SF Bay Gardening

SF Bay Gardening

Exploring everything green beneath the fog

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Growing Habanada Peppers

Growing Habanada Peppers

I have struggled for years to grow sweet peppers since moving to the Bay Area. Strangely, hot peppers are not a problem. In fact, about to go into my fourth year with the same jalapeno plant. Despite these issues, I decided to try what sounded like an […]

Ditch the Dish Sponge

Ditch the Dish Sponge

I hate throwing things away. I save every “nice” box or envelope that comes in the mail to use again some day. I compost or recycle everything that can be composted or recycled. I shop secondhand. It’s just my natural way of being, to try […]

Why Did My Seedlings Stop Growing?

Why Did My Seedlings Stop Growing?

When we start seeds indoors, we are trying to give them a head start before putting them into the harsh world of the out-of-doors. So, when our tender, baby seedlings seem to just pause, or stall in their growth, it can be very stressful.

What does “seedling stall” look like?

Seed stall is when a seedling that spouted stops producing new growth. With tomatoes, for instance, it can look like the tomato sprouted it’s seed leaves (the first two leaves) and then nothing happens after that for at least a week. It can also happen later, after some true leaves have sprouted, and then the plant just seems frozen in time. Alive, but “stuck” at that same stage. Sometimes you will also see signs of a nutrient deficiency like purple or yellow discoloration of the leaves or stem.

Why did my seedlings stop growing?

Seedlings start out using the food that’s contained within their own seed. That’s what produces the initial roots, stem, and leaves. After that, the plant starts to rely on the outside world for it’s continued growth: nutrients it would find in soil. If you are growing in a “soilless” medium, like a seed-starting mix, the plants will have little to no nutrients to use for fuel. Some seed starting mixes will contain some basic nutrition for seedlings to get you through the early growing processes, but not all do. Also, overwatering can wash away nutrients, making them unavailable for the plants.

Two newly-emerged tomato seedlings
Two just-emerged tomato seedlings. If they stay like this with no new growth for over a week, then they have stalled.

My seedlings are stalled, what do I do?

You’ve got two choices, based on the current size of your seedlings.

  1. Transplant the stalled seedlings into a growing medium with compost or fertilizer, like a potting mix. This works best for plants that have some true leaves or like to be repotted, like tomatoes. I love to use Formula 420 Potting Soil . I swear the seedlings double in size over night!
  2. Add some diluted fertilizer to the soilless mix the seedlings are in. This will give them some nutrition to help keep them growing. This method works well for either seedlings with only seed leaves or ones with some true leaves.

Keep an eye on your plants, and note changes after you apply your chosen method to make sure they have started to recover.

How do I know I’ve fixed the problem?

Once the seedlings have access to the right nutrition, they should start growing again. You should see new growth, and any discoloration should fade. Taking pictures daily will help you to see this process as it occurs, since you might not notice changes just by checking every day.

Tomato seedlings showing new growth beyond the seed leaves. Now it’s time to thin them out!

What if those options do not help?

Now we’re into less simple territory. I would check for any of these other, less likely possibilities:

  • Insects on your seedlings, like aphids or mites, that drink the juice of the seedlings, sapping their strength
  • Too much chlorination in your tap water. This is unlikely, but some plants are more sensitive to chlorine. If you think this is the issue, you do not need to purchase distilled water or collect rainwater for your seedlings. You can leave tap water out in an open container for about 3 days and the chlorine will off-gas and the water will be safe.
  • Overcrowding or too small of a container can cause roots to run out of space and halt growth. In the image above, you can see that while both seedlings are growing well, only one should be occupying that cell. Thinning or repotting can help with this issue.

How can I make sure my seedlings never stall again?

I used to have this problem every year when I made my own seed starting mix. Now, I have been taking the easy route and using a pre-mixed seed starting mix, and I can get at least 4 true leaves on a healthy tomato plant without any stall, great size for its first potting-up.

I have had great luck with this one I picked up at my local hardware store: Whitney Farms Organic Seed Starting Mix

How to Make a Plum and Tonic

How to Make a Plum and Tonic

If you, like me, love plum wine, you might have some to drink on occasion. If, like me, you make your own, you might have a gallon+ sitting around. And, if you are like me, you may be wondering what there is to do with […]

California’s New Composting Law Effective Today

California’s New Composting Law Effective Today

As a gardener, the new law that makes it mandatory for homes and businesses to separate food waste from trash is exciting to me. All that food and yard waste that was once going to a landfill (where it would compost anaerobically, creating methane) will […]

Bay Area Bees Don’t Need Special Winter Help

Bay Area Bees Don’t Need Special Winter Help

Just as many gardening blogs, books, and general advice focus on the majority of the country where they have this thing called “winter,” so do Social Media trends. I keep seeing posts and articles on LOCAL Facebook groups giving helpful advice on how to “save” bees in the winter’s cold.

This is one such post: https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=10159803672915742&set=a.10150339174890742

And this is a helpful article about bees in the winter (which, I repeat, most of Bay Area does not have): https://www.honeybeesonline.com/winter-bees/

So we shouldn’t help the bees?

I have nothing against helping the bees, but I know that our bees in the Bay Area have it easy in the winter. If the temperatures stay above 50 degrees F, as they usually do, the bees just do what they usually do: collect pollen and make honey. In fact, beekeepers here might get extra batches of honey versus keepers in less temperate parts of the country!

Google’s average high and low temperatures for San Francisco over the course of the year.

In our mild winter months, we can skip the sliced apples and other snacks (can you imagine the raccoon feast on night one of that experiment?), and our bees will be just fine.

How we can actually help Bay Area Bees?

Don’t use pesticides

When we try to eliminate pesky bugs that harm our food and flowering plants, we we need to also think about how they might affect other, beneficial insects like bees. Think localized and natural solutions rather than broad-spectrum and synthetic.

Plant & cultivate plants that flower in the winter or year-round

Some plants grow well or even best in our mild winters, and bees will appreciate the extra pollen. I imagine they get sick of the bottlebrush after a while!

Some flowers you might consider:

And don’t forget that many shrubs and trees supply blooms this time of year, like bougainvillea and honeysuckle, as well as the weeds that pop up like oxalis (sourgrass) and miner’s lettuce.

Buy honey from local beekeepers

The real heroes of bringing bees back from the colony collapse crisis have been backyard beekeepers. These are the folks you should call if you ever find a swarm of bees (NOT an exterminator!). They will–usually for free–skillfully remove that pesky swarm to a new home.

Eating local honey from those beekeepers closest to you is said to help with seasonal allergies.

Check out this video of my favorite beekeeper. She’s in Texas, but you can see how awesome beekeepers can be!

Too Many Tomatoes?

Too Many Tomatoes?

It takes what feels like a million years to get 1 ripe tomato, and then suddenly my vines are heavily laden with red, ripe beauties. Once you’ve had your fill of salsa, pizza, spaghetti, chili, and Caprese salad (or your heartburn needs a break), what […]

Thwarting the Fennel Menace

Thwarting the Fennel Menace

There are a few pleasures in gardening that really make it feel worth all the work. Harvesting a huge batch of fat, happy potatoes is one. Picking up a cured gourd and finding it whole and hard and ready to be made into whatever project […]

Preparing a Fall Garden Starts in August

Preparing a Fall Garden Starts in August

It seems like summer just started, doesn’t it? Everything is green and growing and it’s a waiting game in the garden. I haven’t even picked a ripe tomato yet this year! Still, I know from experience that it is already time to start thinking about the fall.

Starting in August, you could already be planting carrots, lettuce, and peas as seeds, as well as brassica family plants like broccoli, cauliflower, and kale.

Even though it may seem like you should wait until November or December to plant such cold-happy crops, in our weather, that might be too late. The rains can invite more pests like slugs and earwigs, who will find your seedlings quite the dish. Starting now or in the next few dry months can give you a head start that means bigger yields. You can even plan on multiple harvests!

You can always check the Planting Calendar to see what to plant out and what seeds to get started, and you can use the Garden Planner to track your seeds and their planting dates for the Fall.

Starting Fall Seeds

Starting seeds when it is still hot out can be challenging, but there are some ways to increase your rate of success.

For small close-to or on-the-surface seeds like lettuce and carrots, you can start the seeds under a layer of burlap or similar material. The fabric will keep the seeds moist even in the sun, and you can remove fabric once the seedlings have sprouted. This same method can work for other kinds of seeds, but be sure to check daily so you don’t keep seed leaves too close to the soil (where they may become a tasty snack for pill bugs and earwigs).

And while you absolutely can start brassica seeds outdoors, for me, starting the plants indoors or in a protected area of my porch still yields the best results. Aphids, roly-polies, earwigs, and slugs love to eat seedlings, and their favorite seedlings are in the brassica family (at least in my yard). #aphidsarejerks

What to Grow

Looking for some fun new things to grow this fall? How about these?

Purple Broccoli (from Botanical Interests) This is a variety of broccoli that will tolerate those warmer weather streaks in the winter (unlike some others) and grows numerous side shoots after the main stem is cut off. That means you get an impressive plant with purple, tasty flowerheads all winter.

Toscano kale ready to be washed, de-ribbed, and eaten

Toscano/Dinosaur Kale (from Botanical Interests) My favorite kale to eat, hands down. It tolerates even the summer heat in Brisbane without bolting, and when it does finally seed, it will reseed, which I always love (being a lazy, but hungry, gardener). It does attract aphids like crazy, so grow enough for yourself and the pests or be ready with the neem oil spray!

Romanesco broccoli displaying its huge and showy foliage

Cauliflower (from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds) Purple, green, traditional white, or the alien-looking romanesco “broccoli” variety, all are delicious and perfect for our cooler winter weather. Be sure to soak those heads. Not sure what to do with cauliflower? My kids love it roasted with olive oil, salt, & pepper for 35 minutes at 425 degrees, stirred halfway through.

Fava Beans (from Botanical Interests) These dangerously delicious beans love our weather, but if you want a few meals out of them, consider buying two seed packets and planting a few weeks apart.

A “Little Finger” carrot more than ready to be picked

Colorful Carrots (from Botanical Interests) Why do carrots have to be orange? Try a blend of multiple colors and figure out which kind you like best! Also, carrots are great for a lazy gardener, because they will just keep getting bigger in the soil over time if you don’t pick them, and their flavor is the same no matter the size.

Don’t forget you can also grow mustard, cabbage, radish, spinach.

Other Fall Crops

Some other fall crops you can start now include potatoes (which you can grow most of the year anyway), and now is the time to order seed potatoes to ensure you get the varieties you want.

September is the best time to plant strawberry crowns in the Bay Area, so if you’re looking to start a strawberry fields of your own, order your crowns from your favorite nursery as soon as you can. They will flower and fruit according to the type (June-bearing or Ever-bearing). You can also try growing smaller, sweeter, Alpine Strawberries. In my experience, the seeds take a long time to germinate, and they do not generate runners like other strawberry plants.

My garlic from November of 2020, ready to plant

Garlic, which doesn’t need to be planted until November or December, should be ordered soon as well if you want your choice of variety.

What will you be planting this fall?

Growing Basil for Fun and Pesto

Growing Basil for Fun and Pesto

Basil is one of those plants I feel like I can never grow too much of. I always start a ton of seedlings early and then plant all of them. This is unlike other plants, like tomatoes, where I only plant a few of the […]