny days and protects them from cooler nighttime temperatures. To get your greenhouse plants ready for transplanting, we recommend that you incrementally expose them to direct sunlight for a few hours a day. A little wind is good too, but not too much. Move the plants from direct sun to your porch, or bring inside if below 40℉. After a few days of this treatment, your plants will be ready to put in your garden.

May News: Garden Fertility and Soil Testing

Forming Beds

   Healthy plants grow in healthy soil, one that has plenty of organic matter, microbes and a balance of the right nutrients.

  Increasing organic matter and microbial life is often achieved with the addition of compost (or manure, plant materials) to your garden soil. But how can you tell about the nutrients in the soil?  Human senses of sight, smell, taste and feel can help, but a soil test from a lab is an easy and cost effective answer. University of Vermont has an excellent Soil Testing Lab, and a garden test starts at $15. Check out their Soil Testing page for more info or download a form here.

The results will come back in a week or so, with lots of good information, including recommendations of what fertilizers would help your specific site. You can request 'organic practices' and even get results tailored to specific vegetable growing requirements!

   The pH, or measure of how acid or alkaline your soil is, should optimally be in the 6.5 -6.8 range. Nutrient availability (what is easy for plants to take up) of most all important plant nutrients is best in this pH range. Ground limestone and sulfur are two common additions to raise and lower pH, respectively.

  Three plant nutrients are needed in greater amounts, called macro nutrients. They are N (nitrogen), P (phosphorous) and K (potassium), often referred to as NPK. Micro nutrients are still important, but just needed in smaller amounts. The soil test will show what nutrients your soil has now, and what additions will improve the overall balance for best plant growth. A soil test is only as good as the sample you submit. Check out UVM’s tips for taking a soil sample to ensure your results are accurate.

   Stay tuned! Future newsletter topics will include:

  • Frost hardy and tender plants

  • How to harden off plants

  • Watering in the garden

  • Professional tips for watering your seedlings

  • Growing the best tomatoes

  • And much more!

Happy Gardening!

The Team at Cate Farm