In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
January, 2013
Regional Report

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Beet seedlings between Swiss chard transplants will yield many new beets for transplanting.

Tips for Seed Starting

Does It Matter When I Sow? Yes!
Wait until February 1 to sow seeds of plants that you want to produce food through the fall. Even though this is only a month away, this distinction is important because January 31 is the average last frost for lowlanders in Southern California.

Why not plant sooner? Picture a downward-pointing arrow of cooler and cooler temperatures from fall through the end of January. If plants experience the winter cool-down prior to the end of January, a process called vernalization, they'll bolt or flower prematurely with the first advent of warmth after that. This has a negative effect on the eating quality of plants whose leaves, stems, roots, or flowers we eat, such as beets, onions, and cabbage family members. This is why lettuce and parsley you've been enjoying since fall will bolt in about March, and nothing you do will keep those plants producing.

From February onwards, with (on average) no more threat of frost, the weather will get increasingly warmer, and plants will be energized for a long season of production. When seeds have been sown under increasingly warm temperatures, they'll produce plants that will grow all spring and summer long before they bolt in the fall. So those lettuce and parsley seeds sown from February through April will feed you all the way through fall before they bolt.

Thus, I plant all these seeds twice annually -- in spring for summer eating and fall for winter eating.

Should I Sow Indoors or Outdoors? Both!
Outdoors, sow seeds of plants that thrive in cool weather, including broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, cilantro, kale, kohlrabi, leek, lettuce, mustard, parsley, pea, radish, and spinach. You'll eat these through spring and early summer. All of these can be started in flats or seedling beds, then transplanted later to the garden bed where they'll mature.

Indoors, sow seeds of plants that thrive during hot weather, including eggplant, pepper, and tomato. Follow the tips below to produce strong seedlings ready for transplanting outdoors.

  • Provide as much direct sun as possible so the seedlings grow vigorously.
  • In March, over the course of a week or so, shift them daily to the outdoors during the day and back indoors in the evenings to acclimate them to outdoor conditions.
  • Provide protection from direct midday sun for two weeks following transplanting.

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