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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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In SoCal fall you have the luxury of planting larger winter storage types as well as the small spring/summer salad types. In summer they are a super companion plant! Radishes are one of the most fun plants because they come in a great variety of shapes lengths, colors, and sizes, and tastes!

Have you ever tried this Daikon relative, an heirloom called Chinese Red Meat, Beauty Heart, and Rose Heart? This is one of the most mild radishes with just a slight peppery bite, along with some sweetness and a lot of crunch!  …says Catie Baumer Schwalb. Look at this beauty – also called Watermelon Radish!

Radish Watermelon Chinese Red Meat

Spring – Summer Varieties:  Small and fast-growing – usually ready for harvest in 3 to 4 weeks. Select varieties based on size and shape (globe or cylindrical), color (including red, purple, white and combinations) and bolt-resistance. Summer: take slightly longer to mature — usually in about 6 to 8 weeks. When it gets 65° or higher, stop sowing because radishes don’t tolerate heat well and will rapidly go to seed. Take up planting again in late summer; plant winter varieties as well as spring varieties. Longer varieties, like French Breakfast, take a little longer to grow. The longer varieties, and winter varieties tolerate heat better than the short, round ones.

  • Cherry Belle is the supermarket bright red-skinned round variety with a white interior.
  • French Breakfast is an elongated red-skinned radish with a white splash at the root end. It is typically slightly milder than other summer varieties, but is among the quickest to turn pithy.
  • Easter Egg is not an actual variety, but a mix of varieties with different skin colors – white, pink, red, purple! They mature at different times!
Long variety, Black Spanish radishes, Raphanus sativus var. niger

Long variety, Black Spanish radishes, Raphanus sativus var. niger

Fall-Winter Varieties: Grow more slowly (usually 2 months or more to maturity), produce larger roots (usually cylindrical – like carrots), and hold their quality much longer than common varieties. They are also known as Oriental, Daikon, Japanese, Chinese, or Spanish radishes. Most are biennials that do not bolt as readily in response to long days, and only develop seedstalks after exposure to cold temperatures. The April Cross is a giant white radish hybrid that bolts very slowly.  They are usually planted in summer for fall harvest – our SoCal fall, Sep, is fine!

Larger winter varieties need more space than spring varieties, so thin, or make your seed strip to about 6-inch spacings, depending on variety. Since they have a longer growing time, rain or watering, plus their natural growing, may uncover their shoulders. Check now and then to see how they are doing – cover the shoulders so they don’t become dry and tough.

To make you completely crazy and terrifically happy, here is the Cornell list of 136 varieties! Note the star ratings! Remember, Cornell is in NY, but hey, a radish is a radish, right?!

Superlative companions! Wise gardeners know there’s no need to devote whole sections of the garden to radishes. Interplant an understory! Pop small varieties in as fillers among, along, under, on the sunny side of larger plants, or in the same row with carrots, parsley, parsnips and other slower germinating and growing crops. They become a living mulch, shading your soil and keeping it more evenly moist. The radishes help to break soil crust for the weaker and later-germinating crops. In fact, in no-till farming they are used to help reverse compaction! Think radishes now, broccoli later!

Radish religion, summer plant companions! For this purpose, ignore the 65° warning above; bolting is fine. Plant radish with cukes and squashes to repel cucumber beetles, and with cukes, squashes and eggplant to trap flea beetles! No need to allocate separate space for radishes. Plant them where they will do the most good! Plant enough of them so you can harvest to your happiness for your table (don’t delay) and let the rest grow out to protect your other plants. They make pretty flowers for the pollinators and you can harvest seeds for next year’s plantings. Seeds remain viable up to 4 years!

They are sun lovers! A shaded radish will have a small root with large leaves.

Direct-sow radish seeds where they are to grow. They don’t transplant well, and, well, heck, they grow so fast, why move them?! And ’cause they grow so fast, be sure to plant every week or two for a steady supply. Research shows the depth you plant your seeds affects the size of the root! Plant small radishes just under a 1/2″ deep, larger guys 1.6″ deep. Did I really say 1.6?! Yes, but guesstimate your best! 🙂

Their favorite soil is well-drained, loose, easy to grow in, high in organic matter, free of stones, with pH 5.8 to 6.8. Unless your soil is poor, lay back on fertilizer or you will have lush tops and small roots. Radish seed strips are wonderful! But if you sow by hand, when the little guys are up about 2″, thin to three-inch spacings. If not thinned, you’re likely to end up with undeveloped or shriveled, inedible roots. No fun at all. They can tolerate a bit of frost.

They need plentiful, consistent moisture. Summer mulching helps, though they quickly self mulch as their leaves fill out. Mulching with compost enriched with wood ash repels root maggots. If the soil is too dry, radishes bolt, are woody, and too pungent to eat. If too wet, they split and rot.

Traditional Miura Japanese Daikon Radish

Farmer Kazuko Hoshida with the traditional Miura Japanese Daikon. Huge, hard to harvest, have now been replaced by the smaller Aokubi Daikon.

Plant only what you can eat. If you leave them in the ground they do get bigger, but they also get dry, very HOT, and woody. Harvest when they are mature whether you need them immediately or not, and cut off the leaves. Put them in plastic storage bags in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator; eat within 1 to 2 weeks.

Radishes are another kind of Brassica! They are in the same family as your brocs, kale, cauliflower, kohlrabi and turnips, and the other hotties, mustard, horseradish and wasabi! Like most Brassicas, the entire plant is edible and the tops can be used as a leaf vegetable. Young thinnings are great in summer salads. Radish also can be eaten as a very tasty wake-up-your-sandwich sprout!

Saved radish seeds are edible too! They are sometimes used as a crunchy, spicy addition to salads. Some varieties are grown specifically for their seeds or seed pods, rather than their roots, like the Rat-tailed radish, an old European variety thought to have come from East Asia centuries ago.

The Burpee Seed site says: Radishes are more versatile in the kitchen than many gardeners realize. Besides adding crisp radishes to salads, try them sliced into stir-fries, stews, and soups. Marinate sliced radishes in vinegar, honey, and soy sauce to serve in a number of Chinese dishes. Sauté them in butter for a minute, and then serve with salt, pepper, and herbs (especially chervil) for a different and unusual side dish. Long radishes are particularly good for sautéing. Slice them diagonally to obtain larger pieces and cook quickly to retain crispiness. Grate radishes into your favorite slaws, or dice them for egg and potato salads. Winter radishes can even be pickled [lacto fermented]!

You must see Kari’s Kitchen amazing Black Radish Chips recipe!

 Kari's Kitchen's amazing Black Radish Chips

THE plant for kids’ gardens. Radishes can sprout in 3 days, and practically grow right in front of your eyes! 3 to 6 weeks and they are on the table!

Updated 3.1.18


The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the 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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