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Seed Sprouting! Life!

Photo: USDA Flickr

Starting seeds yourself has 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 the 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! And you can grow them when you want them!

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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Topiary Woman Garden Dreams at Chelsea Flower Show, London 2006
Heather Yarrow at 2006 4Head Garden of Dreams co-designer, watering topiary sculpture designed by Sue and Peter Hill. Royal Horticultural Society, 84th Chelsea Flower Show, London

Heat lovers will flourish, you may feel like lazing about, but at times, some plants need your help! It’s a fine art!

Keep an eye on weather reports.

Water is key.

  • Water in advance when hot weather is predicted.
  • Water early in the day as possible so your plants have as much moisture as possible during the hottest time. On the hottest days, a second watering may be needed.
  • Don’t be confused by wilting. Some plants, like chard, shut down to conserve water when it is hot. They perk right back up by the next morning!
  • Water deep and occasionally. Frequent light watering encourages lush growth but also promotes shallower roots so that the plant is less prepared to cope when there is a reduction or no water coming on a hot day.
  • Remove water competitor weeds.
  • Harvest frequently and thoroughly; make it easier for your plants to keep up with the business of staying alive. Ripening fruits demand huge loads of water and nutrients.
  • Hydrozone – Plant water lovers, shallow rooted planties, together when compatible.
  • Strawberry tip: On a raised mound, lay down an untreated pallet, or 3 to 4 inch wide boards side by side separated about 3 to 4 inches apart. Fill the pallet with soil, plant your berries. As the berry leaves grow, they cover the boards, keeping them cool, the boards in turn keep the soil below cool and moist and the boards feed the soil as they decompose.

Water if there has been a drying wind. Windy conditions can interfere with fruit set too, so if you can, create windbreaks. Use non heat radiating materials that allow some airflow so they won’t be blown over if you are in a wind pattern area. No air flow can make your garden a heat trap. In future, at planting times, anticipate winds, install trellises, planting them thinly to allow air flow. In SoCal ‘winters,’ they can block cold winds. In spring, put in some corn for filtered shade and as a windbreak. You may have to stake taller large bodied varieties of corn. Might choose varieties with less height that mature sooner, require less nutrients, and create less waste.

Keep your Mulch topped! Cover bare spots and replenish where your mulch is getting thin. 4 Inches is a good depth. Preferably use light colored mulches, like straw, that reflect the sunlight. If your mulch has meshed into a tight layer, use a watering spike so water gets to the roots of your plants. Straw, rather than a meshing mulch, is better for your veggies. But if you have Bagrada Bugs, REMOVE your mulch ASAP!

Water Spikes, a saving grace in Container Gardens

Container gardeners consider these terra cotta plant spike/bottle setups. Steady moisture right at the root zones! The adapter fits wine or plastic bottles! There are other variations. You can cut the bottom off a plastic bottle, for easy refilling! Cover with cloth and a rubber band to keep debris or insects from clogging your spike. One of the advantages of container gardening is plants can be moved into temporary shade if available if necessary.

Incorporate water holding compost into your soil, but also know that your soil only needs 5% humus, and over composting is not helpful.

WikiHow says: ‘In times of heat shock, a seaweed extract based liquid fertilizer treatment often reduces heat stress and it may help protect the plant in future.’ If your plant needs a feed, mix that kelp with some fish emulsion.

Shade Cloth over Remesh, easy, custom fit!If you have tender plants, maybe seedlings, set up some temporary shade. Safely prop up some nursery plants flats with the fine mesh, or use some scrap lattice. For an easy custom fit, a simple set up is remesh, bent to the shape you want, anchored, covered with shade cloth. The beauty of shade cloth is it comes in ‘shade factors,’ the degree of blocked sunlight, and can range from 25% – 90% ! Salad greens do well with 50 – 60% shade factor. Heat lovers like squash and beans do well under 30% shade cloth. Or, simply pop in a well anchored umbrella. Power up some shade sails, an old sheet or dust cloths. Just be sure there is air flow – no baking your plants! When the heat is over, remove your covers promptly so your plants won’t get used to having them and suffer at the time of their removal.

If you live in a hot area, consider permanent options like this beautiful sliding wire canopy at Desert Botanical Garden! Install it East to West for all day shade when needed. This image is used by permission from Rock Rose Blog! Thanks, Jenny, it’s lovely! Please see her post for more clever and beautiful shade ideas ~ love your garden, be creative!

Shade Sliding Canopy, used by permission from RockRose Blog! At Desert Botanical Garden.

Design well ahead of time for ‘shelter’ plantings! In late summer/early fall, winter transplants, having shallow roots, will do well in partial shade of mature plants that will soon be pulled. This way, the sun will be available to the little ones when they are better established. In spring, plant corn or leeks, tall onions, north to south, that later allow filtered light to plants that need a little shade later on. Corn planted June/July can shade peppers or strawberries at the hottest August/September weather.

Too much heat, water stress

  • Know that veggies have their own priorities. Some ‘bolt,’ go into flowering mode, at significant weather changes. They think the season has ended.
  • Some plants like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, stop flowering and fruiting when temps rise above 85 to 90 degrees F (depending on humidity) for an extended time. Humidity causes pollen to stick and not fall to pollinate. Dry heat causes the pollen to fall and not stick! At those extremes, no amount of sharply rapping your plant or its cage will help pollination.
  • There are heat tolerant varieties, for example  Heatmaster and Solar Fire tomatoes are two. Heirlooms are more fussy, hybrids less. Cherry tomatoes and the Oregon State U-bred parthenocarpic tomatoes, including Gold Nugget, Oregon Spring, Oregon Star, Siletz and Legend, are the exception, as they will set fruit over a wider temperature range than most large-fruited types. Parthenocarpic and cherry tomatoes will fruit throughout the heat of summer, even in Tucson, according to the University of Arizona.
  • At 95 degrees, beans and peas simply drop their flowers. The exception is Rattlesnake beans that happily flower and fruit up to 100 degrees! At 100 degrees, corn tassels are killed, no pollination can happen and its all over for them.

When it cools down, your other plants will get back into production. Wait for it.

Here in SoCal we are facing more heat, less rainfall. Being mindful of how and when you use our water is important. Selecting heat tolerant varieties makes good sense. With long-term climate changes, we gardeners will become more skilled at hot weather gardening!

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Poly Floating Row Cover - slits for daytime ventilation. GreenHouseWorld.com

Have you ever used these?  Why not?!  Your family never did?  The cost factor?  They sound great!  They’re not just for big farmers, you can get them from nurseries and most seed catalogs!  I’m going to give them a try this year.

USES  Use for warming your plants both for starting spring crops early, and to ripen finishing fall fruits.  Use for frost protection, spring and fall.  Keep away harmful insects that eat or lay eggs, spread viruses.  Keep out birds and bunnies.  A caution:  ‘Colorado State University entomologists have found that overwintering insects can be trapped under the covers next to their favorite plants and be ready for action in spring. Some of these insects are tomato hornworm, onion and other root maggots, flea beetles and the [Colorado] potato beetle. Cultivate the soil before planting to reduce the number of surviving insects. Better yet, rotate crops so the survivors do not find their favorite plants nearby.’  OK?

How they work!  If for heat and growth, lay down black plastic mulch for soil warming and weed prevention. Make your slits in the plastic, plant. Put on your row cover. You can put it over hoops, over tomato cages or wires like hardware cloth bent into an arc, tented, or laid right on your plants, installing enough so your plants have room to grow up underneath. Anchor it well so no marauders can walk under or slither in. You can water right through it. Cover a row, or cover your entire raised bed!  If you are using the garden cloth row covers for freeze or grasshopper prevention, don’t let the covers touch your plants.  Since they are good both to keep your plants warmer when planting early, and help with cool weather frosts and freezes, this is one time you can have it both ways!  🙂

They come in lots of varieties – ask questions, shop around.  Select for your needs.  Get a rig that’s easy to lift for tending, and harvesting, especially if you use them to protect your strawberries from birds.

Garden Cloth, easy to install at home using tomato cages - U of Maryland Extention

Insect protection

  • The surest way to protect plants from hungry grasshoppers is to cover them with a barrier, such as a floating row cover or lightweight cloth. Be sure to hold the covers above plants with hoops or stakes, because grasshoppers are more likely to eat their way inside if leaves are pushing against the fabric.
  • Beets & Chard  Leafminers are the most common pest.  Cover plants with fine netting or cheesecloth or floating row cover to protect them from adult flies.
  • Effective in controlling cucumber beetles, squash borer and squash bugs.
  • Flea beetles on arugula, cucumber, eggplant, radish.

Double up under the covers!  Plant your main crop you want to protect, interplant with a smaller understory plant on the sunny side!  You might put in some eggplant with arugula and radish interplanted on their sunny side.

Remove and store when no longer needed! 

Lay right on your plants! Burpee.com

Danger of frost is past
The insect’s cycle is over.  Know your insect.
You no longer need more warmth
To allow pollination.  Especially melons, cucumbers and squash, that depend on insects for pollination. 

Sustainable.  Pesticides need to be applied weekly and/or after every rain, but with row covers they can be avoided completely.  Keep your soil clean, and our ocean safe.  Not only that, they save the time it takes to apply any formulas you may concoct, and if you are careful, you can lovingly reuse your row covers!  You can use them several times a year, per weather need, as different plants need protection as insects cycle, and next year too!  This is the best kind of ‘dirty laundry!’

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