By Bev Johnson

Master Gardener

This article was suggested to me by a reader.

For a first-time gardener, buying seeds can be an adventure. They first have to determine what to plant, then what varieties, how much of each plant and then, design the plot. Let’s start with the plot. The rows should run north to south. The reason for this is so there will be no plant in the shadows. Rows need to be far enough apart for good air circulation. You will also need enough room to walk or till between the rows without stepping on or knocking over your plants. Actually, to save yourself unneeded work, use the width of an open newspaper for the proper width (we will return to this). 

Buying seeds can also be an adventure. There are usually enough seeds in a normal packet for 3 or 4 years of planting. Pinetree Seeds catalog is the only one that sells seeds in small amounts, often only a 2-year supply. For instance, you may get 10 melon or cucumber seeds. Since you will only be planting 3 seeds of each plant, the seeds won’t get old before you need them again. Seeds do get too old to germinate properly. If the packet says you will get 80% germination from a fresh packet, in 3 years that may be only 60% or even less. 

Now to planting. Tall plants like corn will stop some of the wind and will partially shade the next row. Corn should always be planted in squares, that is three short rows side by side not one long row. This is to ensure germination. Corn now comes in 4 types depending on the sugar content and how long it is edible. A good catalog will tell you which types are compatible. Because they cross pollinate in their square, mixing types will lead to none of them tasting as good as they should. 

Another thing you will need to take into consideration with any seed is how long to maturity. We usually have 90 frost free days here. Check the packet for that information. With corn, to prolong the season, plant seeds that mature at different times, that is one variety that matures in 72 days, the next in 80 days and a third in 85 days. And to have sweet corn even longer, plant 6 to 10 seeds of each type, then wait 6 to 10 days to plant another 6 to 10. This way all of one type will not ripen at the same time.

Tomatoes can be tricky if you start your own. The maturity date on them is not from planting the seed but from the time you plant the plant in the garden. Carrots can also be tricky, the seeds can’t be covered very deeply so if we have a windy day before they sprout, the wind may blow them out of the soil. Lay a board over them checking it every few days to see if they are up yet, then remove the board. To reduce the number of carrots you need to thin for proper growth, plant radishes with the carrot seeds. 

Now, about that newspaper. Lay damp paper 4 to 6 sheets deep between the rows then cover it with leaves or hay. Straw can have weed seeds in it. Grass will work if you have enough of it. Now, you will only have to weed in the rows, any moisture is slower to evaporate, and the roots of the plants stay cool. Till it all in in the fall.

If all else fails, ask an experienced gardener for help. They love to get another gardener started.