Choosing Seeds & Varieties
Now it's time to figure out where to get all your seeds & supplies. You can find seed packets at Lowe's, Home Depot, and even the grocery store. These are usually a generic variety, which don't allow you much room for comparison. There are also lots of online options, but our favorite is Johnny's Selected Seeds (based in Maine) and we get a lot of cool weather crops from Osborne Quality Seeds (based in Skagit Valley, Washington).
Make sure you are choosing varieties with the right behavior. This part takes a little more time and studying. Here's some examples of the differences:
- A single stem sunflower will die after you cut the flower. A branching sunflower produces more flowers as you cut.
- For green beans, there are bush beans and pole beans. The bush beans grow only 2-3 feet tall and can support itself with nearby plants. Pole beans grow up to 10 ft tall and need something to climb on.
- Even tomatoes have different types. They can be indeterminate, meaning they will constantly put on new fruit and keep growing until killed by frost. Determinate tomatoes will only grow a certain amount for the season. They will stop growing once fruit sets on the top buds.
- Know what kinds of peas you want? There's snow peas, snap peas, english/shelling peas.
Make sure to get look for "bolt-resistant", "heat-tolerant" when you can. Utah summers are hot and dry. Most websites will also tell you which ones germinate well (meaning they are more likely to sprout), which ones have uniform size, etc. This is the fun part, you try different types and see which ones you like best.
For example, our favorite tomato for flavor is Early Girl. The sweetest cherry tomato we found is Sun Gold. A productive zucchini is Noche. We grow bush beans called Provider and snap peas called Sugar Ann.
Some of the things will need to be grown in containers weeks before the last frost date. Johnny's has great seed starting supplies but you will also need the right light and heat equipment. We like to go to CAL Ranch, Home Depot, and IFA. There are special grow lights that will cover one growing tray and they run about $40 a piece. Or if you are doing multiple trays, it's a lot cheaper to get any commercial light strip ($20-35) and put in 2 of these special bulbs ($9 each). If your planting in your garage, you may need a space heater to keep the temperature at a constant 60-75 degrees (depending on what you're growing).
When to Buy Transplants Instead
If you don't have the ability to greenhouse things yourself, you can buy transplants. "Hot crop" plants are best as transplants rather than direct seed, especially peppers, tomatoes, and watermelons. They usually germinate slower in our cool spring temperatures. Getting a plant that is already sprouted saves a lot of time and means tomatoes on your plate much sooner. By far, the best place in Utah County for variety is Cook's Farm & Greenhouse on Geneva Road & 1600 North Orem, UT.
Hardening Off : When you greenhouse & transplant anything, you need to "harden it off" before putting it in the soil. This is helping the plant get used to being in the wild outdoors. Before this point, it probably had a perfectly constant temperature, zero wind, and plenty of water. They can experience shock when they go to this less stable, outdoor environment (which means they take longer to produce fruit, bolt & flower too early, or die).
The Process : Over 2-6 days, leave your plants outside during the day and bring them in at night. It's best to bring them out during the warmest part of the day. You can start with 6 hours, then 8, then 10, then 12. On that first day, some of the plants may completely bend over with even the slightest wind. But don't worry, they are still alive and will learn to straighten up against the current.Let the plant try to acclimate on its own before resorting to stakes, supports, etc.