Jump starting this year's garden

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— Gardening can be a challenge in our high altitude climate. The growing season is short and the temperature fluctuates as much as 40 degrees in a day. If you want to harvest a crop before the first frost hits, you need to get a head start on your garden plants.

Why not start seeds indoors and transplant them to your garden when the weather is safe.

First decide what plants you want to grow.

Cool season plants prefer cool growing temperatures in the 60-80 degree range and warm season plants require daytime temperatures above 60 degrees and prefer the 70-90 degree range.

Some crops (cucumbers, squashes, melons) are not tolerant of transplanting and should be planted directly in the garden. Tomatoes and Cole crops (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts) grow well in cool weather and are good candidates for transplanting

To obtain the best results for your effort, be sure to buy seed packages labeled 2003 that have been properly stored.

If the display rack is by the store's entrance where it receives both sun heat and door opening chill, the quality of the seed is likely to be compromised. After you purchase the seeds, keep the packages cool and dry until sown.

There are many plant starting materials on the market.

In our climate, the peat pots will not decompose in a season and are not good for starting seeds.

The least expensive option is small plastic drink cups.

You can label the cup with a permanent marker and they're reusable for several years with proper washing and sterilizing. Be sure to punch drain holes in the bottom. Use a good sterile potting soil or germination medium. Sow large seeds in individual pots and cover with soil twice the depth of the seed. Sow small seeds in rows in flats and press into the growing medium. Water from below or spray from the top but do not use a heavy flow. Enclose in a clear plastic bag, cover with plastic wrap or use a tray cover then place in a warm, draft free location.

You may use a heating pad designed for starting seeds if desired. After the seedlings emerge, gradually move them to brighter light over a period of several days.

If you are using grow lights, gradually increase the amount of time under the lights. Once the first or second true leaf appears, thin to one seedling every 2 inches to promote root growth.

Thin gently with tweezers to keep from disturbing to the roots of the remaining plants.

Before transplanting to your garden, gradually harden off the plants by exposing them to outside conditions over a period of several days. Reduce the amount of water but do not allow plants to wilt.

Now think about the great fresh vegetables you will have in the coming months.

Louise Poppen is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call the CSU Cooperative Extension office at 879-0825 or email to: gardeners@co.routt.co.us

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