Days to Maturity

“Days to Maturity” is the number that appears in seed catalogs and on seed packets, often in parenthesis right after the variety name, and refers to the number of days it takes for the seed to grow into edible form: Cherry Belle Radishes (25 days), Oasis Turnip (50 days), Sugarsnap Snap Pea (68 days), Spring Treat Yellow Sweet Corn (71 days), Flavorburst Pepper (75 days), Cherokee Purple Tomato (77 days), Diamond Eggplant (78 days).

But as even one season of growing vegetables will teach you, this handy-looking number is really just a rough estimate. Weather and temperature, soil condition and rainfall, day length and sun exposure all influence it. Recording seeding, transplanting and harvest dates as well as weather conditions for your garden each year helps customize the days to maturity and plan future seed orders and planting calendars.

If your record keeping is well intentioned but haphazard like mine, or even non-existent, catalog predictions of days to maturity can still be useful estimates because they help sort varieties that ripen earlier from those that ripen later. Here in our cooler marine northwest climate, selecting varieties that ripen earlier can be a good idea. Most years, Spring Treat Corn at 71 days is more likely to reach maturity than Silver Queen at 96 days. Some catalogs supplement or even replace this number with the categories early, mid-season and late making selection for our climate even easier.It’s also a useful number if you want to plant more than one crop of quick-growing spring vegetables like radishes, spring turnips or lettuce. Sowing at intervals of one to three weeks helps ensure a steady supply during cooler spring months.

Most sources also distinguish between direct seeding and transplants when predicting days to maturity. For vegetables that you sow directly into the ground, the days to maturity estimate begins when you sow the seed though some prefer to start counting when seeds germinate. For vegetables that you start indoors and transplant, the days to maturity estimate begins when you set out the transplants in the garden or the greenhouse. Even with this generous handicap, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers transplanted to my greenhouse still exceed the catalog prediction of days to maturity most years.

While customizing days to maturity with record keeping and using this information to create planting calendars are parts of my garden planning, once I actually have the seed packets in hand and the potting soil or the garden dirt under my fingernails, all this information and planning falls away and my mind fills with the meals ahead: the first salad of tender new lettuce and spicy radishes, a bowl of roasted spring turnips on a bed of their sautéed greens, the first sugar snap pea raw from the vine sometime in early June and the big bowl of them I’ll take a month later to my neighbors’ 4th of July party.

_Turnips cookedPeas closeupThinking past spring into summer, I imagine the first tomato sandwich of the season, the first eggplant pizza, and the first crisp pepper salad. Eggplant pizza with bowl of green beans Pepper salad As I plant seeds for each of these meals, I’m confident that they will germinate in a week or two, the plants will grow over more weeks and months, the harvest will happen as weather and temperature allow, all this as the days get longer and warmer. A planting calendar based on days to maturity and record keeping nudges me along but the real motivators are the meals ahead and the pleasure of imagining them.  Happy Spring!

Planting Calendars

Last year, I asked several of my gardening friends to share their planting calendars with me so that I could write a column about planting dates for vegetables here on Lopez Island (hardiness zone 7B).  They responded enthusiastically with information enough to fill two columns, one focusing on January through March and a second focusing on April through September.  I’ve posted both columns in the Green Living Columns section of this blog: and

Like the planting calendars my friends shared with me, my planting calendar is a product of record keeping. As each new planting year begins, I look back at when I’ve planted in past years.  Each year is a little different, influenced by the weather pattern that year but also by travel plans.  There’s a pretty big window for planting many of the vegetables I like and looking back on planting records, I see that I’ve taken advantage of those windows.  A reassuring guide to planting times is this chart on West Coast Seeds website:

Last year and the year before, I planted seeds of onions, shallots, sugar snap peas, lettuce, radicchio, fennel, broccoli, and cauliflower indoors in flats in mid-February.  This year I’m delaying any planting until the end of February because I’m traveling a lot this month.  Happily, I can look farther back in my planting records and see that there were years when I planted these crops as late as early March and still had a good growing season.

A week from today I’ll be home for a long stretch and can plant in flats indoors my list of cool weather crops as well as tomatoes.  And with the extra day of this leap year, I’ll be able to record February 29th as the first planting date for 2012!