NDSU Extension - Ramsey County


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April 1, 2013 Agriculture Column


Well this cold weather is getting old, very fast, especially compared to last year at this very same time.  Some producers were in the field about now last year and as many of you know I was asked what my thoughts were on the radio and I suggested May 22.  This number reflects the snow pack we have now and the next two week forecast.  Many weathermen are talking about a major precipitation front moving across the region the middle part of April.  If that actually happens is one thing but if it would come as rain would really help get rid of the snow but then would likely cause some flooding issues across the region.  Like always we will have to wait and see what mother nature brings us.

Planting seeds in our gardens????

This will depend greatly if you are talking about starting them inside or outside but below I will list some things to think about going either way.  There is also a lot of talk about planting gardens in pots to be placed on decks and very small patio’s this summer, but lets first talk about getting your outside garden  soil ready for planting.

The biggest issue I get questions about, every year, is when is a good time to get my garden ready to plant my new seeds.  The funny part of the question is that most gardeners have their mind set on a time and does not matter about soil moisture conditions.  A good guideline to follow is if soil sticks to your shoes or shovel, it is too wet. Press a small amount of soil in your hand. When the moisture is right, the soil crumbles and breaks into small clumps. If it is too wet, it stays molded in a ball.

Another very important  topic is fertilization, whether it is in your garden or a pot.  Get your soil tested for the amount of fertilizer or manure to apply before planting. A routine soil test gives information nutrient available in your soil.  I do have a soil probe available for you to use along with little soil bags used to send your samples to NDSU for testing.  You can call 701-662-7030 to find the availability of the probe. 

Starting Plants Inside

Warm season crops need a long growing season and usually will not mature if seeded directly in the garden. Cool season crops must mature before hot weather. It is necessary, then, either to start these crops early inside or to buy plants at a local nursery. Start seeds in plastic trays or peat pots that are 3-4 inches deep. A good soil mixture contains two parts loam, one part sand, and one part organic matter. Thoroughly mix the soil in a wheelbarrow with a shovel and sift it through a ¼-inch mesh screen. Premixed soil mixtures are available at garden centers.

Fill the transplant tray or peat pots with the soil mixture and carefully firm the soil along the sides. After filling in the depressions, level the soil to about ¼ inch below the top. Firm the soil evenly. Sow the seed by making a ¼-½ inch hole using a dibble or pencil with a tape mark to keep the depth consistent. Sow 2-3 seeds in each tray cell or peat pot.

Start warm-season crops later than cool-season crops. Peppers and eggplant germinate slowly and should be started before tomatoes. Cover the seeds lightly with sand, screened soil, or vermiculite. Gently water the transplant trays using a fine screened waterer to prevent washing the seeds out of the soil. Cover the transplant tray or peat pots with clear plastic and keep in a warm room until germination. As soon as the seedlings appear, remove the plastic cover and keep the seedlings in full sunlight or directly under fluorescent lights. Once the seedlings emerge, thin to one plant and apply a starter fertilizer of 1½ tablespoons of 5-10-5 in 1 gallon of water. Apply approximately ¼ cup of the solution to each seedling every two weeks until transplanting. Rinse the seedlings with water after fertilizing to prevent leaf burn. "Hardening" transplants by shading them for a few days outside using either a lath house or shade cloth and slightly withholding water (but not to the point of wilting) will reduce plant growth delay after transplanting, otherwise known as "transplant shock."


Transplant in late afternoon or on a cool, cloudy, calm day. Water plants well before transplanting. Cut the soil between the plants with a knife so each plant can separate easily with a substantial root ball attached. Seedlings grown in separate containers can be transplanted without disturbing the roots. If seedlings are transplanted in peat pots, make sure the top edge of the peat pot is not exposed above the soil surface or the peat pot will act like a wick and rapidly draw the moisture from the root ball, stressing the plant.

Scrape the dry surface soil from the planting area. With a hand shovel, make a hole large enough to easily receive the root ball of the transplant. Firm the soil around the roots and water with the starter fertilizer solution. Apply ½ cup per plant at planting time.

Transplanted crops may be set out in the garden a week or two before it would otherwise be safe if hot caps are used. Remove the caps after the air temperatures get real warm during the day. If paper hot caps are used, punch ventilation holes in the tops. High temperatures within the hot cap can kill young plants

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