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Starting a GardenThis winter has been long! It is nice to look forward to spring weather and gardening. We can’t get out there quite yet, but we can begin to plan and start transplants indoors.Garden LocationFor a new garden space, choose a location that gets at least 6-8 hours of sunlight and most of the sunlight should come in the afternoon. Select level ground with good soil in a location that is near a water source and is in a location where water does not often sit for long periods of time after rain.Planning for Garden RotationIf you have gardened in the location for multiple years, be sure to rotate your crops from season to season. Avoid planting plants from the same family in the same location every year, they should be rotated at least every 2 – 3 years. Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants are in the same family and cucumbers, zucchini, squash, melons, pumpkins, and gourds are in the same family.Soil TestIf you are starting a new garden, you may want to do a soil test prior to starting the garden to see where your nutrient, pH, and organic matter levels are in the soil where you plan to garden. You can do a soil test anytime of the year when the soil is dry. Each garden space should be separate samples and the garden soil should be sampled separately from other landscape areas such as the lawn or a flower bed.To take the soil sample, take multiple samples from 10-15 locations throughout the garden and mix those together to get a uniform sample from across the whole garden. Use a soil probe or small shovel or garden trowel to take the samples. Each sample should include soil from the top 4-6 inches. Mix all of these smaller soil samples in a bucket and fill the sample bag from the mixture to mail off for diagnostics. The sample bag and information on mailing and pricing for soil samples can be obtained at your local Nebraska Extension office. After you get the sample together, mail it in and wait for the results which will help you determine what, if any, amendments should be added to your garden for best growth and production of your plants.Starting Transplants IndoorsIt is best to wait until after our last frost to plant transplants of warm season crops into the garden, I use Mother’s Day as a guide for when to plant outdoors. You can purchase plants from a nursery or you can start your own transplants indoors at home. It takes about 8 weeks to grow tomatoes and peppers from seed, so count backward from Mother’s Day to determine when to start the plants indoors. Don’t start your transplants too early or they will get too tall and spindly.When starting transplants, use good quality seed and a sterile soil or soil-less mixture. Start the seeds in seed trays. You can reuse pots or seed trays from previous years, but thoroughly clean all equipment prior to reuse. Maintain temperatures between 70 and 75 degrees. Seedlings need 12-16 hours of light per day. This light should be kept about 1 inch above the plants, as they grow, this light should be moved up with the seedlings. The light source can be as simple as a utility or shop light with one cool and one warm fluorescent bulb.Two weeks prior to planting outdoors, you will need to prepare home-grown plants to outdoor conditions, this transition is called hardening off. Move the plants outdoors in the shade on non-windy days. Start out by placing the plants in sun for only an hour or two, gradually increase the length of time they are in the sun and the intensity of that sun. Be sure to bring the plants indoors at night. Also, keep them out of direct wind until they have hardened off.If you have any further questions please contact Nicole Stoner at (402) 223-1384, [email protected], visit the Gage County Extension website at www.gage.unl.edu, or like my facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/NicoleStonerHorticulture and follow me on twitter @Nikki_Stoner
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