Add variety to your garden

August 8, 2016

A century ago, gardeners had their choice of hundreds of varieties of fruits and vegetables. Now, 80 years later, the options are vastly limited.

Our food chain, says Contra Costa Master Gardener Marian Woodard, has been built on a food distribution chain with commercials growers focusing on fewer varieties to meet harvesting and shipping demands.

One way to increase the variety in our own gardens and diets, Woodard says, is for home gardeners to expand their selections by growing different plants from seeds and seedlings.

Here are some tips:


— Before planting seeds, find out how easy they are to germinate, what special steps may be needed, how long before it can be transplanted, whether you have enough time in the growing season, and what special materials — heat mats, grow lights, seed trays — you may need.

— Planting your seeds in trays or pots, instead of sowing in the garden, offers many advantages, Woodard says. You’ll save water, space and time, and give the young seedlings a better chance of survival by growing in a controlled environment away from insects, slugs and snails.

— Be sure to read the seed packet or do research before planting. You’ll need to know when to plant, the number of days to germinate, and what type of soil, water and sun it will need.

— Seeds will need a sterile medium to grow in, which will prevent problems such as dampening off. You can buy a medium, Woodard says, but be careful that it lives up to its packaging. Check for bad smells and read the ingredients to make sure it is made from sustainable products.

— You can make your own by combining 50 percent compost with 50 percent soil. Add in coir and perlite to improve the mix and help it retain water.

— Before starting, gather all the materials you’ll need.

— Clean tools and trays or pots.

— Moisten potting medium.

— Use rain water if you have it, or treat municipal water with humic acid, which will remove chloramine, a chemical used to making drinking water safer for human consumption.

— Have plant identification markers and a pencil. It’s important to label your seed starts so you’ll know what you’ve planted, and pencil tends to hold up better than ink.

— Use a calendar or notebook to note the day you planted and other future details. This will help you in the future if you decide to grow this plant again.

— Keep seeds moist but not wet.

— Check the trays or pots once or twice a day. Seeds and seedling that dry out will die.

— When the seeds have grown and are ready to transplant into beds or outdoor pots, be sure the beds are prepared.

Protect seedlings from the sun with shade cloth. If your planting in colder weather, protect plants for the chill with frost cloth.


— Sometimes it makes more sense to plant seedlings purchased from a nursery. You’ll still need to ask questions, however, and do some research.

— Look for plants that have an overall healthy appearance and vigor.

— Check the roots.

— Ask if the plant was grown organically, and whether it was treated with systemic insecticides that are harmful to beneficial insects.

— Feed your seedlings with compost, compost tea, worm castings, worm leachate, fish hydrolysate or organic fertilizers.

— Seedlings do well with a foliar spray of nutrient supplements.



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