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Garden wisdom from deer country!

Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer

The seasoned gardener

published in The Union in Grass Valley CA

More information on sowing seeds is detailed in Deer in My Garden, Vol.1: Perennials & Subshrubs and Deer in My Garden, Vol.2: Groundcovers & Edgers!

Carolyn's grandchildrenStarting from seed Warm the seedbed to start early!
by Carolyn Singer
March 24, 2007

Young morning glory seedlings have magically appeared in a container I have outside. I didn't plant them. Two years ago I grew this wonderful vine in this large pot. The seeds fell and lay dormant until the recent warm weather following the good soaking moisture of snow. Apparently the perfect combination for germination. Once again, nature seems to know best.

However, while conditions may have been perfect for this 2 year-old seed, the young seedlings may not survive. Morning glory needs continued warm weather to thrive. Any snow or cold temperatures may kill the seedlings.

Viola odorataOther plants that self-sow, such as California poppies or violets, take the guesswork out of germination requirements. When nature provides the perfect temperatures and moisture, the seed breaks dormancy. Young seedlings will not be damaged if cold weather returns. Yet they may still be damaged if an extended dry period occurs after germination.

It is a good time to plant many seeds. This past weekend I had my grandchildren planting snow peas and sugar snap peas. This is one year I might be able to do it in the open ground because of the recent warm weather. Instead, this first planting was done in containers since germination will be hastened in the warmth of my cold frame. Pea seeds planted in cold soil outside may rot before they germinate.

My garden has great sun exposure even in winter. But even with the wonderful warmth of the sun in spring, cold air frequently blankets the garden at night. It's not unusual for my property to have frost even in May, while nearby neighbors' gardens are untouched. In 30 years of gardening here, most springs have reminded me of the vulnerability of annual flowers and vegetables.

Because of this, I use a variety of techniques to avoid damage during and after seed germination. The planting medium, whether in containers or out in the garden, is always high in organic content so that it will hold moisture and also warm easily. Special "seed-starting" mixes are available in local garden centers if you don't want to mix your own.

My own mix begins with a base I use for soil amending and mulching everywhere in the garden: two parts mushroom compost to one part rice hulls. To this light mix I add soft rock phosphate and oyster shell. If the medium is to be used in containers, I also add vermiculite and perlite. No soil is used. The roots of the seedlings will soon connect with the soil in the garden, where they will eagerly consume the additional nutrients they need.

Planting in the open ground I usually cover the seedbed with TufBell or Agribon, durable row covers that will warm the soil a few degrees, and protect tender seedlings from cold nights.

Carolyn's grandchildrenIn the next couple of weeks I'll sow lots of greens, and more peas, including the fragrant sweet peas. A few may go directly into the garden, but the majority of the "cold-tolerant" vegetables and flowers will be sown in containers and protected in the cold frame. As soon as they are a few weeks old, I'll plant them in the garden. Meanwhile, the Tufbell or Agribon will warm the soil for their arrival.

And that container of morning glories that germinated a bit too early? They will go into the cold frame until May! I hope they don't get too big before it's safe to plant them!

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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