Brijette Peña of San Diego Seed Company’s mission is to support a million urban farmers one seed at a time.
I’m an urban farmer who’s transformed most of my yard to grow with purpose, whether to feed my family or the pollinators that visit our garden or even my pets and neighbors. I am constantly learning and looking for ways to grow healthier plants that will produce more while resisting disease and pests.
When I stumbled upon San Diego Seed Company a few years back in the seed aisle at Walter Anderson Nursery, I knew I needed to buy a packet or two. Launched in 2010 by Brijette Peña, this woman-owned seed and gardening business is dedicated to growing organic local seeds specifically for Southern California and the American Southwest. Fast forward a few years, and I now use her seeds almost exclusively.
The right seed for the right farmer
When we grow plants and vegetables that are designed by nature to thrive where we live, we grow stronger, healthier plants that are less prone to pests and disease, and take less human intervention (i.e., energy, fuel, or chemicals). Growing food at home also supports our local food web by increasing access and connection to our community.
Brijette’s mission of providing region-specific seeds to home gardeners and small-scale growers is rooted in her goal to create a million urban farmers, just like me. With each urban farmer, we strengthen our local food web, build healthier communities, and engage in more sustainable gardening practices that leave a smaller footprint on our earth.
When I met this celebrity gardener
Looking at my seed collection, you might assume I am very “successful” at growing from seed. Seeds are inspiring and full of hope and potential, and that’s what hooked me. Plus, I feel like it gives me more gardening cred to say, “I started it from seed.” But my success has not always matched my drive, so when I heard Brijette was teaching a FREE seed starting class at Walter Anderson, I was giddy, like a kid in a candy shop giddy. Plus, spring is here, and seed starting season is in full swing. I couldn’t have been happier!
Brijette is my gardening idol. A strong woman breaking barriers in the male-dominated field of farming. I have so much to learn so I signed up. She is relatable, down to earth, and funny as hell. She approaches gardening with skill and ease. Her belief that gardening should be accessible to all was felt throughout her class, making it clear you don’t need a ton of fancy, expensive equipment to be a successful home gardener. You do need passion, a willingness to get dirty and fail, and maybe a glass of wine.
Throughout the class, she focused on the why behind the process to help us understand the purpose behind each practice while reiterating what you need to get right and what is good enough. I’ve watched more videos and read more blog posts on this subject than I can count. I bought the fancy equipment. Brijette’s approach was refreshing. Simply put, she reminded us that nature knows what she is doing. Give her the basic tools (like the right seeds to start) and she will do her job with way less intervention than we have been convinced is needed. This is what makes gardening accessible and sustainable.
Lessons from the class and changes I’ve made:
- The right seed. Pick the right seed for your zone and season. If you plant a cool-season crop like broccoli, it will likely not produce in the San Diego summer heat.
- Soil. Use a quality seed-starting soil mix. Her answer to a classmate’s question of dollar-store soil? Pass. Brijette said you get what you pay for and using quality soil is important. Spend your money here.
- Supplies. Reuse the seedling six-packs you get from the nursery to start seeds. Brijette skips any sterilizing step and is clearly successful.
- Planting. Instead of poking a hole in the soil and then covering the seed, now I placed the seeds on top of the soil and cover them with light and fluffy seed-starting soil or vermiculite. It’s not only easier for a tiny seedling to push through the vermiculite, it also prevents damping off, a fungal disease that literally makes your thriving seedlings fall over and die out of the blue. Vermiculite is sterile and locks in moisture, protecting delicate stems.
- Watering. Invest in heavy-duty bottom trays to hold your seedling containers. This will allow for bottom watering or placing water directly in the tray so the soil absorbs the water up into the roots. This makes for a stronger root system as they grow down toward the water.
- Fertilizer. Once your first set of true leaves appears, add a diluted liquid fertilizer, like fish emulsion, into your bottom watering routine.
And don’t forget, growing from seed takes work and a healthy obsession. I’m not the only one who checks on seedlings every few hours to inspect for new growth, right?! From one urban farmer to another, let’s plant some seeds!
San Diego Seed Company seeds are available online and at over 30 different locations throughout San Diego County. As if her magical seeds aren’t enough, Brijette provides a variety of gardening tools, products, and educational resources on the website, Youtube channel and Instagram. You can also enroll in an educational class at the farm.