(Continued from Part 2. This concludes the article.)
Your crops should be started indoors 4 to 6 weeks before you’re ready to put them out. Since your space is small to start, you will only need one or two 72 cell starter trays; you can also use egg trays or make pots from rolled up paper. When you are selecting your seeds look for heirloom or “open-pollinated” seeds; they will be labeled on the seed packet. Since you will be harvesting next year’s seeds from your little garden, you do not want hybrid seeds. Heirloom and open-pollinated seeds will reproduce true every generation. Hybrid seeds will grow, but you cannot be certain what characteristics will pass on. Put two seeds in each pot or cell. You can prune one out if they both sprout, but you double your chances of success that way. Sometimes you only get a 75% sprouting rate, so doubling up is the best way to compensate. You can use a shop light for germination and early growth, but if you can afford it get a small led grow light system. These have better light spectrum properties and are cheaper to operate. Light intensity decreases exponentially, meaning you want the light as close to the top of the plants as you can without letting them touch the bulbs. You can even sprout them in a window if you need to – it will take a bit longer, but it will work.
A week or two before you want to transplant them, they need to be hardened off. This can be done by making a small tent from PVC piping and shade cloth, or just putting them in a shady location. You can also watch the weather and look for a cloudy day – but you risk a sudden break in the clouds which can make things dicey. Keep them watered, remember those trays are small and do not hold much moisture. You should water daily unless it has rained. If the temperature is going to drop into the 30’s, bring them in at night. Remember that bunnies, groundhogs and other critters love tasty little sprouts, so protect them.
When it is time to transplant, you need to imagine each plant as a full-grown specimen and ensure there is adequate space. You can put things closer, but it will not allow each plant to reach its full potential. The seed packets you purchased will have spacing information you can reference. Add a handful of compost into each hole as you dig. When you have them planted, it is best to put some form of mulch over them. This can be purchased, hay or straw, or just weeds you have pulled from the ground. Pile this between the plants. This accomplishes three things, it reduces moisture evaporation, helps deter weeds and keeps the plants from splash-back during heavy rains. This is often the source of many diseases that plague your crops. Bacteria and viruses in the soil get…