3 Ways to Jump-start Spring

jumpstart-springIt’s not quite springtime, but that doesn’t have to stop you from getting things growing. Here are three ideas to get an early start on spring that we shared last week on Studio 5. Watch the video, or read on for highlights.


Starting Seeds


Start thinking about your vegetable garden, and start your own plants from seed.

Materials Needed

To start your own seeds you’ll just need a few basic supplies:

  • Seeds: If you plan well enough in advance, you can order seeds from a catalog and find unusual plant varieties, or you can pick up seed packets at your local garden center or nursery.
  • Containers: You can find trays and containers at your local garden center, or you can use small plastic containers from your recycle bin. Egg cartons work really well– you can cut off the lid and use it as a tray to catch drainage water. If you do use recycled containers, be sure to poke holes in the bottom for drainage, and sanitize them before using.
  • Soil: Use soil mix specifically for starting seeds, and do not reuse soil from other plants or take soil from your yard.
  • Light Source: Young seedlings need a lot of light as soon as they emerge, even more than a sunny window can offer. You can buy a lighting setup, or build your own (see instructions here).
  • Fertilizer: Find a fertilizer specifically for seedlings or vegetable plants. Mix as directed on the package, and begin using once seedling has emerged.

Caring for Seedlings

Most indoor air temperatures will be perfect for seedlings—between 60-80 degrees. Just after planting seeds, dampen the soil using a spray bottle. You don’t want to water log the seeds or seedlings, but you don’t want them to dry out at any point during the germination process. Continue to keep them moist with a spray bottle until they germinate and emerge.

Cover trays or containers with plastic wrap or a plastic bag until the seedling emerges, then begin watering with a plant production fertilizer for optimal results. You’ll also want to start using your grow light once the seed has sprouted. Keep the light 2-4 inches above the plants as they grow. Run your grow light for 12 to 14 hours a day, and give your seedlings a break at night.


It takes about a week for seeds to germinate and sprout, and the seedlings need an additional 4-6 weeks before they can be transplanted into the garden, depending on the plant type. Mid March is a good time to start seeds indoors, but check with your local Extension office to find out exactly when you should start your seeds and transplant your seedlings into the garden, as it varies year to year depending on the previous year’s frost date.

If you take your seedlings directly from their cozy indoor setup to the garden, they won’t survive. You have to harden off your plants; a process that takes about two weeks. This means gradually getting them used to being outside. Start with an hour in the afternoon, gradually working up to a full 24 hours.  Then your plants are ready to be transplanted into the garden!

Find out More

View our seed starting fact sheet, Wasatch Front vegetable planting guide, detailed seed starting video, visit garden.usu.edu for more information on gardening, or attend the Seed Starting Workshop on February 22 at USU Botanical Center (registration required).

Easter Wheat Grass


Sprout wheat grass this year for fun springtime decor. This makes lovely table decor, and is a fun activity to do with children.

Materials Needed:

  • Wheat berries
  • Potting Soil
  • Festive containers (pots, baskets, bowls, etc.)
  • Spray bottle
  • Plastic wrap or bags

Soak wheat berries overnight so they begin to sprout. Prepare containers by adding soil. If using an Easter basket, line with plastic wrap before adding soil. Spread a thick layer of sprouted wheat in your container of soil (any potting soil will do, you can even wet the soil before adding the wheat). Spray with water so that everything is saturated evenly. Cover container with plastic wrap or place it in a large plastic bag, to keep the wheat berries moist and encourage growth. Move containers to a sunny window, and spray  with water a few times daily. Don’t let them dry out! Once the grass has begun to grow, you can remove the plastic and continue watering regularly. Grass should grow 6-10 inches in two weeks.

Forced Branches


You can urge those spring blossoms out a little early by bringing budding branches inside. Willows and Forsythia are probably the most common branches to force inside, but you can also try dogwood, cherry, lilacs, or serviceberry branches. Be careful when pruning that you aren’t ruining the shape of your bush or tree. Choose long and thin branches with well-formed buds on them, and cut near a junction. Bring them inside and put them in a vase of lukewarm water, out of direct sunlight (a cool basement room works well). Keep an eye on the water level, and add more as needed.

Ask an Expert // Give Beets a Chance


Take home some beautiful red beets next time you’re at the Farmers Market or grocery store. Read on to find out the many nutritional benefits of beets and get some tips on how to prepare them.

When it comes to eating beets, there are those who love them and those who… well, don’t.  If you are in the group of beet lovers then you probably already have a favorite way to prepare them and use them in side dishes or salads. Other readers may need some convincing before taking steps to include beets in their diet.

Good For You

One of the best reasons to develop a taste for these bright red root vegetables is because they are a good source of folate which helps in the manufacturing of red blood cells and other genetic cells throughout the body. Beets are also a good source of the mineral manganese needed for normal body growth and health. Calcium and potassium are other beneficial nutrients found in beets. Of course, Calcium is known to strengthen bones and teeth. Older adults also rely on the help of calcium-rich foods and supplements to ward off osteoporosis.  Potassium works to keep blood pressure low helping the heart to function efficiently.

Color and Texture

Another reason to use beets is because they add beautiful color and texture to salads. Before slicing or beets for a salad, the outer skin or peel must be removed. It can be removed while the beet is raw but it will be to your advantage to slip on food handler gloves to avoid staining the skin on your fingers. Most find it easier to roast or boil the beets before peeling.

Beet Greens

Don’t give in to the temptation to discard beet greens. Beet greens are actually grown for use in commercially-bagged salads. They can be exchanged for Swiss chard or spinach in your own creative salad. The reddish veins in the leaves break up all the shades of green normally found in salads. To preserve the crispness of home grown beet greens, they should be harvested, washed and refrigerated quickly in a breathable plastic bag and then used within the next two-three days. Beet greens are nearly ready for harvest is most parts of Utah. Start looking for them at local farmer’s markets if you don’t have any in your garden.

Beet greens are a great source of lutein, an antioxidant that helps protect the eyes from age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. The greens also contain a wide variety of phytochemicals that may help actually improve the health of your eyes and nerve tissues.

Preserve for Later

Maybe fresh beets aren’t appealing to your palate. If that is the case, perhaps consider the benefit of having preserved beets as part of your home food storage. Home canned beets are good to have on hand to cut or shred for soups, salads and other side dishes such as borscht and gazpacho.

For approved recipes to use for home preservation of beets, contact your local USU Extension Office or visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation. There you will find recipes for whole, cubed or sliced beets, as well as pickled beets.

More About Beets

  • The color of beet roots can range from dark purple to bright red, yellow, and white. When cut transversely, the roots show light and dark rings, sometimes alternating.
  • The Chioggia beet is red and white-striped, and nicknamed the “candy cane” beet.
  • Beet juice is widely used as a “natural” dye to give pink or red coloration to processed foods.
  • Beets have the highest sugar content of any vegetable.
  • Small beets (about a half-inch in diameter) are good for eating raw. Medium and large-sized beets are best for cooking. Very large beets (more than three inches in diameter) may be too woody for eating.

Kathleen Riggs is the Utah State University Extension family and consumer sciences professor for Iron County. Questions or comments may be sent to kathleen.riggs@usu.edu or call 435-586-8132.

Be Careful! Frost is Still Likely

Frost Still Likely
Although spring has sprung, be cautious when planting. These warm Utah temperatures have tempted gardeners to get a head start on their crops and gardens. But don’t be fooled! Utah is notorious for sudden weather changes and frost is still likely to occur this time of year.

Frost and Growing Seasons

This unusually warm weather has gardeners itching to get in the dirt. It is exciting to think of all the possibilities this warm weather has welcomed. However, please remember that frost is still likely and can directly affect your growing season. This depends on your individual location and garden setting.

Mountain benches have longer growing seasons. Urban and suburban areas are slightly warmer due to the urban heat effect, which could delay frost.

Consider the following:

• Hardy vegetables, including asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, onions, peas and spinach, can be planted as soon as the soil is workable in early spring. This usually ranges between 45 and 60 days before the average last frost.
• Semi-hardy plants, such as beets, carrots, lettuce and potatoes, can be planted one to two weeks after the hardy group.
• Tender vegetables, such as celery, cucumbers, corn and most beans, should be planted on the average last-frost date.
• Very tender plants, such as squash, beans, melons, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, should not be planted until at least a week after the average last frost.

If you have lost plants to frost, you are not alone! All you can do is try again. For more information on fruit and vegetable gardening, visit the USU Extension website at: https://extension.usu.edu/yardandgarden/.



This article was adapted by Leah Calder, a USU Extension Marketing Assistant. It was taken from an earlier article written by Taun Beddes, Utah State University Extension horticulturist.