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Planting Seeds for Beginners
Planting seeds in your own vegetable garden might sound like a difficult task but the age-old tradition is probably easier than you think. While in recent generations planting gardens by purchasing “starts” has become very popular, planting seeds gives you the diversity you cannot find by purchasing starts at a nursery. Whether your motivation is to plant rare varieties to impress gardening pals or to find varieties that are better suited for your climate, planting seeds can make gardening even more exciting.
How do I get started?
The first question that most people ask is how do I start seeds? The next question is, do I start them indoors or out? Here, we will give you the best advice to make planting seeds as easy as possible.
Inside or out?
Because most of Southern California has a mild climate, there are very few occasions that warrant starting seeds indoors. Areas far inland or in the mountains take exception to this rule. Mild areas don’t have harsh winters, frost, or freezes so we can safely start most seeds outdoors. If you live in an area that does receive frost, it is beneficial to start some seeds inside to get a couple weeks ahead of the growing season. Crops like carrots, leafy greens, and tomatoes can easily be grown indoors, and starting these crops indoors can give them a head start. You can also increase the germination rate by protecting the germinating seeds from harsh weather conditions.
Why start seeds indoors?
Starting seeds indoors offers a wide variety of benefits. They can be started earlier in the season and gardeners will often experience a higher germination rate due to the more controlled conditions.
How to start seeds indoors or out:
It’s a simple process and anyone can do it. Simply choose a shallow container with holes in the bottom for drainage and fill it with rich potting soil or seed starting soil. Make sure to water generously. It is important that the soil is thoroughly moist all the way through. Be careful not to drown the soil. After the soil is moistened all the way through you can simply press your vegetable seeds into the top of the soil. As a general rule, vegetable seeds will be planted at a depth that is twice that of the seed size. Meaning that a pea is much larger than a carrot seed and will be planted much deeper than a carrot seed. Note that, the large seeds of fast-growing vegetables such as corn, melon, squash, beans, and peas tend to deteriorate quickly if grown in containers for too long. For this reason, we usually recommend them to be planted directly into the soil. It is important that you provide an adequate light source. In most cases, a sunny window will be sufficient. You can choose to use an artificial light source but it must be a full spectrum light bulb. Seeds should start to sprout within 10 to 14 days but note that some can take as many as 21 days.
Transplanting indoor seedlings into larger containers:
As your seeds continue to grow, you need to either thin the seedlings or transplant them to allow for more space. They will also need to be prepared for eventual planting outdoors. To safely transplant your seedlings, water just prior to removal and gently lift out with a spoon or small trowel. Set the seedlings into the new pots and make sure to carefully break up some of the roots from the soil. It is important that you gently disturb the root ball so that the roots of the transplant will grow and expand into the larger container. This guarantees faster-growing transplants. Continue to water and lightly fertilize with a water-soluble fertilizer as necessary.
If you’re transplanting outside, it is vital to note a few important things. First of all, if you are transplanting seedlings that were started indoors, you must first help them become accustomed to the harsher outdoor environment. This process is called “hardening off”. To harden off seedlings, simply set the seedlings outdoors for a few hours a day to help them become acclimated to the new conditions. Once they’re ready to transplant outdoors, it is important not to transplant them on a very hot day. We recommend that you transplant in the cooler part of the evening and also provide shade cloth if needed in the hotter months of the year.
Direct Sowing Outdoors:
For Southern California gardeners, direct sowing is the preferred method of planting. It is the easiest and most straightforward. The most important aspect of direct sowing is timing. In Southern California, we have two major growing seasons. One is the warm season. The other is the cool season. During the warmer months in San Diego, you will grow corn, squash, tomatoes, peppers, sunflowers, and eggplant, among others. During the cooler months in San Diego, you will grow your leafy greens, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, kale, onions, carrots, radishes, and potatoes.
Steps to prepare planting area:
- Loosen the soil in the planting area
- Add nutrients and compost
- Thoroughly water
You can plant in a prepared bed in a variety of methods. The most common method is the row and furrow method. To use the row and furrow method, simply make a row in your garden and create a furrow by pressing down the handle of a shovel or rake. This will make a nice little area to plant your seeds. Plant your seeds in the furrow as evenly spaced as possible. Then you can cover the seeds with finely sifted soil. Remember the smaller the seed, the closer to the surface they should be planted. Lastly, make sure to water thoroughly but not wash away your seeds. We recommend using your garden nozzle attachment on the “mist” setting. This helps to get your seeds moist and stick to the soil. The soil must remain moist until seeds have sprouted.
Caring for your newly planted veggies, herbs and flowers:
If you direct sow into the ground, you will want to thin the seedlings and fertilize. Keeping the garden bed or pot evenly moist is important. Weed to prevent competition. For specific instructions on vegetables, refer to each on our online catalog.
Planting Herb Seeds
Most gardeners start by planting herb seeds for the ease of having fresh herbs to cook with. Herb seeds can pose special challenges as they tend to be very small seeds. We recommend soaking your herb seeds in water a few hours prior to planting. Plant in pots that have rich potting soil and can hold moisture. To plant, press the seeds into the surface of the soil and water lightly. Give a light dusting of finely sifted potting soil. It should be similar to dusting the top of a cake with powdered sugar. Error on the side of light dusting, over covering up the seeds with too much soil. Once sprouted, follow the instructions above.