California Seed Starting

By Teo Spengler | March 26, 2022
Image by Lemanieh
by Teo Spengler
March 26, 2022

As a gardener and a garden writer, I should start seeds in the house. But I usually don’t. I save all the little six-packs from the seedlings I buy in the garden store, with the idea of planting a few seeds in each. But getting around to planting seeds in the house is another thing entirely. 

The few times I have tried starting my own veggies or herbs, I have been blessed with success. But it hasn’t motivated me to repeat the procedure very often.

Starting Seeds Indoors

Starting seeds indoors has lots of advantages, and I could blab on about them for a half hour without stopping. That’s because of all the articles I have written over the years about why and how to start indoor seeds. And the benefits are many.

First, buying seeds is always cheaper than buying seedlings. And you get many more plants from a packet of seeds than you do from a six-pack of seedlings. Second, in many areas, you have to wait to seed outdoors until the last frost of spring is past. That means that starting seeds indoors allows you to extend your regular growing season and opt for crops that require a longer season than the one your region offers. 

California Gardens

And yet, this is not very tempting when you have a California garden in San Francisco, U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone 10. The plain fact is that for all the natural threats we face – think earthquakes, wildfires and rising sea water – frost is never a concern. 

That means that if I want a spring crop of California poppies, I plant the seeds anytime from September to February. If I want a spring veggie garden, I can plant the seeds right in the garden bed in late winter. There is no “longer growing season” to be gained by indoor planting. So the truth is, I usually don’t.

How to Start Indoor Seeds

Despite this admission, I’m going to tell you about my indoor-seeds system. The few times I have personally started seeds indoors, I came up with my own system and it worked brilliantly.  It requires one large plastic container like pre-washed lettuce comes in at the supermarket and one six-pack that seedlings are sold in.

I have used this system to start basil plants and also lettuce and nothing could be easier. You fill the six-pack up with potting soil, press three or four seeds into the soil of each unit of the six-pack, then place the six-pack in the empty lettuce container. Water each little unit, close the lid and place it on a windowsill that gets light. The lettuce container acts like a tiny greenhouse, keeping the seeds warm and the air humid. 

When the seedlings are so tall that they start bumping into the lettuce container lid, start leaving it open. Once the seedlings are three inches high with well-developed root systems, squeeze the bottom of each six-pack unit for easy transplant.

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