Watching Seeds Sprout Humbles You

Seeds for Fall Planting

Seeds for Fall Planting

I have often thought that if everyone planted a few seeds each day, the world would be transformed. It is a forever humbling experience to watch tiny seeds, often no larger than grains of sand, turn into carrots, strawberries, azaleas or redwood trees. Planting seeds makes you aware of the miraculous, life sustaining processes of germination and vegetative growth that never cease. Being a partner in the creation of life is a privilege that every seed planter will gratefully acknowledge.
When you plant seeds, you are inexplicably compelled to share the fruits of your labors with others. Shneur Zalman of Liadi, a renowned kabbalist who lived in Russia 200 years ago, compared planting a seed to giving charity.
Rain is an inspiration to plant seeds. As long as the rain falls at a reasonable rate and not in torrents, seeds will germinate readily enough when rained upon. After all, isn’t that what happens in nature? When planting seeds, there is always a question about how much to water in the days that follow. But California winter rain, and the cool weather that usually accompanies it, relieves you of having to worry about water issues.
When rain is forecast, it is a signal to visit the nearest nursery or home improvement center and pick out several packets of seeds. For an investment of less than $10, you can purchase five packets of seeds, enough to fill a 3-by-10-foot, or larger, planter.
It is wise to create narrow planters in order to facilitate easy access to your plants for purposes of weeding and harvesting.
You never want to step in a planter because of the soil compaction that would result. Create a planter by distributing a two-inch layer of compost or soil amendment over the ground and then digging up the earth below, or at least loosening it with a spading fork, to a six-inch depth.
By bringing in compost and forcing air into the ground, either by turning over the soil or aerating it through the action of your spading fork, you will create a raised bed of fluffed earth. This soft, aerated bed will ease seed germination and speed plant development. Before digging, along with the compost, you should add fertilizer, making sure that its nitrogen content does not exceed 15 percent. On every fertilizer bag, you will find three hyphenated numbers, representing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium percentages, respectively. A one-pound coffee can of fertilizer will cover 100 square feet of planting area, so if you have a 3-by-10-foot bed, use one-third of a can. If you have a low analysis fertilizer, with 5 percent nitrogen or less, you can double the quantity of fertilizer you apply.
If you have highly compacted soil and do not have the back strength to dig it up, you might want to build a framed bed. I recommend using 2-inch by 10-inch or 2- inch by 12-inch redwood or cedar planks. At a lumber yard, you should be able to find 10-foot planks or 20- foot planks that a yard worker will cut in half for you. It is always a good idea to start small, and if you are planting seeds for the first time, limiting yourself to a 10-foot-long bed will allow you to savor this horticultural venture instead of becoming overwhelmed by it.
A major caveat for neophyte seed planters is not to plant too deep. In nature, just as seeds are watered by the rain, they germinate lying flat on the ground, even if they are covered with decaying leaf litter or other vegetative matter.
Grain-of-sand sized seeds, in particular, need only be very slightly pressed into the soil or simply covered with a thin layer of sand or compost to sprout. Such tiny seeds may also be mixed with sand, while still in the seed packet, to make their distribution easier and more uniform.
With larger seeds, it is enough to make a shallow planting furrow by using the sharp edge of the seed packet.
Follow the seed spacing directions on the back of the packet.
As seeds begin to grow, they need to be thinned. Again, follow guidelines on the seed packet. Beginning seed planters will agonize over thinning out “their babies” but it is a necessary task for plants to develop and size properly. When thinning, never pull seedlings out of the ground, which will only tear at the roots of the seedlings that remain. Instead, carefully snip off seedlings, at ground level, with a small scissors, leaving their roots in the soil. Incidentally, many vegetable seedlings, sometimes called sprouts, are edible and may be tossed into your salad.
Tip of the Week
Many types of seeds, including root crops such as carrot, radish, beet and turnip, cole crops such as cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprout and cauliflower, as well as every type of lettuce, and also peas, may be planted outdoors now. And now is also the time to plant any vegetable seed indoors, including tomato, chili pepper or cucumber seed, as long as you have a well-lit room or bright window sill. For easy handling, plant your seeds in small, biodegradable peat pots. In another month or two, place the pots directly in your planter bed outdoors and the fibrous peat will begin to break down upon contact with the earth. Within the next month or two, if you wish to plant out your peat pots containing warm season seedlings, such as tomato, that were sprouted indoors, make sure to cover them at night with one-gallon plastic nursery containers for frost protection.

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