For many gardeners, this time of year is one of the most anticipated. Garden planning and seed buying season holds all of the joy of the gift giving (and receiving) of my youth, but with a twist: I almost always get what I want. And, when people make jokes about “the gift that keeps on giving”, they’re right and it’s not meant with irony.
We delightedly peel through the pages of colorful catalogs, imagining gorgeous blooms and prolific mounds of produce. Each description is better than the last and the summer breezes blow gently off the pages. Can you tell I really love this stuff? Being one of the lucky few that writes this stuff, there are some things I’m often asked about the descriptions in catalogs. This time of year I get lots of questions about the meaning of “days”. I’m glad people keep me on my toes and ask me to explain some things that often go unexplained.
The number of days can mean a couple of things. First, this is an average number. The number of days it takes a plant to perform certain functions is influenced by temperature, day length, soil fertility, available moisture, and sun exposure. If these conditions aren’t optimal, it can influence harvest times by 50%! If you keep a garden journal, it will give the most accurate days for each variety you grow in your area.
If you are growing a plant directly from seed in its final destination, “days” means the time from sowing the seed to the first day it’s ready to harvest. Remember that lots of our garden produce is of sub-tropical origin. If your soil is cool, it can take longer for seeds to germinate.
If you are growing a plant that is traditionally grown into a transplant then moved into the garden, then “days” actually means days from transplant to first ripe fruit. If the transplanting is done carefully to minimize plant stress, the delay can be minimized. If the transplanting is stressful for the plant, it can increase the time to harvest, as the transplant will take extra time to adjust.
There are some plants that don’t have a “traditional” or “accepted” starting method, like melons, cucumbers, squash, and celery. We can apply the same guidelines to these as well. If you sow direct, then “days” means days from sowing to harvest. If you grow a transplant, “days” means days from transplant to harvest. What is important to remember is that transplanting allows you to start some plants easier by controlling their environment. But, the transplanting process can start the timer back to zero, so plan for this time.