Seed Starting Tips

Susan Littlefield - Horticulturist

Although many parts of the country are still in the grip of winter's cold, the days are getting longer, and gardening season beckons, if distantly. It's time to start planning what to grow and when to plant it! Many of the veggies we grow benefit from an early start indoors. Now is a great time to begin gathering seed starting supplies and equipment so you’ll have everything you need when the proper seed starting time for your climate arrives. Here are some tips to help you have strong, thriving transplants ready for the outdoor garden at the appropriate time.

  1. Start by finding out the average spring frost-free date for your area. Experienced local gardeners, your local Extension Service, or online resources can help you determine the average date of the last spring frost (LFD) in your area. Next, refer to the chart to make a seed starting schedule so that plants will be at an optimum size for transplanting to the garden. Cool season crops like broccoli and cabbage are started early, but can go out into the garden early as well, before the last frost date has arrived. Warmth lovers like tomatoes and peppers need to wait until the danger of frost is past. Melons, cukes, and squash do best with no more than about 4 weeks of indoor growing.
  2. Want someone else to do the figuring? Check out the Seed-Starting Date Calculator from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Simply enter your last frost date and it will do the figuring for you for a wide range of veggies and flowers.
  3. Some plants don’t tolerate the transplanting easily. Plant seeds of melons, cucumbers, and squash in individual biodegradable coir or peat pots so that you can plant the seedlings, pot and all, without disturbing their roots. Homemade paper pots also work great for these plants.
  4. Most seeds germinate best in warm soil. Placing pots on a heat mat (available from garden stores) is an easy way to provide bottom heat. As soon as you see tiny plants poking through the soil, remove any coverings and move the container off the heat mat to a brightly lit spot.
  5. It’s hard to grow strong seedlings indoors with only natural light, even on a south-facing windowsill. Give them supplemental light from fluorescent grow lights to keep them growing strong. Keep lights on for 16-18 hours a day, not around the clock; plants need a nighttime break for best growth. A timer makes it easy to switch lights on and off on schedule. Mount the fixtures so the bulbs hang just a few inches above the tops of the young plants, raising them gradually as the plants grow taller.
  6. Brush your hands gently across the tops of your seedlings every day once they are a couple of inches tall. This little bit of regular movement will help seedlings develop sturdy stems. Or you can set a fan to blow gently across your young plants. The increased air movement will also lessen the likelihood of disease problems.
  7. Be sure to harden off your seedlings before you set them outside. This means gradually accustoming the plants to outdoor light and temperatures over the period of 7-10 days. Set plants out for just a couple of hours in a shady, protected spot for starters; then keep them out for increasingly longer periods of time in more and more exposed locations. Your young plants will then be ready to take off growing when they're planted out in the garden.
  8. Some kinds of plants do best when their seeds are sown directly in the garden. Peas, beans, spinach, corn, root crops such as beets, turnips, radishes, and carrots, and herbs like dill and cilantro generally do best when their seeds are planted where they are to grow directly in the outdoor garden.

Click here to Download Seed Starting Tips

Start seeds 8-10 weeks before last spring frost (LFD)

Start seeds 6-8 weeks before last spring frost (LFD)

Start seeds 4-6 weeks before last spring frost (LFD)

Start seeds 2 weeks before last spring frost (LFD)

Direct sow in garden

Onions: Transplant outside 4 weeks before LFD

*Kale: Transplant outside 2-4 weeks before LFD

*Lettuce: Transplant outside 2-3 weeks before LFD

*Cabbage: Transplant outside 2-3 weeks before LFD

Broccoli: Transplant outside 2 weeks before LFD

Peppers: Transplant outside 2 weeks after LFD

Tomatoes: Transplant outside 1-2 weeks after LFD

*Basil: Transplant outside 1 week after LFD

*Cucumber: Transplant outside 1-2 weeks after LFD

*Zucchini: Transplant outside 1-2 weeks after LFD

*Melon: TranspPlant outside 2 weeks after LFD

*Squash and Pumpkins: Transplant outside 2 weeks after LFD

Spinach: As soon as soil can be worked; approx. 8 weeks before last spring frost (LFD)

Peas: 4-5 weeks before LFD

Beets, Carrots, Radishes, Turnips: 4 weeks before LFD

Cilantro: LFD

Dill: LFD

Beans: LFD or later

Sweet Corn: LFD or later

* Seeds of these crops can also be sown directly in the garden at the transplanting date or later. Starting seeds earlier indoors will give you an earlier harvest.

Hawaii’s School Garden Network Supports School Gardens

Guest Blog by Donna Mitts – Program Coordinator, The Kohala Center

For almost eight years I have been a coordinator for The Kohala Center’s Hawai‘i Island School Garden Network (HISGN). Founded in the year 2000, The Kohala Center is an independent, community-based center for research, conservation, and education. The Center works for a vibrant, sustainable future for Hawai‘i by focusing on four key areas: food, water, place, and people.

By supporting more than 60 school learning gardens on Hawai‘i Island through technical assistance and professional development programs, HISGN connects Hawai‘i’s keiki (children) to fresh food, healthier eating habits, and the ‘āina (land) itself. The Kohala Center also administers FoodCorps Hawai‘i and the statewide Hawai‘i Farm to School and School Garden Hui. These three initiatives support garden and nutrition programs and help schools procure fresh, healthy, locally grown food.

At public, private, and charter schools across the island—from cool, breezy South Kohala to tropical Hilo, from sunny South Kona to verdant Hāmākua—more than 16 acres of school learning gardens have been planted, annually yielding 30,000 pounds of food for these students and their school communities to enjoy. Concurrently, deeper learning of mathematics, social studies, language arts, fine arts, and the natural sciences is taking place in these vibrant, engaging outdoor classrooms.

Since it began in 2008 HISGN has been offering professional development and networking opportunities for our learning garden community. I remember when the network was first forming: I was still a garden coordinator at a small public school along the Hāmākua Coast. I was given a message from the school office to contact Nancy Redfeather, director of the newly formed Network. She contacted all of the schools on Hawai‘i Island to find out which schools had a garden. I think initially there were fewer than a dozen schools identified. The people heading those gardens were brought together to discuss forming a network. Many of us weren’t aware of other school gardens in existence at that time and were all just gardening with students. I led that school’s garden program for ten years, offering weekly garden classes for students in grades K through 9.

Eventually my position at that school was eliminated due to budget cuts and I began working at The Kohala Center as the HISGN program coordinator. It was a great transition that afforded me the chance to continue helping the school garden movement on our island. Hawai‘i Island is quite large and Nancy needed help doing site visits and offering support. We developed workshops in garden-based learning, offered school garden tours for inspiration, compiled curriculum, and identified many other opportunities for those in our school garden community. We started sharing our resources on our website and news on our Facebook page.

As our network developed, we asked the school garden community what they needed. We found they needed curriculum for connecting classwork with gardens, growing techniques for Hawai‘i’s unique garden challenges, networking opportunities, and inspiration from other school gardens.

We recently released the Hawai‘i School Garden Curriculum Map, created by teachers for their peers who may not be gardeners themselves but intuitively understand the benefits of inquiry-based, place-based, project-based learning for their students.
By listening to our Network’s needs we have been able to nurture and grow a movement in Hawai‘i, one school garden at a time.

Photos provided by: The Kohala Center


An Investment with Big Dividends

Emily Shipman – Executive Director

Have you ever reflected on an event in your life that, when it happened, seemed relatively small and insignificant but later you realized it changed your life by setting in motion a series of events?

Seeds to Sprouts Junior Gardener Program at Santa Fe Children’s Museum

To many of our grantees, receiving a KidsGardening Youth Garden Grant is a similar experience. A catalyst for continued growth and success, the grant is an investment that pays big dividends for years to come.

The outdoor classroom at Harold Martin School in Hopkinton, New Hampshire broke ground on a beautiful day in May. Betsy, one of the garden coordinators, vividly remembers the excitement of watching the first grade students engaged in the garden-building. The students took turns building a stonewall, planting the new butterfly garden, installing a special apple tree bred for New Hampshire’s climate, and creating cement cobbles for the garden path, each decorated with a different child’s handprint.

Planning for the garden began a year before planting day. “Each month, the team—made up of teachers, parents and a representative from the Department of Fish and Game—met to design the project.” The students were also involved in the process to make sure they “understood that the garden was more than the results. We wanted them to learn that building a garden took cooperation and attention to detail.”

The garden plans received a big boost when the school received a Youth Garden Grant from KidsGardening. “Winning the grant brought the ideas off the wish list and into reality,” Betsy recalls. “It galvanized the administration, teachers and most obviously, the kids.” The grant also helped draw in donations from throughout the community and in recognition of their efforts, the school received an award from the State Board of Education and was highlighted in the city’s newspaper.

At first Garden Day seemed to be the grand finale to the all their planning efforts, but as it turns out, it was only the beginning of the story. As Betsy is quick to note, the garden was the start of a much larger journey. “The success of the project was that we kept going towards other equally challenging ideas.”

Willett Elementary School Garden

Inspired by what they accomplished and building on the strong relationships they developed, the team involved in creating the garden continued to actively pursue new science-learning experiences. Through winning the Youth Garden Grant, the students learned that “if you have a good idea and can communicate that idea so that it interests others, you can accomplish your goals.” They used this new knowledge to search their local community and beyond for opportunities. “Many of the children involved have gone on to pursue careers in the field of horticulture and science. One student was inspired to be a florist, another went into the genetics field, and still others pursued careers in environmental design.”

Betsy credits the Youth Garden Grant as an important spark for their fire. “Without the structure of the grant, the committee may have met for a few many projects...slowly running out of steam.  But when the grant announcement came...we all united. It all began in the garden, showing us how we could come together and accomplish great things that instigated and gave meaning to classroom topics. It whet our appetites for more, and just like any garden, we kept on growing.”YFJ-garden-club-students

KidsGardening recently named the 20 winners of the 2017 Youth Garden Grant. The YGG was the first youth garden grant in the nation. Since 1982, KidsGardening has awarded nearly 5500 schools, nonprofits, and youth programs across the United States, contributing over 2.9 million dollars in funding to youth gardening initiatives.Save

Set the Stage for Learning in an Outdoor Garden Classroom

Christine Gall – Education Specialist

One of the most common barriers many teachers feel they face when it comes to using the garden as a classroom is the simple fact that it is an outdoor space. “My students go wild when I take them out,” “I can’t get them to focus—it’s just too chaotic,” are some of the most common refrains I’ve heard. While many educators would agree that student energy levels tend to skyrocket when given the opportunity to venture outside, understanding why this is the case can be the key to creating more manageable and productive visits to your Outdoor Classroom.

For many elementary-aged students, the only time they go outside during the school day is recess, and perhaps gym. Both of these situations are generally high energy and are largely characterized as a time when students can let loose and have some wiggle room—a brief escape from more sedentary and confining classroom expectations such as sitting quietly at a desk, being a respectful listener and using an inside voice.

This typical school day schedule, with limited time spent outdoors, essentially promotes a belief that learning only takes place in the classroom. Students become inadvertently conditioned to seeing the outdoors as a place where they get a break from learning rather than an environment where learning can take place. And so, the first time a group of students is brought outside for a “class,” they often respond to the outdoor environment in the same way that they would respond to it any other time: by being loud and excited because in their eyes it’s free time!

Rather than turning around, going indoors and never thinking about class outside again because it’s “too chaotic,” have a candid conversation with students about how learning can take place in a variety of different settings. It may take some time for students to adjust to the concept of an outdoor classroom—in fact, it often takes time for educators to feel comfortable teaching in a non-classroom environment. To make this transition easier for both you and your students, try out a few of these helpful tips:

  • It may seem obvious to you, but always remind your students that they are going outside for class, not recess.
  • Create a special Outdoor Agreement or Garden Pledge as a way to outline expectations for time spent outside. This document might also include garden-specific behaviors, such as “ask before you pick something” or “check in with an adult before using a tool.” Bring it with you so students can refer to it while in their Outdoor Classroom and revisit it the first few times you venture outside.
  • While outdoors, make sure that whenever you address your students as a group they are facing away from the sun, making it easier for them to pay attention—there’s nothing worse than forcing your audience to squint into bright light.
  • If possible, also orient your group of students so that anything you might need to point out is already in their line of sight. Having to constantly turn around to see the garden beds or equipment you’re referencing can be distracting for youth.
  • Embrace the space you have and harness student energy! Recognize the impact the freedom of an outdoor learning environment has on a child and push the boundaries of your comfort zone as an educator accustomed to working in an indoor classroom.


Youth Garden New Year’s Resolutions

Sarah P – Education Specialist

With help from our PTO and a Lowe’s Toolbox for Education Grant, this fall we added 11 new raised beds at my daughter Abby’s school for our third grade and pre-k classes (this is in addition to the 10 raised beds we already had for our fourth graders). It was so exciting to watch more kids catch the gardening bug after digging in the soil and experiencing the magic of seeds sprouting before their eyes.

Garden installation was a wild time for us. In addition to the new beds, we also replaced some of the existing beds and our volunteer crews were out in 95 degree temperatures (yes, I know hard to imagine now) leveling the ground, building the frames then hauling in soil and crushed granite. With great determination and a lot of sweat, somehow we got it done in time for fall planting.

Our fourth graders once again planted a version of  square foot gardens with students partnering up to plan, plant and maintain a salad garden in their own little plots. The third graders started sugar snap pea races. Each class divided into 4 teams and each team planted sugar snap pea seeds at the base of one of the stakes in a bean teepee. The team whose plants grew to the top first earned the winner title. We surrounded each bed with marigolds, not only to make them look pretty, but also so we could discuss companion planting. Finally, the pre-k classes planted a variety of plants to engage the senses including herbs, colorful bedding plants and a hodgepodge of fast growing (and larger in size) seeds. The kids had a blast!

Reflecting on this fall season, of course I have ideas about things I would like to change in the future. Here is my list of resolutions for the upcoming spring gardening season:

Resolution #1

We will not plant with all three grade levels on one day again. Trying to match volunteer and teacher schedules, we planted all of the fall gardens on one day (21 raised beds and about 300 kids). In my head, I thought this was an efficient way to recruit volunteers and to optimize flexible classroom time. We were still able to bring the kids out in small groups (we had a ratio of 1 volunteer for every 4 kids for the older students and 1 volunteer for each child for the pre-k students), but unfortunately things felt a bit rushed. For spring planting, I hope that we can reserve one day for each grade level, still recruit the same number of volunteers, but take it a bit slower.

Resolution #2

We will build a bigger garden committee. On planting day we had about 15 volunteers to help throughout the day, but our numbers for the bed building days were a lot smaller and I am afraid I might have burned out a few volunteers with our big fall installation. As the volunteer coordinator, I really should have known better and organized things differently, but I am sure you all can relate to the difference between planning goals and reality. I also know that the teachers took on a lot of the responsibility for the day-to-day care and I would really like to be able to ease the amount of work for them in the spring. So, my goal for the spring is to find 3 more volunteers that would like to help on regular basis and get more involved in all aspects of the garden.

Resolution #3

We will find more ways to help the teachers connect the garden to the curriculum and evaluate the impact of gardening. The kids loved their gardens this fall, but I think there is room for improvement in finding ways to tie it with the other classroom lessons. Also, those of us who work with kids in the garden witnessed the benefits of a garden first hand, but I would like to find a good way capture the garden's impact in a more concrete sense for those who may not be personally involved (administrators, parents, etc.). I think both of these things are important if we want to make sure the garden keeps growing strong over the years.

Resolution #4

We need to make sure we are expressing our appreciation to teachers, volunteers and garden supporters. I know, I know, this is basic information in all of our publications, but as rushed as the fall has been, I am quite guilty this fall of not adequately completing this task. Fortunately, it is never too late to say thank you. This will be a top priority in the 2017.

Resolution #5

I am going to keep this list short. Although the ideas are still flowing for ways we could grow and expand our program, we added a lot of new garden space this fall, and I want to focus on the establishing a strong foundation and firmly integrating the current gardens into the culture of the school before we try to add more. I want to keep our to do list realistic, practical and accomplishable.

Hopefully, by writing down these goals, we will be more focused on achieving them and of course sharing them will make us more accountable too. Perhaps you have youth garden resolutions you would like to share as a reply to this blog or on Facebook?

Start dreaming about spring! Happy New Year from KidsGardening!