By now many have already started their tomatoes and annuals, maybe some perennials in flats. Those most optimistic gardeners probably have a few peppers started, too. Indeed starting plants indoors, and in some cases under lights, is a great way to get a jump on the gardening season to get those seedlings ready to hit the ground running, once it warms up enough that is.

It is getting a bit late for this technique for many things, though I will be starting a few “second crop” items in flats, the time is right for starting a lot of vegetables and annuals right in the ground.

From the National Gardening Bureau and W. Atlee Burpee we learn that many vegetables and flowers, especially annuals, do just fine sown directly into the garden, and some prefer it. By sowing seeds into prepared garden beds, instead of buying whatever plants are available at a garden center in spring, gardeners can not only save money but choose from a much greater variety of flowers and vegetables.

Of course, you have to pay attention to the cultural requirements of the seeds you choose. Seed packets should tell you what you need to know – at what temperature it’s safe to sow the seeds outdoors, whether they need light to germinate, how long they’ll take to germinate, the number of growing days they’ll need to reach maturity.

Make sure you choose vegetable varieties that suit the length of your growing season – you want to be able to harvest your crop before end-of-season frost arrives. For gardeners in many regions, that means you probably won’t be able to direct-sow edibles that demand a long, warm growing season, such as tomatoes and eggplants. Those crops may require that you buy seedlings from your local garden center or start the crops indoors under growing lights.

Here are some guidelines for direct sowing success:

Garden beds used for direct sowing should be well-prepared, with fine soil enriched with compost and no weeds or large stones.

Seeds can be broadcast freely or planted in rows, depending on what plants you are growing and your garden design. If they need light to germinate, seeds should not be covered with soil or growing medium.

Some hard seeds, such as morning glories, for example, benefit from scarification. All seeds should have good contact with the soil, so tamp it down gently after sowing. Some gardeners recommend using a flat board to tamp down larger areas.

Soil should not dry out. Keep it moist, but not soggy, and water with a gentle spray to avoid disturbing the seeds.

After seeds germinate and the plants develop their first true leaves, thin the seedlings as the packet directs. Don’t be tempted to leave all the seedlings in the bed, thinking you’ll get more for your money; only with sufficient space will individual plants grow strong stems, leaves and roots to produce flowers and vegetables.

Generally, the best seeds to grow directly in the garden are large seeds, such as those of beans, squash, corn or sunflowers, for example, because they are planted deeper and are tough enough to survive in outdoor conditions, or seeds of plants with deep roots. A variety of vegetables, including beans, peas, zucchini, carrots and most root crops such as turnips, beets and radishes, leaf lettuce and other leafy greens, such as spinach, Swiss chard, and kale, are easy to grow outdoors from seed. So are numerous annual flowers, from sweet peas, marigolds, impatiens, foxglove, cleome, cosmos and forget-me-nots to plants that are harder to find at most garden centers, such as Amaranthus caudatus.

How heavily should you sow seeds outdoors? Keep in mind that not all seeds germinate, and some may be eaten by birds or other creatures, or washed away by rain. Most seed packets will give you guidelines, but opinions differ among seasoned gardeners. Some prefer to sow thinly in rows, so that thinning those tiny seedlings is less of a chore. Others opt to sow more heavily than the seed packet directs, to allow for seeds that don’t germinate, then thin back to the recommended spacing.

Lastly, enjoy your garden. It can be fun to experiment with unusual varieties of seeds, whether your goal is to tempt your taste buds with exotic vegetables, or to delight your eye with unusual flowers.

Zucchini, an inspiring vegetable

We’ve all heard the jokes about having to lock our doors once the zucchini starts producing, lest someone sneak a bushel in. If you plant it, it will come. But all joking aside, zucchini is like a magic vegetable, so diverse and so user-friendly, for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert, say the folks from John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds.
Here are some suggestions for your bumper crop that is sure to come:

Slice them, dip them in herbed flour, dunk them in an egg and milk wash and coat them with Japanese panko crumbs for a fresh take on fried green tomatoes. They are nice topped with Canadian bacon, poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce for decadent summer brunches.

Slice into quarter inch thick lengthwise zucchini ribbons, bathe them briefly in zesty olive oil and vinegar marinades and grill them. You won’t believe the taste and texture.
Use zucchini instead of eggplant in eggplant Parmigiano. This summer, make zucchini latkes with well-drained shredded zucchini and red onions augmented with egg, fresh bread crumbs, a pinch of minced garlic, sea salt, fresh black pepper and nutmeg.

Or try classic comforting succotash, succulent squash casseroles and simple, just-steamed zucchini rounds anointed with butter and sea salt. For a sweet bite, shred it, make Candace Dugan’s famous Zucchini Bread, and freeze it for the winter. It’s like a little present from your garden on a snowy morning, enjoyed toasted and spread with whipped cream cheese.

Just in case you’re looking for something unusual in the zucchini department, check out the John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds array of choices that includes: ‘Green Tiger Striped’ with shiny dark green skin with light green stripes, ‘Milano Black’ a dwarf bush cultivar yielding early, sweet ebony-green fruit ‘Golden Rod’ a glossy sunflower-yellow pick that is productive and early, pale green ‘Mediterranean Cavili,’ productive and adaptable ‘Green Tigress’ (early to medium harvest), ridged ‘Striato d’Italia’ and wildly-shaped, exuberantly sprawling ‘Zucchetta Trombolina.’

Any would work well in this deliciously heart warming cake-like zucchini bread. Enjoy it warm shortly after baking or freeze it for use throughout the winter.

Candace Dugan’s Zucchini Bread

3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons nutmeg
2 cups flour
2 cups grated zucchini
Optional: raisins and/or chopped walnuts Coarse baking sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two bread pans. Mix together the eggs, vanilla, oil and sugar. Add the salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg to the egg mixture. Alternatingly in three parts, add the flour and the grated zucchini to the egg mixture. It will be thick. Hand stir in optional raisins and/or coarsely chopped walnuts. Fill each prepared bread pan no more than 3/4 full. Top with coarse baking sugar. Bake for about an hour until a cake tester comes out clean.


Lynette L. Walther is the recipient of the National Garden Bureau’s Exemplary Journalism Award and the Florida Magazine Association’s Silver Award of Writing Excellence. She is a member of the Garden Writers Association. She gardens in Camden. Got questions, or comments? Visit her blog, and join in the conversation at: or on Facebook.