Growing veggies from seed is easy, rewarding

by Rebecca Jepsen
for the Mercury News
02/02/2008

Silicon Valley is known for its fast pace. Lack of time is something familiar to all of us. Sometimes we feel as though we don't have time to think because we are too busy doing.

So why would we want to take the time to grow our vegetables and herbs from seed?

Well, there are a couple of reasons. One, you will able to grow interesting, tasty varieties that you are not likely to find as transplants at your local nursery.

And second, you will be able to plant what you want when you want it vs. hoping that what you want is available when you want it.

Mesclun mixes of lettuce, Oriental Giant spinach, Cylindra beets, wild arugula and kale are just a few of the interesting, cool-season vegetables that can be easily seeded now. All you need is a standard garden container and potting mix.

First, fill your container with moist, good quality potting mix. Then tap the pot gently to settle the soil; don't hard-pack it. Next, use a chopstick, or the eraser end of a pencil, to indent holes in the soil for your seeds. The suggested depth and spacing will be listed on the seed pack. Lightly cover the seeds with additional potting mix -- again, do not pack it down.

Use a spray bottle or mister to thoroughly wet the soil; be careful not to disturb the seeds. Make sure to keep the soil moist. Set your containers outside in a bright, sunny area where the seeds won't be pelted by rain, or eaten by pests.

Germination and transplanting times vary by the type of seed, but before you know it, you will have your very own seedlings waiting to take root in your garden.

Q: My orange and lemon trees are producing fruit, but a lot of their leaves are turning yellow. Is this a problem, and if so, what should I do?

A: Yellowing of leaves and leaf drop can be caused by several factors, the most common being nitrogen deficiency. Nitrogen is highly water soluble; after heavy winter rains many soils will have little available for trees and plants.

March is an excellent time to begin applying nitrogen-based fertilizer to encourage new leaf growth and fruit production.

Nitrogen is available in many forms; follow instructions and apply only what you need: Highly soluble types such as ammonium sulfate or ammonium nitrate can be easily washed into creeks and drains that flow to the bay, polluting our water.

A good indicator of the health of your tree will be how well it produces the first flush of new growth in the spring. For more information on citrus pruning, fertilizing and pest problems, go to: http://homeorchard.ucanr.edu/Fruits_&_Nuts/Citrus/.

This month you should literally be enjoying ''the fruits of your labor'' from many varieties of citrus: oranges, mandarins, lemons, grapefruit, kumquats, and even limequats and orangequats.

There's nothing like walking outside, picking that perfectly ripe Satsuma mandarin right off the tree, peeling it and popping it in your mouth. We are very fortunate to live in an area where we can grow our own citrus, some varieties year-round.

For a list of recommended varieties for Santa Clara County, see: www.mastergardeners.org/picks/citrus.html

Q: We have a serious problem with Bermuda grass in our lawn. It was not so bad in the summertime when it was green, but now that the weather has changed, it has turned brown and looks terrible. Is there anything that can be done about it, short of tearing out the lawn?

A: Bermuda grass spreads by both rhizomes (underground horizontal stems) and stolons (horizontal stems at the ground surface) and can be a very troublesome invader to lawns and gardens. It does not tolerate shade well and turns brown when temperatures are low.

Bermuda grass is very drought-tolerant but may not provide the ''look and feel'' that you are after. You may want to check out eco-friendly options such as native grasses or mixed fescue. For a full description on how to identify, manage and control Bermuda grass, see www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7453 .html.

- Rebecca Jepsen, University of California Cooperative Extension Santa Clara County Master Gardener