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Seed Sprouting! Life!

Photo: USDA Flickr

Starting seeds yourself has two fabulous advantages! Seeds are cheaper than transplants, and you can grow far more varieties of veggies than you can buy at the local nursery! You can buy the best and order latest they may not have heard about yet. You can experiment and see for yourself. You can touch and taste these special varieties! You can even do a little research and hybridize some of your own!

The two main ways to work with seeds are to plant indoors or outdoors!

STARTING YOUR SEEDS OUTDOORS IN THE GROUND

Just like in Mother Nature, outdoor starts are blessed with whole nutrition from their very beginning and they don’t need transplanting!

Before you sow your seeds, amend your soil surface with worm castings! Castings speed germination and strengthen seedling immunity. Keep that planting space and those castings moist until you are ready to plant. A couple days before planting, water the soil so it is for sure semi moist on planting day.

Plant large hard seeds and seeds that are planted an inch deep before a rain. Wait until after the rain to plant little seeds that could be washed away or buried too deeply. Same for seeds that rot easily like bean seeds.

Prevent pests! Put down what you use to end slugs and snails before you sow your seeds!

While you are waiting for planting day, make tags. I put three things on my tags. 1) I put the planting date on the tag so I’ll know by when I should be seeing seedlings. 2) The name of the plant helps so you will know what they are and not a weed! If you are new to planting seeds, don’t worry, you will learn to recognize the little guys. If in doubt, let them grow a bit before you ‘weed’ them out. Look online for baby pictures! 3) The days to maturity cues me to when I should be expecting fruit and how well my plants did. And that varies per time of year, temps, weather, your soil, how well you cared for them.

Mark your planted areas as you go! When I plant the seeds I put a stick at the ends of the row, a triangle of sticks when there is a single area where the seeds are planted. Since I do a lot of interplanting with understories, companion planting special plants where they will do the most good, that keeps me from stepping on or disturbing the seeds.

Some seeds are big and fat like beans, others, like poppies and purslane, are so tiny if you dropped them you would never find them!

After how far apart should I plant my seeds, probably the most iffy thing about planting seeds is how deep do they need to be planted? Most seed packs have that info on them.

Chopsticks can be used in a couple helpful ways.

Mark one of them at 1/4, 1/2, and 1″ on the stick. That way you can get your seeds at the right planting depth. Using your marked stick keeps you mindful; planting goes fun and faster with less wondering and worrying!

If you are installing delicate sprouts, make a planting hole, and if you are good with chopsticks, grasp the sprout gently, carefully place it. Cover and smooth the soil, water gently. Check out Seed Soaking/Presprouting Tips & Ideas!

Teensy seeds are a challenge in so many ways!

First it’s a question of not dropping them. Hold the package over a dish? Something smooth and not wet or sticky. And keep your hands and that package dry! And don’t plant those tiny feathery seeds on a windy day!

Second is how to distribute them the right distance apart. Very carefully. Be careful not to crush or damage them by rolling them or squishing them between your fingers! Use a tiny spoon.

Since most tiny light seeds aren’t supposed to be buried, in nature they wouldn’t be, simply very lightly hand pat them to the soil.

Third is how to keep them from washing away when you water. You can make a tiny ‘trench’ or depression with mild slopes. Sometimes I just hand pat a little depression area with my fingers. Instead of the hose, use your watering can with nozzle that has fine holes. No flooding or standing water. Just moisten. Moisten them maybe 2 or 3 times so the soil gets moist a 1/4 to a 1/2 inch deep. Moisten once, water something else, come back and moisten again so the water can soak in a wee bit deeper. Repeat.

When you are weeding, have you noticed how many seeds come up by the edge of a pathway board, a plot border or a stepping stone? Put down a mini board, wide stick, where you want tiny seeds to grow, preferably in a slightly lower area, a depression that will hold a bit of moisture. Sprinkle the seeds around the board, along the stick. They will have the moisture and shelter they need to get started right at the side of the board or stick! Once they are started, remove the board, transplant some of them if you like.

It may be easier to plant a group of seeds in one place to get them started. That can be their nursery. Plant them far enough apart that you can get a small trowel in there to collect them to transplant. Transplant them where they are needed or to their permanent place when they get their second set of leaves.

Delicate seeds like Marigold need to be carefully laid down and cover the complete seed, but no more than 1/4″. The ‘tail’ of the seed acts like a wick to deliver moisture to the seed. Unprocessed home saved carrot seeds are fuzzy with wicks. They germinate much sooner than the processed naked ones in seed packs!

Lettuce seeds are planted on the surface OR 1/4″ deep depending on the variety. Read your seed pack!

Harder seeds like Cilantro can be exciting to handle since they roll around and jump for it any time they can! They often come up as nearby volunteers! That rolling about can make spacing a challenge. But you can see them and they are big enough to move where you want them. Radish are not exactly round, but they can be unpredictable too! If spacing means a lot to you, you can make or buy seed strips!

If you aren’t overplanting for greens from thinning, spacing does mean a lot! Plants too closely seeded and not thinned, get rootbound, root plants like radish, beets, carrots can’t make, won’t form their roots. Too closely planting lessens growth and production, weakens your plants since your plants are literally starving. Plants along the edge of a clump can reach out. Ones at the center can’t get their roots through to food.

Beet seeds are unique because each ‘seed,’ corm, is a cluster of three to four seeds! There is no escaping needing to thin them. OR, you can gently hand separate them to get four healthy plants! I separated beets I got from a nursery. When I finished 3 of the 6-pack compartments I had planted out 36 beets!

Big seeds are easy, but if you aren’t naturally a good measurer, it’s easy enough to plant too deep or not deep enough! Where are those chopsticks? If the seeds are an inch deep, you usually won’t wash them away when you water. Some seeds can be planted too deep make it, just rot and become compost. With others a little deep means it just takes longer to come up. Too shallow may not keep those seeds moist enough. 

Some batches of seeds are mixed sizes – maybe your green manure or living mulch mix. Some say broadcasting them is all you need to do – they are light germinating seeds. But soil contact and moisture is important. If you plant during a hot spell, get your soil as level as possible. Fling, toss, drizzle your seeds about. Lay a board or a piece of plywood on the soil to press them down for that contact. Immediately cover with bird net or aviary wire or many will be gone overnight, and birds will take tiny tasty tender seedlings that sprout! Gently water your seeds to keep them moist. In hot weather that may be two times a day. You can bury your seeds, but way fewer seeds make it. You only get a thin stand.

Protect your seeds! After your seeds are in, cover with bird netting or aviary wire. Birds love seeds and fresh seedlings! Animals like plowing through your soil looking for insects and seeds. Aviary wire is best for that, or an easily removed wire border so you have access for tending. You can use cloches for small spot plantings. When you can use them, they are excellent because wicked slugs and cut worms can’t get through!

Seedlings Transplants Cover Protection Birds Shade

Successive planting in summer heat has its own challenges, but it is doable! Set up shade cloth, use upturned flower pots or laundry baskets, cardboard boxes, or lightweight fabric held aloft with hoops. Shade cloth comes in different densities. You can water through it and it keeps birds and predator insects away. Remove it when your plants are up and strong. This image has lettuce, but you can start mixtures of other plants this way too. Use it as a nursery then transplant plants where you want them.

STARTING SEEDS INDOORS or IN YOUR COLD FRAME or GREENHOUSE

Seedlings Indoors Grow Lights

Starting seeds in a Container is a whole different territory! Your main advantage is getting a SIX WEEK headstart on planting! That’s food on your table a month and a half sooner!

It can be as simple as putting a few containers or 6 packs in your kitchen window or on top of the warm fridge, or doing something costly, elaborate and sophisticated! If you like starting seeds, choosing a permanent space, then installing lighting, warmth, and setting up a special overhead watering system on a timer may intrigue you. You might put up a greenhouse! You can install a wonderful bought or homemade cold frame on the sun facing hillside.

You can make your own special seed starter mix; it’s not too hard. But if you don’t want the mess, or don’t have time for that, you just buy a great mix at the nursery! While you are there, get a bag of vermiculite, or when you are at the grocery outlet, get a big container of cinnamon. Read on below….

Starting seeds indoors means there are no predator pests. Yay! Rain doesn’t matter. No drying or damaging winds. No hot scorching sun. No soil pre preps – yet.

Level starting medium is pretty easy to achieve. Gentle watering is still needed. Seeds and seedlings need to be kept moist.

Making tags is very useful, especially if you put different plants in the 6 pack compartments! You have a start date and you know when they should be up. And you can use the tags when you transplant the babies in the soil outdoors.

When the true leaves come on, the ones after the first two, the seedlings will need to be fed. Spritzing with a liquid feed is the usual answer.

Cinnamon for Seedling Damping Off Disease Prevention!

The nemesis is Damping off disease, a sad foe of seedlings. The baby just topples overnight and it’s over. A 2005 North Carolina State University study found it’s not the mixture but what’s on top of the soil that counts most. Damping off differences almost disappeared between commercial organic seed-starting mixtures and various homemade mixtures after all of the seeds were covered with vermiculite instead of a planting medium. Simple fix!

The super simplest prevention is Cinnamon! Just sprinkle it on the soil! Sprinkle on plant injuries and they will heal. It is a rooting hormone. And it repels ants! Mildew, mold, fungal diseases? Mix 4 tablespoons cinnamon in a half gallon warm water, shake it vigorously, steep overnight. Strain through a sieve or coffee filter and put it in a spray bottle. Add ¼ teaspoon liquid dish soap as a surfactant, lightly spritz your plants, undersides and tops of leaves!

You do need to harden off seedlings. They need to be taken outside to get used to cooler temps, a bit of breeze to build their standing up muscles! The author of ‘Grocery Gardening’, Jean Ann Van Krevelen says, “Take your seedlings to a protected location outside for one hour for the first day.” She said, “Do this each day for a week. Add one hour for each day of the process. By the end of the week, you’ll be at 7 hours and the plants will be ready to be transplanted.” She doesn’t recommend direct sunlight or wind. Don’t take they out if it is windy and your seedlings could be broken. Just do it the next day where you left off. Keep your seedlings evenly moist.

Schlepping them back and forth may be a challenge, but doable. But if you grow them on a cart with wheels in the garage or near the patio, you can easily roll them out and back in each day.

Both indoor and outdoor planting have their necessities, special techniques, disadvantages and advantages! There’s no reason why you can’t do BOTH! Getting a healthy start in the ground is terrific! Others would never make it in cold or extreme heat and indoor babying is just right. Preseason indoor starting gets you there that six weeks sooner!

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Mother’s Day is May 8! Here are some wonderful ideas for green and loving gifts! Get living gifts started now! Click here

The Green Bean Connection newsletter started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara city community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

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Image result for seeds or transplants

Starting Sage & Lavender Indoors – Gary Pilarchik

Do both! Seeds and transplants! Here’s why and when!

If you are late planting seeds, it’s off to the nursery for transplants!
Some plants just don’t come in six packs, like radish. Seeds it is.

SEEDS

Watching seeds sprout and seedlings unfurl and grow is divine! It’s a miracle! Many have just never done it and find, to their delight, how easy and inspiring it is! Seeds can be started indoors at home or right where you want them, in the garden!

Pros:

  • The beauty of seeds is you can select plants your nursery doesn’t carry!
  • You can start them indoors 6 weeks earlier than you can plant seeds in the ground!
  • If you planted it right in the ground, you have saved yourself the step of transplanting!
  • Some plants just don’t like to be transplanted! Annuals, plants with large seeds, plants that require weathering, plants with fragile root systems and root crops – beets, carrots. Like snapdragons, nasturtiums, spinach, and peas.
    • Root crops like carrots need depth. If their tap root comes in contact with the bottom of a container it will fork or bend. Better to sow directly in your soil.
  • Plants that are quick to germinate, get up and get strong, are great to start from seed, like radishes, beans, peas, beets, and turnips.
  • If you are growing a lot or in succession, seeds are the most inexpensive way to grow your garden. Save seeds from your best veggies, flowers and herbs each year and you won’t need to buy any more! Plus they will be adapted to you and your soil!
  • Be prepared to thin your seedlings, which means pulling out a few plants so your crop is spaced apart enough. Beet seedlings need 2-4 inches apart, but the seed grows in fours, so each plant needs room to make a normal-sized beet. Crowded plants compete for light, water, and nutrients. Also, lack of airflow will encourage diseases. The pro here is those young tender seedlings are perfect in salads!
  • Seedlings thinned from over-crowded areas may be moved to fill in bare spots.
  • Growing seeds for transplants indoors are protected from the elements and garden pests while you can also control soil, moisture, fertility and heat.
  • You can select only the strongest seedlings to transplant.
  • All your plants are up when you plant them – no germination failures, empty spaces, no wondering, no replanting necessary, no lost time.
  • If you complete the circle by continually keeping the seeds from open-pollinated plants in your garden, you’ll create a vegetable strain (AKA: landrace) that thrives in your particular environment.
  • There is well deserved pride in growing your veggies from seed-to-plate!

Veggie Seeds Soil Planting Temps!
Seed Soaking/Presprouting Tips & Ideas!
Soil for Seed Starting! DIY, Pre-made

Cons:

  • Seed germination in the ground isn’t guaranteed. You wait to find out and if it doesn’t start, you lose time, possibly it gets beyond the planting window and it was not a plant your nursery carries. Starting a few seeds indoors as backup is wise.
  • The number of days to germinate in your garden could be very different than those given on a seed packet due to soil conditions, weather, whereas with a transplant, there’s no guessing.
  • Extra tender care and time is needed as seedlings germinate and get going. Transplants are sure, up and ready! All you have to do is go get them…
    • Seedlings need to be weeded so they aren’t overgrown.
    • Sometimes seedlings need protection from birds, pests – especially slugs, and freezes or hot sun.
    • Right watering must be done, you can’t miss.
    • Tomatoes like moving air to development well, if starting indoors you may need a fan.
  • Yes, there is a learning curve with seeds. Research is important so you can choose the best for your climate, soil and light conditions, the season – first and last frosts.
  • You’ll need a seed germinating space. Regular shop lights are fine for germinating seeds, but there usually is an initial investment of some kind, like maybe that fan!

Image result for veggie Transplant pepper seedlings

Super healthy homegrown Pepper seedlings at New Life on a Homestead

TRANSPLANTS

Oh it’s so much fun to select transplants! It gives you the option of trying new plants, varieties, sometimes getting another one if one has failed. While you are shopping, there are marvelous other gardening tools, amendments, flowers you can get! Who knows what you will come back with?! And you can plant in the garden the same day!

From the Nursery Pros:

  • Nursery transplants take a whole lot less time! You just go get them.
  • If you don’t have a place to grow seeds, transplants from the nursery are terrific. You can ask, they may be able to get special varieties you would like.
  • Some plants are just plum hard to get started from seed. A transplant is perfect, thanks.
  • Starts are especially perfect for beginning gardeners who would like to skip the part that includes vulnerable, infant plants. Starting and babying tiny plants may not be your cup of tea either! Let the experts do it!
  • With transplants the seed is germinated, it’s showing vigor and chances for a successful garden are more likely from the outset. This is particularly important when you have a limited number of warm summer days or you are planting late!
  • On average, transplants give you a SIX WEEKS jump start on the season, because they will mature sooner and give you an earlier harvest. Transplants give higher early yields, and, one gardener says, in the case of watermelons, give larger fruits.
  • Transplants can give you a great boost with succession planting, which means planting the same thing several times per season to ensure continuous harvest. For great results with lettuce, for example, you can start your first succession via transplants, and then follow every 2-3 weeks with lettuce seeds sown directly into your garden.
  • If your seeds have failed, you can get transplants at the nursery!
  • Transplants can be more resistant to insect pests, because they are more mature and stronger when you first put them into your garden. Many insect pests, like slugs, just love teeny tiny seedlings. Put down Sluggo or something like it even before you transplant, but definitely at the same time you install your plants. An overnight slug fest can remove an entire plant!
  • Planting transplants gives you immediate satisfaction. Who doesn’t love starting their garden and seeing all those baby plants?
  • Buying transplants can be more cost effective, and provides you with a great way to support local farmers and garden centers.
  • Conscientious local nurseries carry starts that are grown specifically for your area. So you don’t have to worry about planting a variety that doesn’t do well in your zone. Box stores are less likely to be region specific.
  • Having strong, young plants gives you some leeway per correct planting times. Transplants can be put in the ground earlier than seeds can be planted! If you miss a planting window, go get transplants from the nursery and you are back on time!

From Your Nursery at Home Pros:

  • Start 6 weeks before safe outdoor soil planting temps. Head start!
  • Sow seeds indoors during cool weather, harden off, then move outdoors, when weather warms up, not before.
  • Since the seedbed produces many more plants than needed, choose only the very best plants!
  • Reduce loss. The disease and pest free, precise environment of indoor planting is more protected than seeds germinated and seedling growth in the ground.
  • You can plant exactly as many as you need.
  • You know they are organic all the way, seed and soil, feeds.

Importantly, if you are growing your own transplants indoors, harden them off well. Expose them to slightly cooler temps and some dryer conditions before putting them out. Most transplants have been raised in warm, favorable temperatures, spoiled with plenty of water. They may suffer transplant shock from suddenly changing those conditions. They may wilt or even die with cooler night temperatures, lots of temperature fluctuation, or drier conditions.

How to Transplant for Super Successful Returns!

Cons:

  • Starts from the nursery are the most expensive way to plant a garden. Prices can vary drastically depending on where you shop.
  • There is a carbon footprint. Yes, most do use plastic containers and you usually drive to the nursery.
  • Your variety choices are limited to the plants the nursery or garden center selects from their grower, which may be local or not. Box stores often carry out of season veggies for your locality.
  • You have to buy more than you need, they only come in four or six packs.
  • The nursery runs out or doesn’t have as many as you need or the plants aren’t in good condition.
  • Consider that transplants can introduce weeds, pests and diseases into your garden. Most producers of transplants are very careful about this, especially with respect to diseases, but it is not uncommon to get a little grass or other weed seed into your transplant pack now and then. Carefully check for pests, the undersides of leaves.
  • Transplants you start yourself are time and labor intensive, and sometimes the whole batch fails. For more assurance, plant backup seeds every few days. If you end up with too many, share them with other gardeners who will be so grateful!

Veggies easy to direct seed – that’s right in the ground!

  • Beans
  • Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, Cauliflower, Collards, Kale, Kohlrabi
  • Chard
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Melons, Watermelon
  • Okra
  • Peas
  • Root crops – beets, carrots, garlic, onion, radish, turnips
  • Spinach
  • Squashes
  • Sunflowers
  • Tomato grows rampantly from seed!
  • Zucchini

Veggies to transplant or start in trays or get at the nursery!

  • Celery
  • Eggplant
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes are fun to get at the nursery because there are often so many exotic varieties! In Santa Barbara, that nursery is La Sumida!

Know that different gardeners do better with one plant than another! Their peppers always do well, they never get eggplant! Their onions never get big, but they get super big juicy celery stalks!

Garden Magic! Self-sowers & Volunteers

I have a soft spot for volunteers! I love the variety, surprises the birds bring already fertilized and ready to grow! Plants that self seed are a gift! They know where to grow and come up at the perfect time. Let your plants live out their life cycle, make flowers for the bees, butterflies and beneficial insects, seeds for the birds, before cleaning up. Leave a few of your very best tomatoes and cucumbers to decompose in the garden. Let sunflowers, calendula, violas and other annuals drop their seeds and make pretty next year. These plants will have natural vigor. Transplant them to your convenience if you must, but let them grow as they naturally are whenever possible.

Experienced gardeners do a little seed planting in the ground, some grow their own transplants indoors, and at times buy transplants for various reasons! Maybe the nursery got a new plant and you gotta try it!

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See the entire February Newsletter! (Sign up for it if you like!)

February – Final Plans, Preps, 1st Spring Plantings!
Calendula ~ Edible, Medicinal, Good for Your Garden, Easy to Grow!
January, February Seeds or Transplants, Pros & Cons
Other Community Gardens – Virginia Avenue Community Garden, Washington DC 
Events! CEC EARTH DAY Celebration 2017!
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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for SoCal Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara’s community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are often in a fog belt/marine layer most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic!

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Soil Thermometer Veggies

Soil temp is always your basic seed planting time guide!

There are minimum germination temps, ideal temps and max temps. Plant when soils reach minimum temperature measured at 8 a.m., 4 inches deep. Beans are an exception, being measured at 6 inches deep.

40 Degrees! Crops that germinate in the coolest soils: arugula, beets, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, fava beans, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, pak choi, onions, parsley, parsnips, peas, radicchio, radish and spinach seed.
50 Degrees:  Cabbage, Chinese cabbage, leeks, onions, Swiss chard, and turnips.
55 Degrees:  Corn, tomatoes.
60 Degrees warm-season vegetables: beans, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots and cauliflower.
65 Degrees: Cucumber, peppers, cantaloupe
70 Degrees heat lovers!  Beans, corn, cucumbers, eggplants, melons, okra, peppers, squash, and tomatoes.

In northern climates it can take several weeks for tomatoes, eggplant and peppers to germinate in the garden. You can get a jump on the season if you do cold-tolerant, or if North, short-season variety transplants. Squash, cucumbers and corn grow quickly and are easy to start from seed.

Heat your soil with plastic mulch and use a cloche, fabric row cover or cold frame. The bane of early planting is a late hard freeze. If you decide to take an early season chance, have covers handy for unprotected plants!

We can thank Dr Jerry Parsons, Extension Horticulturist at the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, for the temps info in this great chart below! You see, there are minimum temps, optimum, and no-go temps! At the practical temps you might not get 100% germination, but you will get a crop at the right time. Too soon you get too little. Too late, like in SW desert areas or hot climates, there may be too much summer heat and little production, high water costs.

Notice that there are differences from the temps and plants listed above and the chart below, some plants appear in two temps, and some plants, like okra, might not be planted in the north at all! Dr Parsons has longer Texas heat in his area. Northern gardeners need to plant sooner for short cooler summers. Plant cold tolerant or early varieties. And, plant more seeds to compensate for those that don’t germinate. Or, presprout for more surety.

Regions have huge variances in planting time strategies, and even in the same yard there are micro niches that vary considerably, so get a thermometer and plant in the right place at the right time!

Soil Germination Temperatures Veggies Parsons

Start with fresh viable seed for great germination, and don’t forget your seed soaking & presprouting options!

With a Soil Thermometer and good gardener self discipline, get your seeds and plants in the ground at their most productive times for your location! Here’s to abundant harvests!

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