Ready, Set, Start Seeds!

Since our greenhouse is our living room, and the weather is finally warming up in southern California, it’s time to start our seeds. Last weekend, during our first warm, sunny morning in months, we started chile peppers, tomatoes, artichokes, and basil (see varieties below). For all you SoCal gardeners out there, here’s a breakdown of our method:

Seeds:

We started planting our summer plant seeds, especially the ones most precious to us, such as chiles and tomatoes. March isn’t too early as long as the seeds stay warm and moist enough to germinate. Below is a list of the seeds we’ve begun so far- also, find out where you can order seeds by clicking on the names:

Planting:

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We make our own seed starting mix to cut down costs since we start a lot more than the average gardener and sell seedlings in the spring. It’s easy to make, but of course, it’s also available where gardening supplies are sold.

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We use jumbo seed starting trays, however, there are many different ways to start seeds, from six-pack trays to recycled egg cartons.  I don’t recommend peat pots since our plants seemed to grow more slowly and they didn’t compost well in the garden beds.

Prepare containers by cleaning with a well-diluted bleach or Lysol All Purpose Cleaner & Disinfectant spray.

Fill seed starting trays with the seed mix. I use my finger to poke a little hole at the top of each cup to drop the seed in. This time around, we planted one seed in each cup, rather than two. If you do plant two seeds, drop them in opposite ends of the cups to help separate the seedlings easier when transferring to pots.

Remember to label your seeds! We plant in rows and label on painter’s tape with a sharpie.

Cover the seeds with soil and give enough water until the soil is moist.

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Growing area:

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It’s important to keep the seeds warm and the soil moist with plenty of exposure to filtered sunlight. Filtered sunlight helps keep the soil from drying out too quickly as well as protects seedlings from getting burned. We grow our seeds in front of our large, south facing, living room window, using sheer curtains as a filter. For warmth, we lay the seed trays on top of heating mats. And to protect furniture and hardwood floors, we put the trays and mats on top of  aluminum sheet cake platters and old towels.

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Watering:

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It’s important to make sure the seeds never dry out while germinating. They should be monitored a few times a day and given water as needed to keep moist, but not saturated. There’s a fine line here. The soil should feel damp on top, not totally wet. Saturating the soil could cause mold and seed rot. However, soil that is too dry, or dry to the touch on top, will not allow the seed to germinate.  The smaller the cups, the faster they dry out. With all that said, starting plants from seeds need a lot of care and monitoring.

Germination:

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As long as your seeds are kept between 68-75º F and watered as needed, they should take about 5 to 12 days to germinate (artichokes can take up to 3 weeks).  After 12 days, add another seed or two to any cups where nothing has popped up.

Tranplanting to larger pots:

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Although we’re not there yet, once our seedlings have outgrown their “cradles”, they’ll get transferred to 4″ plastic pots filled with potting soil.  They’ll also begin getting outdoor exposure: set out during the daytime and brought in at night until weather gets warmer.  Eventually, after a few more weeks, warm spring weather, and continued care, including some diluted fish emulsion fertilizer, plants will be transplanted to garden beds.

Sure, you can save time by just buying food plants at your local nursery, but there is something truly magical about starting from seed.  There’s no sweeter victory than harvesting the fruits, or veggies, of your labor from start to finish.

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