July 11, 2014 at 1:00 am

Gardening

Get seeds started inside to kick-start summer veggies

Seedlings often aren't available at this time of year, but you can still grow lettuce from seeds. (Stock Xchange)

Last week, my salad garden got wiped out in a single evening by a woodchuck, and now I have to start all over again. Most garden centers are out of seedlings at this time of year, so in order to grow greens and short-season vegetables, I have to grow them from seed. The good news is there’s plenty of time to do it. Along with lettuces, I’m planting chard, kale, broccoli raab, beets and peas.

Some plants, such as lettuce, can be difficult to germinate outdoors in hot weather, so I presprout these and other seeds by spreading a paper towel in a shallow dish, wetting it with water, sprinkling it with seeds and then folding it over. I let the seed sit for a few hours and then pour off the water and gently press out the excess moisture with a towel. I then put the folded damp paper towel with the seeds inside a plastic bag and store it on the top of the refrigerator. I open the plastic bag daily to let in air and check to see if the seed has germinated. When a tiny speck of white root emerges its time to plant the seed. Giving seed a “water bath” for a few hours or overnight shortens the germination period.

I sprout and plant lots of seed because I am particularly fond of baby greens. I thin Swiss chard when it’s about an inch or two tall using a scissors. It’s great fresh, cooked or tossed in a fruit smoothie.

Kale is at the top of the scale when it comes to nutrition, and it’s mild and sweet when harvested young. Baby kale is all the rage with foodies, and it only takes about a month to grow.

You don’t need a garden to grow greens. Shallow containers that have drainage holes and hold a few inches of potting soil will do nicely. Baskets lined with plastic are perfect.

When direct seeding in the ground when the weather is hot and dry, water the planting bed deeply a day before planting. Covering the planted area with a piece of floating row cover will help hold in the moisture and keep birds from eating the seed. Air, water and light will penetrate the material so you can leave the floating row cover in place until the seeds sprout.

In summer heat, lettuces will do best if grown in part shade, out of the hot afternoon sun.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. Email her at Szerlag @earthlink.net. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnews.com/homestyle.