Tag Archives: seeds

School Starts Next Week, Be Prepared

WeHo Winter Garden

School starts next week. For those with school gardens already in place now is the time to be ordering your seeds. For those who are starting from scratch see, How to Start and Maintain a School Garden.

If you’re not sure what is seasonal for your area check out your local cooperative extension. In mild winter areas like Southern California one can use the vegetable planting schedule from DigitalSeed.com

We already have seeds of cilantro, lettuce, arugula, and marigolds that we saved from last year. Be sure to set aside one or two of your plants this year to use for seeds. Not only does it show students the full life cycle of an annual plant it also saves your garden program some much needed funds.

For those who are buying, the following seed companies are worth looking into:

1) Botanical Interests – Based in Colorado, BI is a family owned business know for their large selection of certified organic varieties.

2) Baker Creek – Based in Missouri, with a new outpost in Northern California, BC is known for its large selection of heirloom varieties.

3) Gourmet Seed – If your fava beans must be Moroccan, and nothing else will suffice, GS is your place.

A list of what we’ll be growing this year includes the following: arugula, beets, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chives, cilantro, fava beans, fennel, garlic, kale, lettuce, mint, onions, oregano, parsley, peas, potatoes, radishes, rosemary, sorrel, spinach, swiss chard, tat soi, thyme, and turnips.

Stocks

Lastly, perhaps you just want to throw some seeds into a container outside the classroom. If so, consider cool weather flowers such as stocks or snapdragons, a winter hardy herb garden or such easily grown veggies as lettuce, spinach and radishes.

Snapdragons

Coriander Harvest

cilantro
Its called cilantro when we harvest its leaves, and coriander when we use its seeds.

bolted-cilantro
Being an annual, it’s one of those plants we get to witness a complete life cycle.

cilantro-flower
It was originally planted in the fall, bolted in winter, flowered, went to seed and now ready for the seeds to be harvested.

coriander
Collect the seeds for the following September and we’ll never again have to worry about buying cilantro seeds.

Spring Planting

In order to get our spring vegetables harvested before the end of the school term we are currently sowing the following from seed directly into the ground: bush beans, pole beans, zucchini, and lettuce. We are also transplanting seedlings of corn and cherry tomatoes, which we started in our greenhouse. Cherries mature quicker than the larger beefsteaks.

For those with year round gardens wait until the weather warms up a little more before planting cucumbers, melons, and winter squash.

If you’re not sure what to plant or when check out this planting guide from DigitalSeed.com

If you haven’t gotten seeds yet visit our friends at Botanical Interests and while you’re there check out their fundraising for school gardens.

beans

Winter Flowers

Its late February here in our California school gardens. Some of the veggies we planted in September are now going to seed (broccoli, bok choy, cilantro) while others are still producing (fava beans, peas).  Either way by observing the flowering of our plants we are reminded that all our annual plants go through a similar life cycle; they start from seed, grow, flower, set seeds, and die. Its starts with seeds and ends with seeds, beautiful flowers are merely a bonus.

Winter Harvest

After a three week winter break school gardens with watering angels (or on automatic timers) saw a spurt of growth that caused many to utter “WOW” upon their return.

Peas on the Vine

Peas on the Vine

Pea vines were 7 ft tall and full of ripe pea pods. Bok choy that wasn’t picked before the break had bolted and flowered with stalks as high as 4 ft. Spinach, arugula, swiss chard, cilantro, lettuce and radishes all needed to be trimmed, thinned, or pulled. Bags of salad greens were assembled for all with implicit  instructions to take their bounty home, wash it thoroughly, make a salad and say to siblings and parents, “look what I grew.”

Next week we’re planning to start seeds indoors and in our greenhouse. We intend to get a head start on spring planting by starting seeds of zucchini, corn and tomatoes as well as more cool weather crops such as broccoli, kohlrabi, and lettuce.  Days to Maturity for warm-weather plants dictate that we get them in the ground no later than the middle of March for harvest before school’s end.

Check this Southern California Garden Calendar for vegetables that can be planted in January.

If outside of California check with your local Cooperative Extension or Master Gardener program.

For those who haven’t gotten their seeds yet see:

Botanical Interests

Pinetree Garden Seeds

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Starting From Seed

Seeds come in many shapes and sizes. They can be as big as coconuts or as small as orchid seeds that are carried by the wind. Size usually depends on how the seed is dispersed.

Big or small they all have three things in common related to their structure:
1) Hard protective shell outside called the seed coat;
2) Dormant embryo inside;
3) Nutrition (stored food) to keep it viable. Viable means that the seed is capable of germinating when you plant it. If it is not viable the nutrition inside has been used up and the embryo will no longer develop. Much of seed viability depends upon storage conditions. Ideal conditions would be somewhere cool and dry (e.g. a capped jar in the refrigerator).

When a seed is planted in the ground, container, or any growing medium there are four environmental factors that affect germination:
1) Moisture – Germination begins with the absorption of water. It ends when the seedling is self-sustaining. During that period, the growing medium should stay evenly moist (like a wrung-out sponge) and never dry out.
2) Temperature – Seeds like warmth. Generally, 65-75 F is best for most plants. The back of the seed pack will list the desired temperature range.
3) Oxygen – Respiration takes place in all viable seeds. During germination, the respiration rate increases. Soil or growing medium needs to be loose and well aerated.
4) Light – Some seeds require light, some seeds require darkness, and for some seeds it doesn’t matter. The back of the seed pack will list any special lighting requirement.

Ideal characteristics of growing medium include the following:
1) Fine and uniform texture;
2) Well aerated and loose;
3) Free of insects, disease, and weed seeds;
4) Low in total soluble salts;
5) Able to hold moisture yet drain well.

If sowing seeds indoors in containers think about recycling egg and milk cartons, plastic soda and water bottles, or pie pans. Just remember to create holes in the bottom for drainage.

Seed Sowing Tips
1) Depth matters – Problems can arise if too shallow or too deep. In general sow seeds 4 times the smallest dimension (see seed packet).
2) In soil or in a pot?  Sow big seeds like sunflower, nasturtium, corn, peas in soil where they’ll grow.  Sow small seeds like broccoli, oregano, snapdragons in containers.
3) Re-sow seeds, especially of vegetables, every 3-4 weeks for continuously developing new plants.  This will provide sequential food crops to harvest. Plant lettuce in September, October, November and December, and you’ll have lettuce the entire school year.

Seed Diagram (Avocado)

How to Read a Seed Packet

The back of a seed packet lists all the information one needs to directly sow seeds in the ground. Let’s go through it item by item with this Cauliflower variety, Early Snowball and Carrot variety, Scarlet Nantes.

The Latin name isn’t always given but it’s a good idea to note the family name for rotation purposes. Brassica is the genus name, oleracea is the species. (See Making Sense of Botanical Names for more on proper name classification)


1)   Planting Depth – When we make a trench to lay our seeds the distance from the soil line to the bottom of the trench is the planting depth.
2)   Seed Spacing – Refers to distance in trench between seeds. With carrots its 3-4 per inch. Don’t overseed. It makes thinning later more difficult.
3)   Days to Sprout aka Days to Germination refers to the length of time between when a seed is first planted and when it first appears above ground.
4)   Spacing after Transplanting or Plant Spacing refers to the distance between plants once all thinning and transplanting has been done.
5)   Row Spacing refers to the distance between the rows. In school gardens we use mostly raised beds and not large fields in which these seeds are intended. The distance between rows in a raised bed can usually be greatly reduced.
6)   Days Until Harvest aka Days to Maturity is the time it takes to go from seed to table. Some will start from the day the seeds are planted while others use the day the seedling are transplanted to their final position.  Notice cauliflower takes 60 days however it is started indoors for 4-6 weeks. If we plant cauliflower directly in the ground our Days until Harvest will be 88-102 days.
7)   Misc – The following information is sometimes included but not always: light requirements, soil requirements, irrigation suggestions, when and how to harvest, fertilization requirements, and, growing suggestions.