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So how do you figure out when to plant vegetables in your food garden?

There are so many traditions and suggestions that it’s sometimes difficult to know what’s right. Do you plant carrots when the rabbits’ ears are as big as an oak leaf or hold off until the first blue moon of spring …

Luckily you can figure out when to plant vegetables without measuring the ears on wildlife or waiting for signs from the heavens.

Figuring out vegetable planting times doesn't have to be a mystery based on rodents and the moon.

Location is Vital For Determining When to Plant Vegetables

To start your detective work, you will need to know your geographic location.

Where do you live? It makes a huge difference.

My friends in Texas and South Africa have very different planting dates than we do in chilly, dark Nova Scotia.

Next – what type of vegetables do you plan to grow and how do you intend to plant  them?

That is, are you starting with seeds, seedlings or transplants? Do you have a greenhouse in which to grow your own starts (seedlings and transplants)? Are you growing hardy, semi-hardy, tender or very tender vegetables?

Do not listen to anyone who tells you that there is one specific day on which to plant. Here in Nova Scotia, many people insist on planting nothing until the Victoria weekend (May 24). Others say that you should hold off planting until the first full moon in June.

Or is that the new moon?

Well, one of them is the 9th of June and the other is the 24th, and both of those dates are far too late for certain vegetables.

Gardening by the phases of the moon is an interesting idea, but even that is much more complicated than “don’t plant until the new moon”.

If you live in an area with distinct seasons, as we do here in Nova Scotia, your vegetable growing season will fall loosely around your anticipated frost-free date in the spring and the first hard frost in the fall. Unless you have a crystal ball, it is next to impossible to predict these dates with absolute certainty. The best we can work with is our average dates – which means that we can calculate the date at which you are more than 50% likely to be frost-free!

Plant Maps has fabulous interactive maps that will help you figure out your frost free date. There’s a lot of information there. Looking at the various maps, I can quickly found out that our new house is in Hardiness Zone 5b (-10 to -5F), our last spring frost is usually between May 21 and 31, and our first winter frost can be expected as early as October 1.

The problem with these dates, though, is that it’s not nearly as cut and dry as saying “I’ll plant my garden on May 31 and assume everything dies by October 1.” The dates don’t take into account late season snow storms in the spring or unseasonable temperatures.

Headline June 1: Nova Scotia weather includes a risk of frost tonight

Take a look at that date. Our average last spring frost is in May!

So what’s the answer? Well, armed with your general dates and a very simple soil thermometer, you can get a much better idea of when to plant vegetables in your location – even if the weather is weird.

Ignore planting advice involving the size of tree leaves or insect sounds (unless all of that makes sense to you!) and just use your soil thermometer.

Remember, though – if you start seeds indoors or use transplants, or if you use mulch, cold frames, row covers or mini hoop houses to extend your season, you have a wider time frame than those dates tell you.

Days to Maturity Help You Know When to Plant Vegetables

Did you notice where I mentioned “days to maturity”? That’s something that’s on most seed packages and plant markers because it’s important. It’s usually expressed as a range of days, but with some plants it can be extremely specific. It tells you how long until that plant is ready to harvest.

Read carefully because some – like tomatoes – will date maturity from the time of transplant. That is because these are often started indoors in a greenhouse. Others will date maturity from the time when you direct seed them into the garden.

Radishes, lettuce and baby carrots can all be ready for harvest just 30 days after they are sown as seeds. That’s incredibly fast, and if you’re not paying attention, your tender lettuce could bolt and turn to seed. Radishes that have grown large and woody aren’t very tasty, either.

Some pumpkin varieties, though, and crops like sweet potatoes can take up to 160 days to mature. When your growing season is four months or less, this means starting plants in a greenhouse, purchasing them from a plant nursery or forgoing those vegetables altogether.

Keeping the last frost date in mind and then adding in the days to maturity gives us an idea of how early we need to plant specific vegetables in order to bring them to maturity before the first hard frost.  It also tells us if succession planting is an option – that is, if we can stagger plantings in order to harvest throughout the growing season. And, finally, it lets us know how late in the season certain crops can be planted.

What Temperatures?

Wondering just WHAT temperatures each plant needs? I have you covered. Click the download button to get yours.

Click symbol to download Planting by Temperature

Here in Nova Scotia, I can’t wait until late summer to plant pumpkins or they’ll never mature.  In other hand, I can plant a small amount of fast-growing lettuce every week from mid-May until at least October, and have fresh greens throughout all but the coldest months.

Don’t over complicate gardening or you will never get anything done. It can be a very simple process. Decide what vegetables you want to grow. Determine if they are hardy, semi-hardy, tender or very tender. Make note of the days to maturity to ensure that you have time to grow everything you want – and take steps to extend your season if you don’t. Get planting.

Just Plain Living

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