By Elizabeth Smith

Did you know there are actually two great seasons for garden lovers here in Southern Arizona? Spring and fall. When the mid-west and east coast could be anticipating their first snow, we are often still swimming and wearing shorts. Experienced gardeners know that our fall is one of the very best times for gardening success and most of them are busy right now planting out cool weather crops. Sowing seeds is one way of doing that and if you haven’t tried it yet, this tutorial is for you. You will need organic seeds and soil, warmth and light, and moisture.

Seed soil ingredients: mix 2 parts peat moss or fine coconut coir with 1 part finished compost and water well. Cover newly planted seeds with vermiculite to keep the soil moist.

Fill small pots with your seed, soil mix and make an indentation on each one. Place one or two seeds in each pot. The rule of thumb for seed depth is two times the diameter of the seed. For example, a ½ inch bean seed should be planted 1” deep while tiny seeds just need a cover of the vermiculite. Place pots in a tray so you can water from the bottom. Don’t water from above or tiny seeds will be disturbed or washed away. Label your newly planted seeds. We use popsicle sticks and a sharpie.

The first set of tiny leaves to emerge are called seed leaves, or cotyledons. Next, come the true leaves and once they have two or three sets, your small seedlings will be ready for transplanting into the garden. But before they go in the ground, ‘harden off’ your plants for a period of 7-10 days. This means acclimating your new seedlings to outdoor weather and less frequent watering. Bring the seedlings outside for an hour or two the first day, and add more time each day until the small plants are acclimated full time to the temperature and weather outside. If the weather is nice to begin with, you can start your seed pots outdoors.

Transplanting: add in a couple of tablespoons of earthworm castings to your planting hole when planting your seedlings out in the garden. Give them additional water for up to a week if you notice any wilting. After that, water and fertilize on the schedule you normally use for your garden.

Hardy plants like lettuce and root vegetables can be seeded directly into your garden. Just like in pots, keep the soil moist before germination so the seeds don’t die.

Here are the differences between heirloom, hybrid, organic and GMO seeds. Before the dawn of the chemical age, all plants were organic. Anything labeled organic is grown without using any kind of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, chemical seed coatings or genetic modification. And before the process of genetically modifying organisms was invented, all plants were either heirloom or hybrid. Heirloom refers to a plant that growers have saved the seed from for many generations. They almost always taste superior to hybrid varieties and contain higher nutritional values. The seeds you harvest will produce the same or very similar plant year after year. Hybrid plants are plants that are pollinated from two different parent plants to achieve selected features. Big growers like to select for size consistency in produce, and the ability to be stored for longer periods of time after harvesting. You can save seed from a hybridized plant, but don’t expect to get the same plant because it will revert back to one of the parent plants. Of note, a hybridized plant can be grown organically and an heirloom can be grown using chemicals.

Sources for seeds include local plant nurseries and online and mail-order catalogs. You can also get free seeds from the Pima County Seed Library. is one of my favorites because they have the largest selection of heirloom seeds in the US. There are literally hundreds of varieties of produce options. Grocery stores can only carry a few of each kind because of space limitations and the need for varieties that will transport easily and hold up in storage. But the home gardener like yourself has no such limitations, so try growing amazing and delicious things like black radishes, yellow watermelons or purple varieties of tomatoes and carrots. Growing your own makes it easy to eat a rainbow of colors, every day as experts advise. If you have never attempted growing from seed, try just one thing this fall and see how it goes. If you are experienced at growing from seed, we need your help growing things for our community garden plant sales. Please email:

Local planting guide: offers nearly 2000 organic seed types. has over 600 tomato varieties. More info on the library’s seed catalog:

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