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8 Crops to Direct Sow and Why

  • 6 min read

When it comes time to start a garden, many people think about trays with little cubes of soil and starting seeds indoors under grow lights. However, some crops will grow much better if planted directly in the garden. Let us take a look at eight different plants that you should direct sow and discuss the reasons why.

Corn

There are four main types of corn: Sweet, Dent, Flint, and Popcorn. They are distinguished by their appearance and the way they are used.

  • Sweet corn - If you’ve eaten corn on the cob, it was probably sweet corn. It is picked before it is fully grown when it is at its peak of sugar content. This is the type of corn that you usually find at the grocery store or farm market.
  • Dent corn - Dent corn is also known as field corn and is mostly used as livestock feed or in ethanol production today. It is called dent corn because it has a dent in the kernel when mature. This type of corn is not usually used fresh; instead, it is processed into other food products after the kernels have been allowed to dry. Some varieties of dent corn, like Hickory King, are used for making corn flour or masa.
  • Flint corn - Flint corn is the colorful corn you see as a fall decoration. These varieties are primarily grown in South and Central America. Sometimes it is used for food like the Blue Hopi variety, but often it is dried and used for decoration.
  • Popcorn - While technically a type of flint corn, popcorn has a hard outer shell but a moist center that will explode when heated.

While you can start corn indoors, it may produce a weaker plant if transplanted. You may find your corn will easily blow over if not directly sown to establish a strong root system. In your home garden, corn is best planted in patches with plants fairly close together because corn depends on wind for pollination. Planting too far apart in rows may result in poor pollination and low productivity.

Sunflowers

 

Chocolate Cherry Sunflower blossom
Sunflowers come in a rainbow of colors and varieties. Some are more decorative, while others produce oil-rich seeds that are a valued food source for both humans and animals. We have discussed the multiple benefits of growing sunflowers in a previous blog post. One of the properties of the sunflower is its substantial taproot. The taproot can help to purify your soil, but that healthy root will not establish well if transplanted. That root is necessary to keep the tall plants upright as well.

 

Once you plant sunflowers, they will self-seed readily and you may never have to plant them again. Plant sunflower seeds in a sunny spot with well-draining soil 1 to 1 1/2 inches deep about 6 inches apart. Make sure your soil has lots of organic matter and add compost if the soil is lacking. To aid in germination, you should soak or nick your seeds prior to planting.

Peas

There are several types of peas, which are defined mostly by the way they are used or eaten: snap peas, snow peas, and shelling peas.

  • Snap peas - Snap peas have juicy, edible pods and are usually very sweet. These varieties are usually some of the earliest to mature.
  • Snow peas - Snow peas have edible pods like snap peas, but they tend to be flatter with smaller seeds. This is the kind of pea you will often see in Asian stir-fries.
  • Shelling peas - Shelling peas are also known as “English peas” and have inedible pods, but the seeds inside are sweet and edible.

Peas should be directly sown because they have very delicate root systems that would be damaged by transplanting. Peas grow quickly and can be planted early in the spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Plant seeds about 6 inches apart. Depending on the variety, you may need to provide a trellis for the pea vines to climb. To aid in germination, you may need to soak your peas before planting.

Carrots

Because they are a root crop, carrots do not transplant well. Since the part you are trying to develop is the root of the plant, disturbing the roots by transplanting is not a good idea.

Carrots can be planted early in the spring as soon as the soil is workable. They like loose soil and need lots of moisture to germinate. We’ve created an entire guide on growing carrots from seed. Sow seeds 1/8 to 1/4 inches deep and cover until they germinate. Once they have sprouted, you should thin your carrots to be about 2 inches apart.

Radishes

 

Radish Seed Collection
Radishes are another root crop. They grow so quickly that it is almost a waste of time to start them ahead of time. To plant radish seeds, sprinkle them on the surface of your soil and press them into the soil. You will be able to harvest some varieties in as little as 25 days.

 

Beans

Beans come in many varieties, but there are two main types of beans: bush beans and pole beans. Pole beans also include cowpeas. Even though the name may seem to indicate otherwise, they are a type of bean generally grown in warm climates. While beans can be transplanted, it tends to shock the plants, which will stall their growth for a period of time. Bush bean varieties can often be grown in containers, but pole beans need something to climb on. Pole bean plants climb by wrapping themselves around a support structure (pole or trellis).

Plant your bean seeds right next to their support once the soil has warmed to 65°F in the spring. They should germinate within 7-10 days. Thin to 3 to 4 inches apart. You can save some space in your garden by planting pole beans next to your corn and the beans will use the corn stalks as a natural trellis. You may have heard of this technique used in a Three Sisters garden, a method used by Native Americans to grow corn, squash, and beans together.

Watermelon

Watermelon, and just about any melon, does not like to be disturbed once planted. Melon seeds should be planted differently than many other crops. Melons need warm soil to do well, so sow your seeds later in the spring once soil temperatures are around 70°F. If you live in a cooler area, you might try our Yellow Petite Watermelon that has a shorter growing season.

Watermelon seeds should be planted in mounds of soil. They do best in somewhat sandy, well-drained soil and may not do well in soil that has too much clay, so amend your soil appropriately. Create a mound of soil 6-8 inches high and make a depression in the center of the mound. Sow 2 to 4 seeds per mound and space mounds 4 to 6 feet apart. Melons need lots of room to spread out so make sure they won’t crowd out other plants.

Cucumbers

 

Cucumber plants
Cucumbers are another plant that can be started in advance; however, they have very delicate root systems. There’s a chance they may not survive transplanting or that they may stagnate for several weeks after transplanting, so it is best to directly sow cucumbers.

 

There are two main types of cucumbers: vining and bush cucumbers. Vining types should have a trellis for climbing. By training the vines over a trellis it will help to keep the fruit off the ground and generally, they will produce more fruit. Cucumbers are very susceptible to cold and frost so plant them outside after the soil is at least 70°F. Plant seeds about 1 inch deep and 1 foot apart next to the trellis. If not using a trellis and allowing the vines to spread, plant the seeds 3 to 5 feet apart. Plant seeds in succession every 2 weeks for extended harvests.

I think all gardeners get excited as winter passes to plant some seeds and get ready for the gardening season. If we want to have a healthy and successful garden we just need to have some patience and wait to directly sow some of our favorite crops once the weather is warmer and the soil is ready.

Pea plants in bloom

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