Seedlings Class Notes

Posted Monday, January 11th, 2010 at 11:30 am

For those of you who slept in on Saturday morning, you can copy my notes from the Environment Change-Makers’ class on how to start seedlings here.

How To Select Seeds:

Look for

• “Safe Seeds Pledge” which means no GMO’s.  GMO seeds are made to withstand chemicals, so they’re chemically dependant.

• Open Pollinated Seeds


• GMO’s

• Hybrid Seeds – these seeds won’t reproduce “pure”

Seed Sources

Bountiful Gardens

Victory Seeds

Seed Savers Exchange

Southern Exposure

Baker Creek Seeds


Dirt – Regular potting soil works great in So. Cal



Plastic Bags

Southern California is a unique climate since we don’t have a frost date.  Therefore, we don’t need extra equipment to get seedlings started, we can let the sun and the timing do the work.

You don’t have to start the seeds indoors, but can keep them outside in the shade

Use found materials for seedling containers.  Examples: yogurt containers, strawberries containers lined with newspaper.

Poke holes in the bottom for drainage.


How do you know when to plant seeds?

Digital Seed Chart

Germination Temperature Chart


Follow the seed instructions on the packet

Keep seedlings in the shade, sunlight will fry them

Rule of thumb: plant seeds as deep as the seeds are thick

Regular potting soil works great in So. Cal.

Go for containers with a larger soil mass, so that it holds more moisture.  The clay trays used beneath bigger potter plants work well.


Keep soil moist, but not soggy

Consider watering from the bottom up.  Use a plastic tray with a little bit of water (such as the ones veggies are packaged in at Trader Joe’s) to rest the containers in

Use a pump spray to mist seedlings when they are looking dry

Moisture Retention

In So. Cal, moisture retention is the biggest challenge.  Seedlings can dry out very easily, especially after the random heat waves we are known for.

To keep seedlings moist, create “mini-green houses” by slipping the containers into plastic bags used for veggies at the supermarket.

Other suggestions: if you’re starting the seedlings in the ground, burlap works to hold moisture and protect from the sun.

Labeling Seeds

Remember to do this!

Make labels out of: old vertical blinds, coffee stirrers or anything else you can think of.  You can also buy them.

Write the name of the seedling with a sharpie, and stick the written end in the soil – otherwise the sun bleaches out the name.

Every season, you can rotate the labels and the sun will bleach out the name that is sticking out of the dirt!

Pest Control

aphids – Bronner’s Soap – 1 part soap to 3 parts water (roughly) – use a pump spray to mist plant.  Soap takes off aphids protective covering

cutworms and caterpillars – Pepper Spray – hot chilies with water in a pump spray.  Use sparingly!  Works with cutworms and caterpillars

Whiteflies – indicates an ecosystem problem.  If you have white flies, move your plant to a different location.

Slugs and Snails – Copper tape.  If you are planting directly in the ground, take a yogurt container and wrap a swath of copper tape around it.  Sink it in the ground and plant the seedling within it.  The copper gives slugs and electrical shock when they come into contact with it.

Earwigs – Soak a roll of newspaper with water and put it in the ground.  When the sun comes out, the earwigs will take shelter inside the roll.  Throw the newspaper out.

Worm Tea – from a worm composter – very potent!  Dilute with water – a great boost and helps keep bugs away

Direct Seeding

There are a few plants that don’t transplant well, so you’ll want to plant the seeds directly in the ground rather than in containers.

These are: Any “deep root” crops such as carrots, parsnips are beets


Squash seedings (they need a lot of space)



Butter knife and/or

Widger and/or

Grapefruit spoon

(basically any tool small enough to let you do the delicate work of separating out the root system)

Generally, all you need is a butter knife as a tool and a careful hand not to damage the roots.

However, you can transplant even bigger plants – the trick is: move enough soil so the plant doesn’t know it’s being moved.  Dig out enough dirt around the root system.

Seedling Growing Stages

First thing to come out will be the “seed leaves” two identical leaves

However, you want to wait for the “true leaves”, the unique leaves that let you know what plant species it is.

When the “true leaves” appear, it’s time to transplant.

Helpful book in identifying leaves: “Cabbage or Cauliflower” by Judith Eldrich

Suggestion: learn plant families.  Plants within the same family generally need the same kind of care