Transplanting Veggies in Your Pandemic Garden: Fail Safe Techniques

Now’s the time you should be getting ready to transplant seedlings into your garden. As a former nurseryman, I’ve used the following techniques with great success for years. They can be used with pots, raised beds, or in rows. A few pointers before you start:

Go online or to an experienced gardener and learn how your favorite vegetable grows. For example, tomatoes need warm soil and can be planted very deep. Many greens can be planted early before the last frost date because they can withstand cold weather. The average frost dates for Redding is 3/26 (last) and 11/17 (first).

With a long growing season, a second crop of fast maturing vegetables along with the Fall/Winter crops ( Broccoli, beets, greens) can be planted in August.

Seedlings transplant best if hardened-off and well watered before transplanting. Hardening off means exposing the fragile seedling fresh out of a sheltered greenhouse to full sun gradually–two hours day one, four hours day two and six hours day three. If you can’t wait, then put a cap over the plant for a day or two to help to prevent shock that will make the seedling wilt down flat.

Before planting, loosen and aerate your soil by tilling or hoeing. I use a digging fork to pry up the soil. I don’t turn it over. I use a a 4-tined cultivator to work compost (or organic fertilizer) into the soil. For squashes, cucumbers and melons, I dig out a 12”-16” basin about 8” deep and then backfill it with compost. A basin conserves water in our dry Mediterranean climate. For tomatoes, I dig a 10” deep hole because tomato stems produce additional roots when buried. More roots, more fruits!

Organic fertilizer is a little more expensive, but it won’t kill the worms and microbes needed for healthy soil for producing plants. My own compost is my favorite fertilizer.

Prepare your transplanting potting soil ahead. I use a mixture of ¼ potting soil, ¼ manure, ½ compost.

Commercial potting soil has perlite in it, which helps break up clay soil. For tomatoes and peppers I also add tiny amounts of powdered calcium, phosphate & potash which I put at the bottom of the hole. (Or I use an organic fertilizer with about 10% calcium.) Caution: commercial potting soil has very few nutrients in it, so you will have to add fertilizer.

Now, you’re ready:

  1. Dig a hole three to four times as deep and wide as the soil/root ball of the plant you’re transplanting,
  2. Fill the hole with compost or your transplanting mixture
  3. Fill the hole with water, and let the veggie’s water seep down. The seedlings love to have their roots in mud. Watering them in a dry hole will damage some of their roots which may send them into shock.
  4. Remake the hole with a trowel just big enough to set the crown of the seedling into the hole level with soil surface. (The crown is the junction of the stem and roots.)
  5. Carefully remove the seedling from its container by pulling on the leaves and pushing the bottom of the pot. Try not to touch the roots or stem as damaged roots and stems will kill or send the seedling into shock. Damaged leaves will grow back.
  6. Surround the seedling with displaced soil. Do not tuck or pat soil around the seedling which might damage the roots.. You’re not putting a baby to bed.
  7. Mist the leaves with water immediately and whenever you water the plant over the next few days. The leaves will absorb water which will help the plant while the roots are re-establishing themselves.
  8. Mulching the seedling will keep soil moist and warm, and it will help keep weeds down. I apply about 2” of mulch around the plant. (If you have a problem with earwigs or pill-bugs, wait a few days before applying the mulch because these creatures like to hide under the delicious mulch.)

Once your little seedlings are up and growing, learn the best ways to water them. That’s the next step.

Finally, keeping a record of your successes and failures is a good way to learn. It may take a couple of growing seasons (Spring & Fall) before you turn your garden into a productive food basket.

Wayne Kessler

Following his grandfather's advice, "Grow food. People always need food," has led Wayne to a lifetime of cultivating and processing food. He spends much of his time encouraging people to become more food independent by growing their own.

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