Fast-Growing Vegetables to Direct Sow into Containers

I recently wrote about quick-growing vegetables (a harvest from seed in less than two months) that gardeners could direct-sow into their garden. Which is great if you have space for a garden! But if you have limited garden space, or your only option is containers or window boxes, you can still grow many of those quick-growing crops.

Easiest Option: Greens and Lettuces

You can grow any leaf lettuce or green in a container! Mesclun mixes, spinach, kale, rapini, chard — you can grow them to full-size if you like, but in containers you’ll get the most out of your container garden by harvesting them as baby greens.

Harvesting as baby greens means that you’ll be able to harvest about three to four weeks after you sow your seeds, and, after harvesting, just let the plants start re-growing, and you’ll get successive harvests every month or so. To keep yourself in lettuces and greens throughout the season, sow a few containers, say, one every week or two, and you’ll have continual harvests. When one container starts not regenerating as fully as you’d like, simply sprinkle more seeds over the soil’s surface and scratch them in, then tamp them down. Good as new!

Container size for growing lettuces and greens: any container that is four to six inches deep will work perfectly. Windowboxes, shallow pots, reused clamshell containers from storebought salad mixes — I’ve grown lettuce and greens successfully in all of them.

Tips for growing lettuce and greens in containers:

  • Keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy. Lettuces don’t like drying out, and they’ll get limp and can sometimes be a bit bitter if they spend too much time dried out. They’re also much more likely to bolt because they’re under stress.
  • To keep your lettuce growing happily, fertilize every month or so with a good organic fertilizer (I use fish emulsion when I water, or you can use a granular organic fertilizer in your planting mix and then sprinkled occasionally onto the top of the soil.

Root Crops for Containers

Root crops you sow directly into your containers are going to be those that don’t require enormously deep pots (full-size carrots might be a challenge here, but there are several shorter varieties I’ll recommend) and again, we’ll be focusing on those that grow fairly quickly when sown directly from seed.

Container depth for growing root veggies: 6 to 8 inches

Beets

You can grow beets in containers fairly easily, whether for the delicious beet greens, to harvest the roots, or both. You’ll want to keep the soil moisture fairly even to keep them growing quickly and to avoid woodiness, but not soggy. Feed with a balanced organic fertilizer according to the directions for whichever fertilizer you’re using. Your beets should be ready to harvest about 6 to 8 weeks after sowing, but you can harvest beet greens before then. Some of my favorite beets to grow in containers:

  • Golden – 55 days
  • Detroit Dark Red – 55 days
  • Chioggia – 55 days
  • Bull’s Blood – 50 days
  • Subeto – 45 days
  • Babybeat – 40 days

Carrots

Long, tapered roots are difficult to grow unless you have a very large container. Luckily, there are several nice, short carrot varieties that perform well in containers! Keep an eye out for any of these varieties:

  • Minicor – 55 days
  • Thumbelina – 60 days
  • Adelaide – 50 days
  • Paris Market – 58 days
  • Napoli – 55 days
  • Red Cored Chantenay – 60 days
  • Caracas – 57 days
  • Little Finger – 57 days

Radishes

Radishes and container-growing is a match made in heaven. From sowing to harvesting is often right around three weeks. They can take a bit of shade (especially when it starts getting hot — radishes aren’t fans of summer heat) and they’re easy to grow. Keep the moisture consistent to avoid your radishes from becoming too spicy or woody. Nearly any radish seed you can get your hands on will work here, but here are my favorites:

  • Cherry Belle
  • French Breakfast
  • Easter Egg

Turnips

I think we often think of turnips as definitely being a larger garden crop. At least, I did before I started growing them regularly. And while some can get large, certain varieties are perfect for container growing and offer both delicious roots and tasty greens in around four weeks. Here are some of the best ones to grow in containers

  • Hakurei
  • Tokyo Market
  • Tokyo Cross

Cucumbers and Summer Squashes for Containers

Sunburst Pattypan Squash – Johnny’s Seeds

Cucumbers and squashes can both easily be grown from seed, and while they both tend to be large, vining, sometimes sprawling plants, there are several varieties that do very well in containers.

Sow cucumbers and squashes directly into your containers after your soil has warmed — these plants germinate best when the soil temp is right around 70 degrees F. They’ll germinate in less than a week, usually, and you’ll just have to be sure to keep the soil evenly moist. Squashes and cucumbers are fairly heavy feeders, so a regular feeding of a balanced organic fertilizer (according to the package directions) or a weekly foliar feed of compost or manure tea or fish emulsion will keep your plants happy and productive.

Container depth for growing cucumbers and squash: 10 inches.

Cucumbers

In general, you’ll want to look for cucumber plants that have a bushy rather than vining growth habit. Luckily, breeders have been working to adapt cucumbers’ typical vining growth to a more easily-managed bushy form.

  • Lemon – 60 days
  • Salad Bush – 57 days
  • Sweet Success – 50 days

Summer Squash

Again, we’ll be looking for plants that are productive, fairly compact, and will produce from seed in about two months. The good news is, you have several good options for container-grown summer squash:

  • Eight Ball – 42 days
  • Gold Rush – 52 days
  • Pattypan – 50 days
  • Sunburst – 52 days
  • Spacemiser – 45 days
  • Sundance – 50 days
  • Zephyr – 45 days

I hope this post has been helpful. You do not need indoor lighting and heat mat set-ups, cell packs, domed trays or any of those other things. You don’t even really need a garden. Some containers, potting soil, and seeds, a spot that gets a decent amount of sun, and you are well on your way to growing your own veggies!

Fast-Growing Vegetables for Short-Season Gardeners – No Indoor Seed Starting Needed!

Easy vegetables to start from seed in your garden.
Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

If you’re growing a vegetable garden, and are interested in becoming as self-sufficient as you’re able to regardless of whether you live in the country or the city, you’ll want to get as much out of your garden as you possibly can. But here in beautiful Michigan, you may be “blessed” with six months or more of frosty temps, depending on where you live.

If you’re lucky enough to have a greenhouse or high-tunnel, or even a few cold frames, you can extend your growing season, but if the growing season is short to begin with, you’ll really want to make the most of it.

Typically, if we want to start a vegetable garden quickly, we go to the nursery and buy starts. Or, if you already have the lights and space indoors, you can start your own plants from seed.

But what if you don’t have the time/equipment/space for indoor seed starting? In that case, quick-growing veggies that you can sow directly into your garden are your best bet. Here is a list of tried-and-true varieties and where to find them, most of which I’ve grown right here in my zone 4 Michigan garden, or which have been grown successfully by other cold climate gardeners. You’ll notice I don’t have things like tomatoes or peppers in this list. This is simply because in most cases tomatoes are better started indoors so they fruit as quickly as possible in your garden. The same is true of other heat-loving favorites like peppers and eggplant. These are better grown from starts, but if you can’t get some starts, don’t fret — there are plenty of other tasty veggies you can sow directly into your garden!

In compiling this list, I tried to focus on three things: tried and true by northern gardeners, a harvest in 2 months or less, and varieties that are available widely (so not exclusive to one company or seed catalog.) I hope you find it helpful!

Quick-Growing Veggies to Plant in Your Garden

Beans – Bush beans are your best option here. They produce sooner than pole beans do, but something to keep in mind is that they’re basically determinate plants, meaning they give you a crop pretty much all at once and then they’re done. I like to sow bush beans every two weeks, so once they start producing I have an almost continual harvest of them until our first frost. Here are some of my favorite quick-growing bush bean varieties:

  • Provider – 50 days
  • Early Bush Italian – 50 days
  • Mascotte – 50 days
  • Masai – 47 days
  • Rocdor – 52 days
  • Strike – 45 days
  • Bountiful – 46 days
  • Golden Butter Wax – 50 days
  • Blue Lake 274 – 53 days

Beets – Beets are a good 2-for-1 veggie to grow; you can get both tasty greens to cook or add to salads, plus the roots themselves. Beets tend to do much better in cooler weather, so you’ll want to plant them in spring after your last frost date, or in late summer for a fall harvest. Good short-season beet varieties include:

  • Babybeat – 40 days
  • Boltardy – 46 days
  • Crosby Egyptian – 45 days
  • Detroit White – 55 days
  • Bull’s Blood – 50 days
  • Early Wonder Tall Top – 50 days
  • Boro – 50 days
  • Subeto – 45 days

Broccoli Raab/Rapini – Broccoli raab is an early season veggie that produces both tasty greens and small, broccoli-like florets. The greens are best eaten sauteed in olive oil or butter, and the florets can be eaten the same way, or raw.

  • Hon Tsai Flowering Broccoli – 37 days
  • Spring Raab Broccoli Raab – 42 days

Carrots – Most carrots take around 70 days to grow to full-size. The varieties listed here tend to provide smallish, tender carrots in less than two months. Sow carrot seed every week or two provide a continual harvest throughout the season.

  • Caracas – 57 days
  • Yaya – 55 days
  • Mokum – 54 days
  • Napoli – 55 days

Chard – Chard, also called Swiss Chard, provides both dark leafy greens and delicious stalks that can be sauteed, added to soups, or baked into casseroles. You can harvest the leaves as baby greens and eat them in salads, or let them grow larger if you plan to cook them. As an added bonus, chard is one of the few greens that handles summer heat well; it will also handle frost reasonably well, giving you a long harvest. If you simply harvest the outer stalks, it will keep producing reliably until it finally freezes. The days listed below are for full-sized leaves. Baby chard can be harvested in about a month after sowing.

  • Fordhook Giant – 50 days
  • Silverado – 55 days
  • Bright Lights – 55 days

Cucumbers – If you have a few healthy cucumber plants, they will provide you with more than enough sweet, crispy cucumbers for salads, pickles, and snacking. Whether you have plenty of room or can only devote a patio pot to growing cucumbers, there is a fast-growing variety that will work for you.

  • Garden Sweet Burpless – 55 days
  • Straight Eight – 58 days
  • Bush Champion – 55 days
  • Salad Bush Hybrid – 57 days
  • Spacemaster – 56 days

Greens (Miscellaneous) – If you’re trying to grow an edible garden quickly, from seed, and get a TON of nutrition out of it, you can’t go wrong with greens. Most will give you a harvest in about four weeks, and there are so many to choose from! Try arugula, mizuna, mache, tat soi, pak choi, mustard greens, chicory, cress, sorrel, or claytonia. You can also often find mixes of these greens, and these are quick, easy ways to get a variety of tasty greens into your garden.

Kale

Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

Kale in another green, like chard, that you can plant in your garden, and it will often just keep going straight through your first hard fall frost, and beyond. I’m actually harvesting kale that overwintered in my northern Michigan garden, with no protection, and it is tasty and perfect. You can harvest the baby kale leaves to eat raw in salads or on sandwiches about three weeks after sowing, but full-size kale leaves take a little longer. The nice thing is, you don’t have to choose. You can have a plant or two that you just continually pick baby leaves from, and another plant or two that you let grow to full-size leaves, giving you a longer harvesting window! Here are some of my favorite kale varieties:

  • Red Russian – 50 days full leaf, 21 days baby leaf
  • Lacinato – 60 days full leaf, 30 days baby leaf
  • Darkibor – 50 days full leaf (curly kale, not great for raw eating)
  • Dwarf Green Curled – 50 days full leaf (curly kale, not great for raw eating)
  • Prizm – 50 days full leaf, 30 days baby leaf

Lettuce – Lettuce is quick, easy, and if you grow the right types, you can get an almost continual harvest from them. The only trick is, growing lettuce in the summer even in mild areas can be tricky; the plant is quick to bolt, and once it bolts the lettuce becomes bitter and just not at all as delicious as it should be. One way to get around summer bolting is to plant your lettuce in an area that gets partial shade. It won’t grow as quickly, but it will be much slower to bolt. If you can give it morning sun and afternoon shade, that would be ideal. And be sure to keep the soil moist, which will cause less stress for your lettuce plants even during summer heat.

Head lettuces are not really your friend if you’re trying to grow food quickly. Iceberg lettuce, for example, takes almost three months, and you harvest it once and it’s done. You’ll want to look for leaf lettuces, which you can start harvesting in about three weeks as baby leaves for salads, and which will allow you to make several subsequent harvests. Just cut the leaves off a couple inches above the soil line and they’ll resprout, giving you another salad in a few weeks. If you make regular sowings of lettuce, sowing a row or block or container every week or two, you’ll keep yourself in salads for most of the season. Here are some terrific lettuces to look for. (The numbers cited are for full-sized leaves; you can harvest at about three weeks for baby-leaf salads.)

  • Salad Bowl – 45 days
  • Black-Seeded Simpson – 45 days
  • Red Sails – 45 days
  • Lolla Rosa – 45 days
  • Saladbowl – 50 days
  • Red Saladbowl – 55 days
  • Red Oak Leaf – 60 days

You can also just look for mesclun mixes. These are combinations of leaf lettuce seeds, usually containing several of the above varieties, plus many others for added color and flavor. As with the above varieties, you can usually harvest your first salad in three to four weeks, though you can let them go a little longer if you want larger leaves.

Onions – Your best option for quick-growing onions you can direct sow in your garden are green onions, or scallions, which will produce nice large stalks about 60 days after sowing, or which you can slowly snip away at as you need them, allowing the greens to keep growing. Bulb onions take a long time and have to be started indoors. If you can buy onion sets online or from a nursery, that will give you a head start. But for quick and easy, scallions are the way to go.

  • Parade – 60 days
  • Guardsman – 50 days
  • Red Baron – 60 days
  • White Lisbon – 60 days

Peas – Sweet, tender peas from the garden are a delight, and they’re very easy to grow up a fence or small trellis. Here in Michigan, we plant peas as soon as the ground can be worked in spring. This is because they have a much harder time in warm weather, so you want them to start growing and producing pods while the temps are still nice and cool to get the most out of your planting. For a quick, easy crop, you’ll want to focus on snap peas or snow peas. These are the peas with edible pods (no shelling here!) which you can eat raw or quickly sauteed. You can grow shelling peas in about the same amount of time, and if you love peas, it’s definitely worth it, but the amount of work to shell them as well as the sheer number of plants you need to grow to harvest a good amount of peas make them a little less practical for our quick and easy garden.

  • Sugar Ann – 52 days
  • Super Sugar Snap – 61 days
  • Avalanche – 60 days
  • Oregon Giant – 60 days
  • Sugar Snap – 58 days

Radishes

Photo by Wendy van Zyl from Pexels

If you want to harvest something quickly, grow radishes! And don’t think you’re only limited to eating them raw with dip (which is the only way I seemed to eat them most of my life — though that’s delightful as well!) You can eat them sliced into salads or onto sandwiches, grated into salads or slaws, pickled, or even halved and roasted in the oven and served as a side dish. The spicy greens are also edible and can be eaten sauteed or added to soups. I’ve also seen recipes for radish green pesto, which I want to try this year. Radishes are easy to grow, but definitely prefer cool weather, so your best bet is to grow them as a spring or fall veggie. Here are some radish varieties that I have absolutely loved:

  • Cherry Belle – 22 days
  • Rover – 21 days
  • Easter Egg – 30 days (multicolored radish mix – very fun to grow!)
  • Sora – 23 days
  • French Breakfast – 26 days
  • White Icicle – 27 days
  • Pearl – 25 days
  • Pink Beauty – 27 days

Summer Squash

Fast growing summer squash varieties,
Photo by Ellie Burgin from Pexels

We’ve all heard the joke about neighbors being the unsuspecting… sometimes unwilling, recipients of a gardener’s overabundance of zucchini and summer squash. Summer squashes give you a LOT of bang for your gardening buck, and a plant or two will likely keep your family (depending on family size, of course) in squash until your first fall frost. If you’re trying to eat as much as you can from your garden, don’t be so quick to give those extra zucchini away. You can shred them and then freeze them in a plastic bag to add to zucchini breads or fritters in the winter. Or slice and freeze them to throw into soups or to sautee as a side dish long after the garden has gone to sleep for the winter. You can make zucchini pickles as well. Or make a batch of zucchini bread and freeze that for a day when you’re craving something sweet. Can you tell I’m a fan of summer squash? Here are a few of my quick-growing favorites:

  • Green Machine – 45 days
  • Yellow Crookneck – 50 days
  • Costata Romanesco – 54 days
  • Gold Star – 50 days
  • Early Prolific Straightneck – 50 days
  • Fordhook – 57 days
  • Black Beauty – 50 days

Spinach – Rich in iron, calcium, and fiber, spinach is delicious eaten raw as baby leaves or cooked at any stage of its growth. Spinach definitely prefers cool weather and, like lettuce, will bolt when the temperatures get too high. Spinach also freezes well, so if you end up growing an overabundance of it, give it a quick blanch in boiling water, and then freeze it to use later in the season. Here are the varieties I grow almost every year here in my zone 4 garden:

  • Bloomsdale Long Standing – 40 days
  • Space – 40 days
  • Kookaburra – 26 days
  • Corvair – 40 days
  • Matador – 43 days
  • Winter Bloomsdale – 45 days

Turnips – Like radishes and beets, turnips are a multi-harvest veggie to grow in your garden. The roots are edible (some can be eaten raw as snacks or added to salads, while others are delicious roasted) as are the greens. We’ve only really focused on growing turnips in the last couple of years or so, but now I can’t imagine my garden without them!

  • Tokyo Market – 35 days
  • Hakurei – 35 days
  • Purple Top White Globe – 55 days
  • Tokyo Cross – 35 days

Tips for Direct Sowing

Direct sowing seeds directly into your garden beds is fairly straightforward, but you’ll have the most success if you keep a few tips in mind:

  1. Plant at the right time. Your seed packet will tell you when the optimum time is for planting. Sometimes it will be before your last frost date, sometimes it will be after your last frost date, and sometimes it will be when nighttime lows are above a certain threshold.
  2. Start with a well-prepared garden bed. This can be an area you’ve dug up in your yard, a raised bed, or even a container (I’ll have more about veggies suited for container growing in my next post!) The area should be free of weeds, grass, rocks, and other debris, and should be as level as you can make it. The soil should be fluffy, and shouldn’t be walked on if you can at all help it. If you’re not sure how fertile your soil is, you can either send your soil out to have it tested via the Michigan State Extension service, or, if you just want to get growing, add a few inches of compost or composted manure and gently mix it into the top inch or two of soil. Whether you have to buy bagged or bulk or if you’ve made your own, any compost is good compost, and will give your veggies the nice, healthy growing medium they need.
  3. Pay attention to planting depths. On the back of your seed packet, it will tell you exactly how deep to plant the seeds for best germination. Some larger seeds will need to be buried a half an inch to one inch deep, and smaller seeds will need 1/4 inch or less. Some, you will barely cover. If you bury too deeply, the seed might not germinate at all, and if you don’t bury deeply enough, the seeds will dry out, get eaten by birds, or (in some cases) won’t have the darkness they need for germination.
  4. Water well, but gently. Once your seeds are planted, you’ll want to be careful with watering until they’ve established some roots. If you give them a strong blast with your hose, you’re likely to wash them away or knock them out of the nice neat rows or blocks you sowed them in. A gentle misting from a hose-end sprayer, or watering from a watering can that has a watering rosette on the end (one of those ends with holes to disperse the water) is recommended at this stage. You’ll want to keep the seeds evenly moist, and don’t let the area dry out.

Vegetable and Herb Seeds to Sow in Michigan in April

We made it.

For most of us in Michigan, winter is finally over and we can solidly set our sights on the spring and summer garden. While some of us in the coldest zones may still have a snowbank or two lining the driveway or covering the garden, there are still seeds to be sown.

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay 

Here’s your zone-by-zone list of which seeds you can sow in April in Michigan, with a look forward so you’ll know what to have on hand for next month’s sowing.

Note: these are the dates for sowing seeds indoors or in a greenhouse. Plant most seedlings outdoors after your last frost date, but be sure to keep an eye on the weather, because we all know how unpredictable Michigan weather can be! If snow or frost is in the forecast, put your planting off for a day or two. Also be sure to start hardening your seedlings off a couple of weeks before you plant them out in the garden.

Michigan Zone 3 (Average Last Frost Date: June 15th)

This area includes a large swath of the western upper peninsula and a few small inland areas of the northern lower peninsula.

Vegetables/Herbs to Sow in April:

  • Artichokes {last week of April}
  • Beets {late April}
  • Broccoli {late April – early May}
  • Cabbage {early April – early May}
  • Cauliflower {late April – early May}
  • Celery/Celeriac {first half of April}
  • Collards {early – mid April}
  • Eggplant {late April – early May}
  • Kale {early – late April}
  • Kohlrabi {early -mid April}
  • Leeks {first week of April}
  • Lettuce {mid – late April}
  • Mustard {early – mid April}
  • Peas {as soon as the soil is soft enough that you can sow them outdoors, likely toward the end of the month}
  • Spinach {early – late April}
  • Swiss chard {late April – early May}
  • Tomatoes {late April – mid May}

Michigan Zone 4 (Average Last Frost Date: June 1st)

This includes most of the northern lower peninsula and the eastern side of the upper peninsula.

Vegetables/Herbs to Sow in April:

  • Artichokes {first week of April}
  • Basil {last week of April}
  • Beets {early – mid April}
  • Broccoli {early – mid April}
  • Cabbage {early – late April}
  • Cauliflower {early – late April}
  • Collards {first week of April}
  • Eggplant {early – mid April}
  • Kale {first week of April}
  • Kohlrabi {first week of April}
  • Lettuce {early – mid April}
  • Mustard {first week of April}
  • Peas {as soon as the soil is soft enough that you can sow them outdoors}
  • Peppers {mid-April}
  • Spinach {early – mid April}
  • Swiss chard {early – mid April}
  • Tomatoes {mid April – early May}

Michigan Zone 5 (Average Last Frost Date: May 15th)

This area includes almost all of the southern lower peninsula and the west coast of the lower peninsula.

Vegetables/Herbs to Sow in April:

  • Basil {early – mid April}
  • Cabbage {first half of April}
  • Cauliflower {first half of April}
  • Corn {mid April – mid May}
  • Cucumber {late April – early May}
  • Eggplant {first week of April}
  • Okra {mid April – mid May}
  • Peppers {mid March – very early April}
  • Tomatoes {late March – mid April}

Michigan Zone 6 (Average Last Frost Date: May 1st)

A very small area of Michigan is Zone 6. If you live near Detroit or the southern west coast of the lower peninsula, this is your zone.

Vegetables/Herbs to Sow in April:

  • Corn {early April – early May}
  • Cucumber {mid – late April}
  • Melons {mid – late April}
  • Okra {early April – end of April}
  • Pumpkins {mid – late April}
  • Squash {mid – late April}
  • Tomatoes {March – very early April}
  • Watermelon {mid – late April}

I hope this list is helpful for you, and I hope you’re as excited as I am to get my garden going. If you don’t have space indoors, many of these herbs and veggies can be sown directly into the garden after your soil has warmed and danger of frost has passed. Basil, corn, cucumbers, melons, lettuce, kale, kohlrabi, squash — all of them can be sown right into your garden soil and it works fine, though those of us who have shorter growing seasons may have to get creative with season extenders if we’re direct-sowing. And, often, the seeds that you sow directly into the garden end up being hardier overall, because they don’t have to go through the process of hardening off, transplanting, and acclimating to a new area. So don’t despair if you have to direct sow — other than peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, and some of the more finicky annuals, we can direct sow most annual herbs and veggies just fine here in Michigan.

Happy gardening! If you have any questions, feel free to drop them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer. Thanks for reading!

Originally posted in 2015, updated 2020.

Seeds to Sow in Michigan in February

It’s been a long winter, hasn’t it? The ground (at least in my neck of the woods) is covered in several inches of snow, and we’re looking at frigid temperatures for the next several days.

Yet, even now, in the depths of winter, it’s time to start giving this year’s garden some serious consideration. If you haven’t planned your garden yet, now is an excellent time to do so. There’s still plenty of time to order any seeds or sets you need, and many garden centers and home stores have their seed racks out now (truly, the most wonderful time of the year!)

There aren’t a ton of things to sow indoors in February for most of us in Michigan, but you can definitely get a start on some things. Below, I have advice for each of the four hardiness zones in Michigan. If you’re unsure which zone you’re in, which roughly coincides with your last frost date, check out this map for frost dates and this one for hardiness zone. Michigan’s frost dates vary widely, with southern lower Michigan frost-free in early May, and parts of the northern lower and upper peninsula often experiencing snow well into May and not frost-free until June. The dates below are average guidelines. Check this chart to get a more exact idea of the last frost date in your specific area.

Michigan Zone 3 (Average Last Frost Date: June 15th)

This area includes a large swath of the western upper peninsula and a few small inland areas of the northern lower peninsula.

Sow in February:

  • Nothing this month.

Michigan Zone 4 (Average Last Frost Date: June 1st)

This includes most of the northern lower peninsula and the eastern side of the upper peninsula.

Vegetables/Herbs to Sow in February:

  • Onion seeds

Flowers to Sow in February:

  • Delphinium
  • Dianthus
  • Pansies/Violas

Michigan Zone 5 (Average Last Frost Date: May 15th)

This area includes almost all of the southern lower peninsula and the west coast of the lower peninsula.

Vegetables/Herbs to Sow in February:

  • Celery and Celeriac
  • Leeks
  • Mache
  • Onions
  • Parsley
  • Peas
  • Spinach

Flowers to Sow in February:

  • Delphinium
  • Dianthus
  • Foxglove
  • Lisianthus
  • Pansy/Viola
  • Verbena

Michigan Zone 6 (Average Last Frost Date: May 1st)

A very small area of Michigan is Zone 6. If you live near Detroit or the southern west coast of the lower peninsula, this is your zone.

Vegetables/Herbs to Sow in February:

  • Cabbage
  • Celery and Celeriac
  • Collard greens
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Mache
  • Mustard greens
  • Onions
  • Parsley
  • Peas
  • Spinach
  • Datura

Flowers to Sow in February:

  • Delphinium
  • Dianthus
  • Forget-Me-Not
  • Foxglove
  • Gaillardia
  • Hibiscus
  • Hollyhock
  • Impatiens
  • Lisianthus
  • Lupine
  • Pansies/Violas
  • Petunia
  • Rudbeckia
  • Salvia
  • Snapdragon
  • Stock
  • Verbena
  • Yarrow

So, depending on where you live, you may be fairly busy this month. Even those of us in the coldest areas of the state can either spend time planning or sow a little something. Carry on, Michigan gardeners — we’ll have our hands back in the soil before we know it!

Michigan Gardening To-Do List: February

February is not exactly a flurry of activity as far as gardening is concerned, but there are definitely a few things you can do this month to prepare for spring.

1. Get Ready for Seed Starting

There are a few things you can sow indoors now if you want an early spring crop (which I’ll list below) but the bulk of our seed starting will begin in March. Either way, it’s a good idea to find all of your flats, pots, humidity domes, lights, and other seed starting equipment. In addition:
Clean flats and pots (use a tiny bit of bleach, especially if you had pest or disease issues last year)
Make sure your lights are working, and get new lights if you need them.
Buy or make some seed starting mix.
Make sure you have the seeds you need. Most nurseries and big boxes have plenty of seeds out right now.

2. Start Some Seeds!

For a spring harvest, there are a few things you can sow indoors now:

  1. Broccoli
  2. Cabbage
  3. Kale
  4. Kohlrabi
  5. Leeks

3. Do some winter sowing.

There is still plenty of time to do some winter sowing. If you don’t have the space or inclination to start seeds for perennials indoors under lights, you can sow them right now, outside. You can also sow seeds for many annual flowers, herbs, and veggies this way. More on winter sowing here.

4. Houseplant Maintenance

I’ve noticed that my houseplants have already put on a bit of new growth in response to the lengthening days. If yours are rootbound, this is a good time to repot them into a slightly larger pot and give the fresh potting soil. You can also start fertilizing with a weak solution every week or so of compost tea now.

There isn’t a whole lot to do beyond those few tasks right now. If you have veggies growing under a low tunnel or in a cold frame, keep them watered and make sure to vent the structure on any warm, sunny days we may happen to get.

Enjoy the rest now. Next month, the real seed starting begins!(Hooray!)

How and When to Harvest Milkweed Seeds

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Milkweed is the sole food source for monarch butterfly caterpillars. Monarchs have greatly decreased in population over the years, primarily because of habitat loss. As fields and meadows have given way to parking lots and shopping centers, the places where milkweed grew naturally have started to disappear. Luckily, we as gardeners can play an important role in ensuring that monarchs have plenty of milkweed.

Here in Michigan, there are six types of native milkweed, all of which provide food for monarch caterpillars:

  • swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
  • butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
  • common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
  • whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata)
  • tall milkweed (Asclepias exaltata)
  • prairie milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii)

Most of these milkweeds are native throughout the state, with the exception of swamp and prairie milkweeds, which are native only to the southern part of the lower peninsula.

Finding Milkweed to Harvest

Milkweed grows naturally in meadows, fields, and ditches throughout the state. You can identify milkweed in three ways: via its flower, its foliage, and its seed pods. The blossoms range in color from light pink to purple, except in the case of butterfly weed, which has bright orange flowers. The foliage is shiny, alternating up and down the stem, with long, feather-shaped leaves. Depending on which variety of milkweed it is, these leaves may be large or fairly narrow. In any case, when the leaf is snapped, a white sap should be visible; this is what gives “milkweed” its name. Be careful, though — this sap is a skin irritant, and you definitely don’t want to rub it in your eyes!

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As far as the seed pods, they usually start appearing here in Michigan in late summer. At first they are bright green and quite plump. They look like a weird, kind of spiny/bumpy fruit. As the season progresses, they’ll get a bit lighter in color, eventually turning a greenish-yellow. When they’re at this stage, they may start splitting, and that is when you know the seeds are ready to harvest. When you open the pod, the seeds should be dark brown. If they’re green or light brown, they’re not mature yet and won’t sprout when you plant them. I always look for signs of pods splitting, which is nature’s way of telling you that the seeds are ready. You might lose a few seeds this way as they’re blown away by the breeze, but believe me, there are plenty more inside the pod.

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Please note that you should always ask permission before harvesting seeds from private land, and of course seeds should never be removed from state parks or national forests.

How to Harvest and Separate Milkweed Seeds

To harvest the seeds, simply pull the entire seed pod off of the plant. You can actually store it as is in a paper bag until you’re ready to plant, or you can go ahead and clean the seed now to make it easier to store (in a cool place – preferably a refrigerator, which keeps the seed at a constant cool temperature. Milkweed needs a period of cold stratification to germinate; the refrigerator storage will provide that.)

The trickiest part of the entire process of saving milkweed seeds is separating the dark brown seeds from all of the white fluff attached to them. This fluff is essential to the milkweed’s survival. It acts as almost a parachute, and when the wind blows, it carries the milkweed seeds further away because of that fluff attached to it, dispersing the seed over a wider area. But for seed collectors, it can be a bit of a pain.

Here’s how I do it.

Sometimes, especially if you’re just harvesting one pod and it’s begun to split but hasn’t completely exploded yet, you can simply pull the wad of fluff and seeds out, run your fingers down it, and easily separate the seeds that way. The seeds fall into a container or tabletop, and the wad of fluff stays in your hand. That’s what I was able to do for these pods. You can see how they’re all still pretty self-contained below.

milkweed seeds

If you have more than just a pod or two, or you just don’t want to risk making a mess (that fluff goes EVERYWHERE…) try this: open your seed pods and empty them, fluff and all, into a paper bag, small coffee can with a lid, or a jar. Close the container and give the whole thing a good, vigorous shake. You can even add a penny or two to the bag to help agitate the contents even more. What the shaking does is shake the seeds loose from the fluff. The heavier seeds will fall to the bottom of the bag or jar, leaving the lighter fluff at the top. So after a few good shakes, all you have to do is open your container, lift out the ball of fluff that is on top, and in the bottom, you’ll see your cleaned seeds.

(If you have a huge amount of seed to process, check out this contraption from Monarch Watch: a seed separating machine for milkweed.)

Storing Milkweed Seeds

As I mentioned above, it’s best to store milkweed seeds in a cool place, any my preference is the refrigerator. I like to store my seeds in paper envelopes, which are easy to label, or in jars if I have a lot of seed.

What To Do With Extra Seeds

Often, you only really need a seed or two, especially if you have a small garden, while a milkweed pod can yield dozens of seeds. If you find yourself with more seeds than you can use, here are a few ideas:

  • Offer them to gardening friends
  • Contact your local 4-H, garden clubs, or wildlife restoration nonprofits to see if they would like to take some off your hands
  • If you’re involved in any online gardening groups or forums, offer them as part of a seed trade or for a SASE for those who want some.
  • Store them in your fridge or freezer. They’ll keep, stored this way, for a very long time. If you decide you have room for more milkweed plants, you’ll already have cleaned seed on hand.

I hope this has been helpful. There is nothing quite like sitting out in your yard or garden and watching monarch butterflies fluttering around the milkweed you lovingly planted for them. These beautiful creatures need all the help we can give them, and, in exchange, we get flowers plus the joy of seeing them in our garden.

October is Garlic Planting Time!

If you live in Michigan, October is when we usually plant our spring-flowering bulbs, and that includes garlic. I’ve written an entire post with the details about how to grow garlic, but I figured it might be fun to share some step-by-step photos of this year’s garlic planting.

This year, we ordered Red Chinook garlic. It’s a hardneck variety, which is essential here in our cold Michigan climate. One pound of garlic yielded around 60 cloves — if every clove grows into a bulb (or head) of garlic, we’ll have over a head of garlic per week after next year’s harvest.

I might need to plant more.

Most hardneck varieties of garlic provide 5 to 7 cloves per head, so if you don’t use a ton of garlic in your cooking, a pound of garlic should do it for you. We use quite a bit more than that, so I’m thinking of trying to get my hands on another pound of garlic before the month is up.

Buying Garlic for Planting

I usually order my garlic in August or whenever seed catalogs start emailing me that they have garlic available. The earlier you order, the better chance you have of getting the variety you want — certain varieties tend to sell out quickly. So I order in August or September, and then the company ships the garlic at the right time for planting, which is great — you don’t have to worry about storing your garlic before planting and it won’t dry out on you. Once you have your garlic, plant it as soon as you can so it can start getting established in your garden.

If you don’t manage to order in time, or if you, like me, just need more garlic, another good idea is to look at your local farmer’s market or grocer for locally-grown organic garlic. You can plant cloves from this garlic as well, and because it’s local, you already know that it grows well in your area.

Planting Garlic

garden bed preparation for planting garlic

As with all gardening, the most important step is prepping the soil. Here at our new place, we have the exact opposite soil we gardened in for all those years in Detroit. We had heavy clay soil at our old place, and here, our soil is very sandy (Kalkaska sand, to be specific). At our old place, we were always trying to lighten up our soil. Here, our main priority is adding nutrients and moisture retaining materials. The funny thing is that in either situation, you want to add lots and lots of compost.

That stuff is magical. Seriously.

So to this bed, which we just dug last month, we added plenty of compost, composted manure, and peat. Garlic likes well-drained, nutrient-rich soil, so all of that composted manure will be appreciated. To up the nutrients in our sandy soil, I also added a slow-release organic fertilizer to the soil and mixed it in. In this case, I added Espoma Garden-Tone. This bed is dug about a foot deep. Garlic likes deep roots, so it will get off to a good start if you take the time to dig the bed deeply.

head of garlic, garlic bulb, planting garlic

When you receive your planting garlic, it will look just like it does when you buy garlic at the grocery store — in heads (or bulbs).

As an aside, how pretty is that Red Chinook garlic? I just love the color of this variety.

So once you have your bed ready, go ahead and separate these heads into individual cloves.

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A quick note: don’t do this too far in advance. A day or two at most, otherwise the cloves might dry out and they won’t be any good for planting. I always divide my garlic heads right before I’m ready to plant them.

Once you have them divided, it’s time to plant. Dig holes or trenches two to three inches deep. If you have heavy clay, as I did in my old garden, sometimes it’s easier to just dig a long trench, plunk the cloves in, and cover it all over. However, if you have nice, loose soil, it’s very easy to either just poke the cloves into the soil with your fingers, or use a small trowel to pull the soil aside, pop a clove in, and cover it over.

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When you plant garlic, make sure you’re planting it right side up. There’s a root end and stem end. The stem end is pointy, and you want that pointing up.

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I like to set my cloves out into the bed first, so I can make sure I’m getting the spacing right. Garlic should be planted about four inches apart.

What’s Next?

Once you have all of  your garlic planted, it’s a great idea to cover the area with four to six inches of mulch. Autumn leaves work (chop them first with a lawnmower), as does straw or shredded bark. The reason we mulch it is to not only keep the soil moist, but also because in areas where we have issues with the ground freezing and thawing during the season, having the mulch in place helps prevent frost heaving. (Frost heaving happens when the ground freezes and thaws and ends up pushing the bulbs, or even entire plants, right out of the soil. Definitely not what we want!)

And with that, you’re done. Next spring, you’ll start seeing the garlic foliage and scapes popping up in the garden, and then you’ll know you’re only a few months away from harvesting your own home-grown garlic.

I hope this was helpful. If you have any questions about growing garlic, don’t be shy — go ahead and ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer. Thanks for reading!