The ground may have only just started to thaw, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start a garden, according to Master Gardener Sandra Aberle.

But, as evidenced by the recent winter storms during the past few weeks, the outdoors may still prove to be hazardous to young vegetables, which makes an outdoor garden not practical, at least for now.

Sandra advised that while it is too early to plant in your backyard and greenhouses, it’s definitely not too early to start growing indoors.

Light

Growing indoors, however, can be tricky. Essentially, it’s like having a garden in the living room devoid of natural sunlight. This means that when starting a garden inside, artificial light is a necessity.

Luckily, there are plenty of options available, some reportedly more desirable than others, according to Sandra.

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For her, ordinary shop lighting is the way to go, as opposed to the more expensive growing lights.

Shop lighting is more economical, which means you’ll pay a little less on your electric bill, Sandra said.

She added that artificial lights should either be set on a timer, or the gardener needs to keep an eye on the clock, to turn off after around 16 hours. This is to mimic the natural day/night patterns that will give the plants some rest.

“Plants need rest too,” Sandra said.

Potting

Just like lighting, providing a pot for young vegetables to sprout and grow into their “true leaves,” their second set of leaves, is crucial, according to Sandra.

She foregoes traditional plastic planting pots, which can be picked up at any gardening depot, in favor of home-made pots fashioned out of newspaper.

There are a few reasons for this. First and foremost, it negates the need to purchase more pots should the plant’s root punch through pot’s sidewalls, which they are apt to do if properly cared for.

Sandra’s method provides a simple alternative: layer on more newspaper. It also means the plants won’t have to force their way through the plastic later when transplanted into an outdoor garden, seeing as newspaper will generally decompose in the ground.

Plant selection

Mid-April to early May is the prime time to plant cabbages, Brussel sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower, Sandra said.

“Basically, any member of the Brassicaceae (cabbage) family,” she explained, adding that such plants are generally more hardy and can withstand adverse conditions.

Tomatoes and peppers can be good options, too, though they are not quite as sturdy as members of the cabbage family and may benefit from planting later in the season.

Indoor care

Generally, from seeds until sprouting, young vegetables have all the nutrition they need, Sandra said, which makes caring for them relatively simple.

Once seeds are planted in seed starting soil, they should be watered often, but take care not to provide more than 2-3 inches of water per week.

Until the seeds sprout, nothing more needs to be done. The seed starting soil, while absent of any nutrients, does provide critical structure for roots to spread into.

Seed starting soil is commercially available, or it can be made at home (the less expensive option.) Essentially, seed starting soil is comprised of a base, such as peat moss or pasteurized soil, mixed with sand, vermiculite, or perlite, according to oregonlive.com.

When the seeds sprout, it’s time to move them into potting soil. In some ways, it resembles seed starting soil with one important difference – potting soil usually contains some sort of fertilizer and organic material to provide growing seedlings with ample nutrition.

Hardened transplant

The end of May signals the start of the outdoor planting season, but, Sandra said, don’t just take the plants out of their protected indoor environment and plunge them into the dirt.

Transplanting requires patience and care, lest the plants undergo unnecessary stress that can cause them to be less productive when it comes time to harvest them.

In the two weeks leading up to transplanting, the plants should be gently introduced to the elements by placing them outside, in a moderately protected space, for an hour every day and then taken back inside.

Sandra calls this process “hardening,” which, in the end, is supposed the make the plants more withstanding when they are planted in the garden.

The garden soil may need some work as well. Wyoming has a high alkaline soil and is filled with clay, which is not the best thing for growing vegetables, according to Sandra.

The soil should be well tilled, which allows nutrients to rise to the surface in reach of the young vegetable roots.

Sandra takes things a step further and adds dead leaves and plant material to her garden after every harvest, creating a sort of outdoor compost and making her garden soil rich and fertile.

After the plants are transplanted, watering should stay the same: 2 to 3 inches of water per week, including any rainfall that might occur.

As a last piece of advice, according to Sandra, when choosing what vegetables to include in your garden, choose the ones that are most likely to get eaten after the fall harvest. Otherwise, all the organic, homegrown, vegetables will likely go to waste.

By: Ryan R. Lewallen

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