Yes, it’s January, but already it’s time to start working on the vegetable garden here in California. I base my planting dates off of the frost dates and the moon cycles.
January is the time when all the nurseries start selling bareroot shrubs and trees. Start planning now if you want to add to your garden. We’re adding several new fruit trees, blueberries, raspberries, Rosa rugosas (rose hip producer) and more strawberries. The fruit trees we’re adding include a plum, peach, cider apple (grafted from one of the original Johnny Appleseed trees), fruiting mulberry, medlar (ancient fruit tree related to the apple favored in Medieval Europe), and quince. I’d also like to add a Strawberry Tree (Arbutus ‘Marina’) and a couple of filberts (aka hazelnuts).
But bareroot trees and shrubs aren’t the only thing to plan for the garden this year. Due to long germination times, peppers, tomatoes, eggplants and tomatillos should be started on January 23rd. On January 30th it’s time to start parsnips and carrots.
Of course two of the hardest plants to get to germinate need to be planted in January – peppers and parsnips.
Peppers need warm soil temps to germinate – around 80-85º F. This can be achieved several ways. The first is to use a seed heating mat. The second is to place the pots in a cardboard box with a 60 watt light bulb hanging right about the box opening. Another key factor in germinating pepper seeds is to avoid using soil mixes that contain a large amount of peat moss. This includes not using peat pots or the peat pellets. The reason for not using peat is unknown, but in tests it has shown to make a dramatic difference in germination rates. Apparently Miracle-Gro Orchid Mix and Organic Choice are good candidates. Also avoid using materials that have a high concentration of fungi spores, include animal manure, garden soil, etc. The hotter the pepper the longer it can take to germinate – sometimes as long as 100 days – so be patient.
Parsnips are another difficult vegetable to get to germinate. It’s another slow germinating seed and only has about a 65% germination rate. They also prefer a warmer environment to germinate. But the issue is that they are a root veggie, which shouldn’t be started as a transplant. So the best way to get them to work is to use the paper towel and plastic bag trick just to get them started. Dampen two paper towels (don’t get them too wet), sprinkle seeds on them and then place in a ziplock bag. Place the bag in a warm, dark place and wait for the seeds to germinate. Just when the roots pop out of the seeds plant them in their garden bed with the root facing down. Make sure the bed is deep and loose. Parsnips have a tough time breaking through heavy soils, or a soil that has developed a crust on the surface.