Trouble with vegetables – first time

(Question)

Hello,
I’m a first time gardener and 3 months ago planted cherry tomatoes, bush beans , radishes , mini watermelon, chives, dill, coriander, small cucumbers. They were all doing well except the dill and chives that we’re all started in small pots indoors and all the vegetables are dying when I planted them in pots which now are outdoors. I used promix HP and kelp in the small and large pots when transplanted them. Where did I go wrong?

(Answer)

First off, it’s great that as a first time gardener you decided to grow vegetables from seed.  You used a good planting medium, and your kelp fertiliser contains useful plant nutrients including nitrogen, potassium, phosphate and magnesium as well as trace elements.   Certain vegetables benefit by being started indoors – tomatoes and beans amongst them – while others dislike being transplanted and are better planted in the vegetable bed in the right place at the right time – dill and cucumbers, for example, resent having their roots disturbed.  Most seed packets give directions for optimal cultivation of a particular vegetable – some recommend starting seeds indoors, while others recommend that seeds be planted in the vegetable garden once all danger of frost has passed.

This has been a chilly and changeable spring, and it is likely that your young plants were not sufficiently “hardened off” to survive the move from indoors to outdoors.  “Hardening off” is a process by which young plants are toughened up by moving them outdoors for lengthening periods of time every day until the weather is reliably warm and the seedlings have acclimated to the outdoor environment – importantly, to the hours of sunlight as well as to temperature fluctuations.  Young plant leaves can easily burn, and temperatures that are too cold can kill your seedlings.  Here is a good description of the process of hardening off, and how to go about it.

Vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and cucumbers are “warm season” crops which are very susceptible to cool temperatures, while “cool season” vegetables such as kale, chard, spinach, lettuces and root vegetables grow their best in cooler weather and can even endure brief periods of frost.  These are crops that can go into the garden much earlier than their “warm season” counterparts.

Without overwhelming you with information, here are a few links that you may find useful.  The first is the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture’s webpage on urban vegetable gardening which is a treasure trove of information; the second is a great blog post that provides a link to the Farmer’s Almanac seed-starting calculator; and the last is the Toronto Master Gardener’s Guide to Growing from Seed.

http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/livestock/urbanagbib/growingvegetables.htm

http://torontogardens.blogspot.ca/2011/04/calculator-for-seed-starting-indoors.html

http://www.torontomastergardeners.ca/gardeningguides/growing-from-seed-a-toronto-master-gardener-guide/

I hope you won’t be discouraged by your experience this year.  Growing from seed is so much fun, and the time is still right to enjoy planting vegetables whose seeds can go straight into the garden.  Toronto’s climate provides a tricky challenge in terms of timing for those of us who like to start seeds indoors and move them into the garden at the right time, but we all keep on trying.