I'm not sure how it happened, but most new vegetable gardeners have been conditioned to think of late winter/early spring as their only chance to break out seeds and get sowing. God forbid you happen to be on your first real vacation in 10 years during planting week. Better luck next year.
But take heart. While it's true that tomatoes, peppers and other long-season plants need an early start indoors to get a jump on our shorter growing season, there are loads of fast-growing edibles that can be sown straight into the garden - think lettuce and beans, radishes and spinach - all the way into fall. In fact, spring is really only the beginning of several opportunities to get another crop under way.
The seeds you'll be starting now should be "direct sown," which simply means that you put them straight into the ground or in large pots outdoors - no cumbersome indoor grow op necessary. All you'll need are seeds, dirt and water to get rolling. How you go about it depends on the plant, but small seeds like lettuce and carrots should generally be scattered across the soil with a light layer sprinkled on top to cover them. In the case of larger beans and peas, plant in small holes roughly double the height of the seed. Most seed packets include directions, so you won't have to memorize the details.
WHAT TO GROW
When looking for seeds to start this late, begin with crops that have a flexible or fast turnaround time. Plants such as lettuce, mustard greens, pak choi and radish can be picked within a month of sowing.
Replace radishes with new seeds as you pull them out to keep the harvest coming. Beets, turnips and onions typically take longer to grow edible roots or bulbs, but you can plant the seeds whenever you want if mellow-flavoured, tender leaves are what you're after. Peas do best when the ground is cool; however, the young vines are a delicacy in salads and sandwiches and worth growing even if it's too late for peas to form. There is no rule that says you have to grow all crops to maturity.
When beach season arrives in your region, the time is right to get heat-lovers into the ground. Beans, corn, soybeans, nasturtiums and sunflowers won't germinate in spring when the earth is cold and soggy. And it's best to direct sow rather than start indoors, since they often suffer during the transplanting process.
The scorching heat of midsummer will call a break to sowing and planting, but you can get a last hurrah by putting in cool-season crops such as peas, spinach, lettuce and greens, onions, pansies, cilantro, radish, radicchio, carrots and bush beans once the temperature starts to ease up in late summer and early fall.
Seeds are the bargain-basement way to grow an edible garden hands-down, but they are also addictive. If the seed-starting season extends beyond spring, it only follows that the seed-acquiring season will as well, giving you ample opportunity to boost your harvest (this is good) and justify indulging in what can become an insatiable seed-hoarding compulsion (not so good).
Most gardeners I know (myself included) are only slightly less fanatical about seeds than your average Beanie Baby junkie. Lucky for us, a few packs of seeds won't be sending anyone to the poor house or requiring a staged intervention with a TV psychologist.
For more information on sowing specific seeds, visit:
Seeds of Diversity
Salt Spring Seeds
West Coast Seeds