- Author: Elvira Bautista DeLeon
As winter slowly transitions into spring, I've gathered some information on growing vegetables and herbs from seeds and would like to share them with you:
IMPORTANT: If purchasing seed packets, READ instructions at the back of each seed packet carefully. CA has two zones based on the average minimum temperatures:
Zone 10: 30-40 degrees; Zone 9: 20-30 degrees (USDA Zones).
Based on the Sunset Western Garden Book, Solano County Western Sunset Zones are Benicia and Vallejo: Zones 15, 17; Fairfield: Zones 14, 15; and Vacaville: Zones 9,14,15.
According to the MG Handbook, about 80% of seeds bought in packets will germinate if optimal conditions for the seeds are provided: water, oxygen, light, and temperature.
GENERAL RULE: Sow Seeds 6-8 weeks before the date you want to set the plants in the garden.
SOIL: Provides plants with air, water, and nutrients. I use an organic seed starter soil mix - it is loose, has good drainage, and premixed with compost and other nutrients. If doing your own mix, the MG Handbook recommends a combination of one-third sterilized sand, one-third vermiculite or perlite, and one-third peat moss.
Seeds can be sown indoors or directly seeded to a well-prepared ground when the soil gets warm enough for planting (minimum range 40-60F depending on vegetable/herb varieties).
SUITABLE CONTAINERS FOR INDOOR SEEDING:
Use plastic flats and trays about 12-18 inches long and 12 inches wide and about two inches deep with holes for adequate drainage.
- clay or plastic pots with adequate drainage.
- recycled household items - fruit/salad containers with bottom holes; pie pans, etc.
- wash containers thoroughly and soak in a solution of 1 part chlorine bleach and 9 parts water to disinfect before use.
- Pour seeds in the palm of your hand or use clean tweezers.
- Broadcast seeds evenly in the container.
- Plant small seeds about 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. Plant big seeds 1 to 1 1/2 inches deep.
- Cover seeds lightly with potting soil.
- Water with fine mist using a spray bottle.
- Place the seeded container near a south-facing window or under a grow light.
- Mist container evenly when the soil dries. Do not overwater.
- Seeds should germinate within the prescribed period indicated on the seed packets. Seeds germinate best at temperatures of 65-75 degrees (optimal range). If direct seeding, wait for the ground to warm up before planting in the ground or raised bed.
- If not seeded in individual containers and as seedlings grow, it is best to transplant them in individual containers to give them proper growing space.
- Transplant when the first true leaves develop above or between the cotyledon leaves (the first leaves produced by the seedling)
- When ready to transplant to the garden or into a suitable pot for container planting, take up some soil with each plant as you remove each from the flat.
Transplants need to “harden” before transferring them from indoors to outdoors. When transferred outdoors seedlings should be shaded, then gradually moved into the sunlight and returned back indoors. Do this for at least 10 days to “harden” them from the elements they have to live with when planted outside. On the 11th day, they can stay outdoors until planting time.
- Use a trowel when making planting holes.
- Lightly firm the soil around each plant.
- Fertilize once plants are established and at least 3-4 inches high. Use organic fertilizer like All-Purpose Plant Food. Be sure to read directions for applying and the frequency of application.
- Water gently and as appropriate. The best time to water is early morning to prevent loss of water due to evaporation.
I used to buy individual seedlings or seedling packs in the past to save time, effort and to get an early harvest. However, this can be very expensive especially in these “new normal” times we live in. Every once in a while, I would indulge myself and buy a couple of veggie starts. But for me, I find it very satisfying to start the process of planting from sowing my own seeds to growing and harvesting the fruit of my labor.
Seed packets are a lot cheaper and once they grow into seedlings, I can give some to friends, relatives, or next-door neighbors which is a good way to make new friends and develop community.
Reference: Pittenger, D.R. Editor.
May 2017 Reprint. CA Master Gardener Handbook. Second Edition. University of CA Agriculture and Natural Resources. Publication 3382.