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How To Start Your Garden from Seeds: 2020 Iowa Seed Starting Guide

It’s still pretty chilly outside here in the Midwest, and we’re feeing a little antsy about getting back into the garden. It’s not quite time to start planting yet, but it is the perfect time to start thinking about planning your summer vegetable garden. While we have a pretty long growing season here in Des Moines at about 175 days, some things need a little longer to mature. We can get a jump on the season by starting some of our seeds indoors this spring.

Here’s our guide to starting seeds in Iowa.

What You Need to Start Seeds Indoors

Starting seeds indoors is fairly simple, but it’ll go a lot better if you have a few specific items that make the planting process easier. Here are the items you’ll need to get the best results possible when starting seeds indoors.

  • Starter soil mix
  • Starter containers
  • Plastic plant trays (with clear covers)
  • Grow lights (minimum of one 2′ light per tray of seeds, but two is even better!)
  • High-quality seeds
  • Labels
  • Seedling starter heating mat

Why Use a Grow Light?

We consider grow lights a seed starting essential because even in the brightest window, most seedlings will grow tall, leggy, and weak without supplemental grow lights. Many grow lights these days are LEDs, so they use hardly any energy, and the bulbs won’t burn out for years and years to come.

Grow lights need to be very close to the trays when plants are just sprouting, no more than 4 inches above the soil. This is to ensure the plants get enough light and don’t get too tall and spindly. As your seedlings grow, you can move the lights up, always keeping them around 3-4 inches from the tops of the plants. To make sure seedlings get enough light, keep grow lights on for 12-14 hours per day.

Using Heating Mats

Seedling starter heating mats are nice to have, but they’re not necessarily essential. You’ll have the most success with seed germination if you keep the soil temperature between 70-75°F. A heat mat makes it easy to maintain this temperature for your seedlings if the temperature in your house tends to fluctuate. 

Labels are essential, believe us! If you don’t put labels on your seedlings, the chances are that you’ll forget what you planted in each tray after a week or two. We have a few different options for planting labels that you can write the names on, or if you’ve got popsicle sticks left over from a child’s school project, you could use them.

When To Start Different Vegetables and Herbs

Many seed packets include information about when to plant the seeds indoors. Usually, they mention the number of weeks before the last frost date. Our last frost in Iowa is generally around the middle of April, so count backward from April 15 to determine when you should start planting each of your seeds indoors. 

January is a little too early for starting most seeds. There are a few woody herbs that are slow growers, like oreganolavenderrosemarythyme, and sage, that you can start in January if you like. 

Towards the end of February, you should be planting seeds for bell pepperscabbageceleryeggplantleeksonions, and tomatoes.

About the middle of March, you can start planting seeds for broccoliBrussels sproutscauliflowercollardscucumbers, and Swiss chard.

Towards the end of March, you can start planting seeds for cantaloupewatermelonlettucepumpkinssquashes, and sweet potatoes.

By mid-April, you should be able to start transplanting your seedlings outdoors, and direct seeding others into the garden.

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It might be too early to start sowing now, but it is a great time to do some research about any new vegetables and herbs you want to try this year. If you have trays and seedling containers you’re reusing this year, make sure to wash them up and rinse them with a water and bleach solution. If you already have grow lights, check to make sure the bulbs are all working. If you need to stock up or replace any equipment, visit our garden center in Des Moines! We can get you any seed starting supplies you need, as well as plenty of exciting seeds to inspire your planning. 

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Designing and Planting a Veggie Garden

Designing and Planting a Veggie Garden

Recent trends have us using our outdoor spaces for both beauty and utility. What better way to take advantage of all that your home and yard have to offer than by growing your own delicious, natural, healthy flavors right outside your door? Vegetable gardens are a marriage between fashion and function.

Your family meals and dinner parties will all get an upgrade with the inclusion of a vegetable garden in your yard this year. For those starting out, we have some tips to make growing your garden as effortless as it looks. Here are some of our top Ted Lare tips for how to design your veggie garden layout and grow your own food this summer.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

How To Get Your Garden Started:
The first step is sometimes the most exciting, but can also be the most intimidating! The first steps are all about creating your vision for what your garden is going to look like. Here’s how to design your vegetable garden:

1. Mark off a plot of land that’s big enough for all of what you’d like to plant. If your space is limited, you can always put some of your garden in containers for a fun and functional garden accent.

2. Choose your edibles, focusing both on what you want to eat more of and what’s easy for a beginner to grow. We recommend choosing foods that you use lots of already so that you get to take full advantage of your garden bounty. There are lots of trendy and fun new varieties of every vegetable you can imagine, so you won’t miss out on anything cool if you only choose a few staples!

3. Check the needs of your plants. Planning is about logistics, too, so look at the frost dates of your plants to make sure they’re a good fit for Iowa, as well as checking their drainage, soil, moisture, and sun requirements. This information can help you choose where to plant, what can be planted together, and whether you need to fix your soil before planting. To garden like a pro, you can place some plants together to help each other out – like using the big leaves of your squash plants to provide some shade to your more sunburn-prone veggies! This all-natural solution can help to reduce the time you need to invest in your vegetable garden.

fiddle-leaf figs placed indoors

Starting Your Garden from Seed or Starter:
Most gardens are grown from scratch with seeds, or by transplanting little seedlings that already have the first few weeks of growth under their belt. For some vegetables, the difference is all down to preference. For others – like those that need warm conditions or have long growing seasons – starting with seedlings is a great way to cheat our short summers. When you use a starter, you can transplant young veggie plants in the warm summer soil once the spring season is done, without losing weeks of growing time!

You can grow your own starters in the early spring by planting your warm-weather plant seeds indoors in a seed starting kit, or simply pick up starters from the store.

Vegetable Seeds to Sow in Spring:
These are the cold-weather plants that love spring and fall, which thrive in cool temperatures and give you early tasty harvests. Sow them directly into the spot you’ve planned for them in your garden.

  • Lettuce and leafy greens
  • Radishes
  • Peas
  • Carrots
  • Beans

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Warm Weather Plants to Transplant as Starters:

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Cucumber
  • Squash and zucchini

Other Easy Plants to Transplant as Starters:
Some plants simply aren’t easy to grow from seed at home, so if you want to include these easy garden vegetables you’ll need to pick up a starter from the store.

  • Basil
  • Mint
  • Rosemary
  • Oregano
  • Green onions
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Asparagus
fiddle-leaf fig plant

Challenging Plants:

Not every garden edible is created the same, and some are a little trickier to grow and might not be the best choice for your first garden if you want to avoid lots of work. These aren’t impossible to grow and are still an option for more dedicated gardeners, but their special needs and higher maintenance schedule might have first-time gardeners frustrated. Save these garden favorites for when you feel like you can take on a project.

  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Corn
  • Eggplant
  • Melons

Your very own edible garden is the perfect compliment to all of the beautiful things already going on in your backyard. Growing veggies is a delicious way to taste the best of what your property has to offer, and a fun way to be nurtured by what you nurture at home. Your new garden vegetables will forever change the way you think about produce!

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Top New Edibles of 2018

“I like being able to tell people that the lunch I’m serving started out as a seed in my yard.” 

– Curtis Stone

One of the best parts of summer is growing your own fresh fruits and veggies right in the backyard. Meals never taste more delicious than after a fresh harvest. Save the trip to the grocery store and bring your own produce section home, only an arm’s length away! Here are some of our top choices for new edibles in Iowa this year.

Gigantic Verde Tomatillo 

These small, husked cousins to the tomato are packed full with flavor and are staples in Mexican cooking. The Gigantic Verde Tomatillo variety brings more delicious flavor and excitement to the table than its predecessors and tomato cousins. The larger yields, fruit, and juicier sweetness of this tomatillo makes it the perfect flavor for a salsa verde to bring freshness to your favorite summertime snacks.

Plant your Gigantic Verde Tomatillo in full sun against a trellis or stake to keep fruit off the ground. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy, throughout the season for the best-tasting fruit. Harvest your tomatillos when they feel firm to the touch and the husks have broken open slightly. You know when they are ripe as their green flesh transforms to yellow. Eat them right away by removing the husk, or leave it on and your tomatillos will stay fresher longer!

Brandy Boy Tomato

An awesome beefsteak variety, the new Brandy Boy Tomato is a tasty way to change it up this year. This tomato is a cross of the heirloom tomato Brandywine and Better Boy. The result is a tomato that has a delectable sweet and tangy heirloom flavor, but with better disease resistance and a tidier growth habit. Try them in a homemade pasta sauce or even diced into a delicious bruschetta!

Tomatoes need plenty of sun and moisture to grow. Plant them in rich, moist soil and keep them well-watered throughout the season. Mulching plays an important role in growing tomatoes for both moisture retention and protection. Tomatoes’ delicate roots can be prone to many problems, including rot if damaged, so protecting them is key. Grow them against a stake or tomato cage for big, juicy fruit and harvest when they are heavy and firm to the touch.

Pixie Grapes

These perfect patio grapes are a cousin of grapes we often find in our houses in a tall, stemmed glass. Their mouthwatering, crisp, sweet flavor will probably taste similar to many wines! Homegrown grapes are a decadent treat all summer. These grapes got their start in vineyards and have been perfectly designed to fit in a patio container for delicious flavor at your fingertips all season.

Prep your pot with moist, well-draining potting mix with an organic, slow-release fertilizer for an added boost. Plant your Pixie Grapes in full sun with a small trellis to support your grapevines as they grow. You’ll know they are perfectly ready with a quick taste-test – sweet means just right!

Pictured below: Artwork Broccoli (left), Dragon Roll Pepper (right)
Images from: All American SelectionsBurpee

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Artwork Broccoli

We’re all familiar with our big, bushy broccoli varieties with short stems and thick stalks. Breaking tradition comes the new Artwork Broccoli. These little bite-sized broccoli heads harvest piece by piece, rather than as one, large head, so the flavor is always fresh day-of. Their long, flavorful shoots are just as earthy and sweet as the tops, making the whole thing amazing for every broccoli recipe, especially stir-fries.

Artwork Broccoli needs full sun and consistently moist soil to grow. Plant in a rich, well-draining soil and mulch to keep moisture even all season. Harvest the central crown of the broccoli first – the top of the stalk – when it reaches 1” in diameter. Do this first and enjoy the sprouting of tasty shoots all along the length of the stalk throughout the summer.

Dragon Roll Pepper

These popping peppers offer a slightly spicy, yet sweet flavor with a bit of smokiness and have become a culinary delight at farmers markets and restaurants across the nation. Starting off fairly mild, Dragon Roll Peppers will mature with a bit of kick, but only about 1/10th of a jalapeno. Just a bit of spice makes these the perfect snacking peppers on their own. They add awesome flavor when diced raw onto fresh tacos or for roasting. They are certainly a talking point of any dinner party.

Plant them in a hot, sunny spot in your garden. Warm and moist soil gives these peppers their edge, so mulching will keep them at top performance. Water regularly and feed them with an all-purpose vegetable mix to give them a boost if they need it. Harvest your peppers when they are still green by cutting off part of the stem.

Pink Icing Blueberry

Named for the blue and green foliage that is dusted with pink edges, Pink Icing Blueberries are the must-have berry for your garden this year. They’ve got adorable foliage that makes them a great accent plant for your garden or patio, and they are rich in delicious berries to enjoy all summer. The big, juicy berries are so flavorful and sweet that you’ll have a hard time holding yourself from eating them all right off the plant. If you can, though, try them fresh with some Greek Yogurt or baked into mouthwatering muffins.

Pink Icing Blueberries will perform best with at least six hours or more of sun. They are self-pollinating, so they do not need another plant to produce fruit, but they will have better yields if you plant more than one. They will need a rich, acidic soil to grow, so having compost or peat moss on-hand for amendment may be helpful. Water them regularly and deeply to provide plenty of moisture to your growing fruit. You’ll know they’re perfect for eating when the little berries are full of color and no longer green.

Enjoy a fresher taste in your kitchen this summer with some irresistible new fruits and vegetables. Add a twist to your cooking, baking, or even just snacking with a flavor for every palette. No matter who’s coming over, you’ll have something fresh for everyone with these top new edibles of 2018!

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Vegetable Seeding 101

seeding basics how to sow seeds vegetable garden

Planting your own seeds is a win for everyone. Not only does it save you money, while being good for your health, it is much easier than some myths would have you believe. Planting even a few seeds each year is important. It’s a significant reminder that despite how frantic our plugged-in lives can get, some of our most meaningful joys come from the simplest places.

Why Plant Seeds?

It might be simpler to ask, why not? Our gardening experience has changed in the last few years from the roots up. Slowly, popularity is swinging back to what gardening used to be about: a little bit of dirt on your hands at the end of the day, and getting a taste of our own home-grown food. This movement is more than just a trend, so many people worldwide are turning to home-gardening for countless reasons. All these new people have started to innovate and adapt in their own ways, creating a gardening experience that is both new and old, and totally unique. Seeing your own food at home is a smart move in so many different ways. Below are just a few benefits from growing your own vegetables. Seeding your own food at home is a smart move in so many different ways. Below are just a few benefits from growing your own vegetables. 

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For Your Health:

The health benefits are obvious. Your vegetables are at their best straight from the garden, where they have the most nutrients and vitamins packed in them. The longer you wait after your food is picked, the more your nutrition-per-bite suffers. Growing your own gets all of the nutrients where they belong: on your plate. You’ll also have the assurance that you know exactly where your food was grown and what went into it. Growing your own food from seed ensures the healthiest food that you can have full confidence in.

For the Flavor:

Homegrown food tastes better. If you place something straight from your garden next to produce from the store, we promise that you can tell the difference your backyard makes. After you try a home grown tomato, you will not want to go back.

For Your Wallet:

Growing your own food is basically growing money. You will actually pay much less every month, while reaping the rewards of better tasting, healthier food. You might still buy some exotic favorites from the store, but plants like peppers, beans, or tomatoes are essentially high-interest investments.

For Your Family:

Many people like to seed their own garden for their families. The delicious and healthy foods benefit your entire family, and growing your own saves money. But teaching your children how to grow their own vegetables is a valuable experience that doesn’t actually cost anything. Some lifelong rewards are just too important to be bought.

Getting Started:

The most difficult obstacle for people interested in seeding their own garden, is figuring out when to start. Some of your plants might be sown directly into the soil in the spring, while others may need to be started earlier, indoors. Thankfully, it’s not a very exact science so if your guesswork is a little off on either end, your plants and crops will still be great. For information on how to time your planting for the Iowa growing region, view our Seeding Calendar article.

Seeding Inside:

Some plants are a little more hearty and can tolerate being started outside as soon as the weather is mild. Crops like peas, beans, carrots, and salad greens all grow quickly and don’t mind a slight chill. Other heat-lovers, like peppers or tomatoes, will perform best if they get an indoor head-start on the season. Starting inside is a good way to get the most out of your summer, while offering a fresh green reminder on your windowsill of spring-to-come. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Wash your containers well, with soap and water. Young seedlings can be more susceptible to bacteria and fungi than your matured plants, so you’ll want to start them off right.
  2. Don’t start with soil from the garden. Use a packaged blend specially designed for seedlings to ensure that everything is sterile.
  3. Pick a location. Most seeds won’t need specialty lighting – a bright window will do. The seedlings will want as much light as they can get once they germinate.
  4. Maximize your humidity. Our favorite trick is to use a clear, plastic dome to keep moisture in while the seeds germinate. Once the leaves break the surface, they won’t need the dome anymore.
  5. The initial leaves on a plant are seedling leaves. These are nourished from the stores in the seed itself. Once the roots develop enough for the plant to draw nutrients from the soil, your plant will develop true leaves. Once true leaves start to develop, it’s time to transplant your seedling.
  6. Watering your freshly sown seeds could rinse them away. Instead, opt for the finest mist possible for the first few waterings. Optimally, you should use something that produces an effect like light rain.

Once your seedlings have successfully started, they are ready to move to the garden. Having started from scratch gives you extra satisfaction that will make your homegrown food taste even better, all summer long. Visit Ted Lare Garden Center to select your favorite vegetable seed varieties from Iowa’s Seed Savers Exchange.

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Des Moines Seeding Calendar

Seeding schedule calendar planting seeds

The freshest flavors of the summer undeniably come from your own garden. Who doesn’t want to enjoy and share a summer dinner with the fruits of their labors? One of this year’s healthiest trends focuses on homegrown food. Summer is the best time to enjoy the cleanest, most organic, and most local food possible from your own garden. We are lucky to enjoy flavors from everywhere around the world,  but our garden is a little limited by our American climate. Some vegetables have different needs for their best growth. The scheduling aspect of planning your vegetable garden to suit these needs can be a bit intimidating at first. With some easy advice, you can have a flourishing garden filled with all of your favorite foods, all in sync with the seasonYour garden can be as simple or complex as you wish, and filled with everything you want to get more of each summer.

Early (and Late) Season

There are a lot of vegetable favorites that produce amazing food both early and late in the season. These plants excel in moderate temperatures but struggle to perform under full summer heat and exposure. These are all quick-growing vegetables, so you have many opportunities to enjoy them in the bookends of the season. The beginning of April is a great time to start seeding some of these vegetables:

  • Radishes
  • Lettuce and other greens
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Chard
  • Turnips

These are all great choices for early in the season. They can also be brought back for additional plantings in early August, once the most intense of the summer heat and sun has passed. Summer salads, anyone?

Vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower are good choices to plant early in April too. These plants are a little more resilient to heat and will last into late June. They are slower growing so they won’t be very well suited for another planting late in the season. Hardy vegetables like onions and potatoes are also great choices for early seeding and can be grown all season for the best harvests.

“Heat Lovers”

Many other garden favorites need a little more heat to be their best-tasting. These heat-loving plants soak up the sun and prefer to have warmer soil, so they typically shouldn’t be planted until about mid-May. Some of the classic plants for later seeding are:

  • Beans
  • Sweet corn
  • Tomato
  • Pepper
  • Eggplants
  • Squash
  • Cucumber
  • Melon,
  • Pumpkins
  • Watermelon

Late summer is also a great time to start harvesting: 

  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Cherries
  • Raspberries
  • Blueberries

Cheating the Weather

Of course, many times you don’t need to be a slave to the weather. A well-lit windowsill is all you need to get many of your plants started early. The favorite trend of indoor seeding is herbs, which can flourish at any point in the season with enough sun. Other vegetables like peppers, cucumber and tomatoes can be started inside too, for a head start on the season. You’ll be cheating the spring weather, but the real benefit is a little splash of green in the kitchen when most living things outside are still dormant. Another challenge – once you have figured out when in the season to plant – is making guesses about seasonal temperatures. Some summers come later than others or can be hotter or colder than predicted. Don’t worry too much – this is just your planting guide. Don’t be afraid to make a call to plant sooner or later if the weather looks right. Part of the joy of keeping a garden is making it yours, as well as enjoying it’s product later.

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