Community Gardner Guest Author
As this exceptionally rainy California winter turns to spring, and the days become longer, gardeners should be thinking about which summer seeds to plant. It’s not too early for tomatoes. They can be planted well into April and even early May, as Santa Monica typically sees cooler temperatures into the early summer months. March is also a good month to start beans as well as root vegetables like carrots, beets, and radishes. Towards the end of March and into April, summer and winter squashes can be started as well as summer favorites like corn, melons, cucumbers, eggplant, and peppers.
For every gardener you ask about seed sowing, you will hear a different method. A couple of guidelines that every gardener will follow are to use rich, organic soil and water every day until germination. Other important environmental factors to consider are soil temperature and light.
Choosing seeds- Look for heirloom variety, open pollinated, non-GMO, organic seeds. Purchase seeds from reputable companies like Peaceful Valley, Baker Creek, or San Diego Seed Company. San Diego focuses specifically on seeds suited to the Southern California climate and are available at Merrihew’s Sunset Garden on Ocean Park Boulevard.
Choosing containers- Egg cartons make tidy seed starting holders. You can also build your own pots from recycled newspaper. Compostable/ biodegradable peat moss and pulp pots or coconut coir pots are also sustainable alternatives because these types of pots can be planted directly into the ground without harming the delicate seedlings. Plastic containers, such as yogurt cups or plastic berry containers can be repurposed to start seeds if they have drainage holes.
Soil- There are several brands available locally like E.B. Stone, Dr. Earth, Kellogg’s, and Sungro’s Black Gold. A good soil will be loose, fine in texture and thus well- aerated, lending it to drain well but also hold enough water to germinate seeds.
Water- The soil should be fully saturated when the seeds are first planted, but not soggy, and then watered gently in the following days using a mister or watering can with a gentle stream. It is important to water seeds daily. Leaving the soil to dry out may cause the seed embryo to die and the seed will not germinate.
Temperature-Soil temperature affects the likelihood of a seed germinating and also how quickly the seed will germinate. The optimal temperature for germination will vary from seed to seed. Check the seed packet for germination temperatures. The ideal range is usually given. Special warming mats, or any natural porous material such as burlap, can be used to increase the soil temperature when starting seedlings in a cooler environment. Soil temperature is key to good germination.
Light- Once the seed germinates and the seedlings begin to emerge, they should be placed in bright but indirect sunlight. Some seeds need extra light for germination, especially when starting them indoors. Garden supply companies carry fluorescent lights for this purpose at a reasonable price.
Sowing seeds- Fill containers almost to the top and gently press down the soil leaving a space of about ¼ of an inch from the top of the soil to the top of the container. Follow the recommended planting depth on the seed envelope. Very tiny seeds should be covered with a light layer of soil, or gently rolled into the soil and then covered with a layer of vermiculite. Some seeds are best directly sown into the garden bed, especially root vegetables, and later can be thinned as needed for the optimal distance between plants. If one composts or has fresh compost to add, sifting it as a topsoil covering of the seeds is helpful.
Transplanting seeds- Germination rates depend on environmental factors which will also impact the seedling’s growth rate. Again, check the seed packet for recommendations on transplanting. A good indication of when a seedling should be transplanted is after its true leaves emerge, which is its second set of leaves. Gently ease the seedling out of its container using a soil knife or small trowel, being careful not to damage the roots. Plant into the new location using approximately the same size hole as the original container. Water gently and thoroughly.
This month the Santa Monica Community Garden Program offers two free workshops on seed starting and seedling transplanting. On Saturday March 11 join the community gardeners at the Main Street Community Garden for a more detailed demonstration on starting seeds. And on Saturday, March 18th at Ishihara Learning Garden, the workshop will cover the basics of moving seedlings to their new home. Not sure what to grow? Seasonal seeds will be available! Garden gates open at 9 am with free refreshments. Workshops begin at 10 a.m.
Saturday, March 11, 2023
9 – 11 am
Main Street Community Garden- 2318 Main Street, Santa Monica
Transplanting Your Seedlings
Saturday, March 18, 2023
9 – 11 am
Ishihara Park Learning Garden – 2909 Exposition Blvd., Santa Monica