May is the time in Northern Michigan for an easy-peasy, cheap and breezy garden approach. Here’s what you need to know about direct sowing seeds right now.

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Whether you’re planning a serious garden project or just have spring fever and the itch to sow a few seeds and see what happens, May in Northern Michigan is definitely the time to roll up your sleeves, turn over the soil and get planting.

Farmer Andrea Bushre, the young visionary at the helm of NanBop Farm in Cadillac (a passion project of our parent company Heritage Broadcasting) encourages gardeners to plant, plant, plant in May: “Don’t be intimidated by all the talk of grow lights and transplanting and hardening off; with direct-sow gardening, you simply add seed directly to the soil in your container or garden patch and let Mother Nature step in to do the rest,” she says.

Here, she shares how to use seeds to reap an affordable, easy and (almost) foolproof harvest in your Northern Michigan garden:

Why Plant Seed?

  • It’s super cost effective. Seedlings and transplants let you get a jump on our short season, but at $3 to $6 a plant, the expense can add up fast. On the other hand, a packet of seed runs from $1.99 to $3 and can fill a garden bed.
  • Variety. Planting from seed lets you choose from a far broader variety of options, including heirlooms, organics or hard-to-find, fancy options that your local nursery might not carry simply due to limited space or demand.
  • Some plants prefer to be started from seed. Not every plant benefits from a spring start under grow lights or in a windowsill; anything from the fast-growing cucurbit family can be planted now, including zucchini, winter squash, pumpkin, watermelon, cantaloupe and cucumber. Other candidates include carrots and sunflower seeds, whose deep tap roots don’t like being fussed with during transplanting.

Easy Plants to Try from Seed

It’s fun to ponder all the seeds when faced with those racks at the hardware store and garden center, but not all are easy starts in the garden. For example, tomatoes—these heat-loving babies need warmth to thrive. But plenty of options are cold-weather friendly and a cinch to start from seed:

  1. Greens, like lettuce, spinach, arugula and mustard. Pro tip: Keep your greens fenced; rabbits, deer and insects love them.
  2. Radishes and turnips. Pro tip: DON’T wait until these are super large to harvest, or you’ll get woody, hollow and “pithy” crops that have a spicy or soapy taste.
  3. Cucumbers and zucchini. Prop tip: These are super-easy to germinate, but insects like to hit young seedlings hard, so keep an eye out for pests.
  4. Carrots, scallions and onions. A little trickier, but really satisfying when they take off. Pro tip: Carrots enjoy our loose, sandy soil, which helps them grow long and straight.

Protecting Seedlings in Northern Michigan Weather

May is tricky; we’re still susceptible to the odd frost at night, so be prepared to cover with a frost blanket, such as sheets, towels, blankets or cardboard—just be careful not to crush any seedlings and remove them each day so moisture doesn’t build up. Cover plants late in the day to trap warm air under your cover.

If you’re looking at several days of terrible weather, spring for floating row cover, a lightweight fabric that can protect plants from frost but is okay to leave on for longer periods of time.

*Didn’t get seeds going for tender babies like flowers, tomatoes, peppers, or eggplant? May is the perfect time to plant already-started seedlings from your favorite farm or garden center. Be sure to check out May farmers markets for a sturdy selection grown by local farmers who know what thrives in our microclimates.