April Showers Bring May Flowers, But What Do We Do In March?
One of the wonderful benefits of living in our mild California climate is the ability to grow and enjoy fresh food year round. This leaves the home gardener with several planting options they would not generally have in colder climates.
Early spring is a good time to start thinking about what to put in the ground in April and May for a productive summer harvest. And, of course, I always recommend that you grow what you love to eat!
Timing is essential when planting edibles and it is important to know the date of the last frost in your area. This will give you a good indication of when you will be clear of frost and the soil won’t be too hard to work. Keep in mind that the SF Peninsula is home to several different microclimates, so frost dates may vary from one city to the next.
In Foster City, the last frost dates are usually February 1st to February 10th. So plant your warm season vegetables well after the last frost. A good resource for finding your specific frost date is PlantMaps
Be sure to check your seed packets for suggested planting dates. Planting ranges for a few summer favorites are:
• May-June for tomato seedlings
• April-June for most pepper seedlings
• March-July for summer squash
• Mid-April to July for corn
Seeds Or Seedlings?
Many vegetables and herbs dislike having their roots disturbed and do best when planted directly from seed.
During the spring, the following can all be planted directly into your garden beds from seed:
Arugula, beans, beets, carrots, cilantro, corn, kale, leaf lettuce, mustard greens, radishes, and spinach can all be planted directly into your garden beds from seed.
Others crops do best when transplanted as seedlings, otherwise known as starts.
Basil, cucumber, eggplant, peppers, perennial herbs, summer squash, and tomatoes all do well when transplanted into the garden as seedlings during April and May.
You can start these crops in a greenhouse, cold frame, or windowsill starting in late January through early March. This will allow them plenty of time to mature into viable seedlings that will survive the transplanting process. Egg cartons make great starters for windowsills!
Seedlings grown either indoors or in a greenhouse need a period to acclimate to living outside in the garden. This period of transition is known as hardening off. This process toughens up the plants so they are ready to survive changes in temperature and transplant shock.
The process of hardening off is fairly simple, but does require consistency and attention.
- Ten days before transplanting, move seedlings from the indoors or greenhouse to a somewhat sheltered and shady spot outside.
- Begin with two to three hours of outdoor time, then gradually increase the time and expose them to the morning sun.
- After about a week, seedlings should be ready for all day sun exposure and may stay out at night if temperatures stay above 50 degrees.
If you choose to purchase seedlings from a nursery, be sure to ask if they have been hardened off. It can make a real difference in the vigor of the plant.
Whether planting directly from seed or transplanting seedlings, it is important to know your seed company or nursery well. Spend some time researching companies who offer open pollinated, non-GMO selections that grow well in your area.
The PJCC offers topical gardening classes throughout the year as part of our Grow Justice: Fight Hunger Garden.