|Joy of The Earth Community Garden|
Photo by Helen
I was honoured to be asked and more than happy to share what knowledge I had on this subject.
In this blog post I will give an outline of what I covered in this talk and I hope you enjoy reading it and can take something useful from it away with you.
Firstly why bother to sow seeds and go through the motions of raising them, when you can just nip down your local garden centre and buy a punnet of seedlings? Well, I'm the first to put my hand up to admitting that there are two lots of seeds that I don't bother to grow for myself, that is spring onions and leeks. Why? Because you can buy a punnet for a small amount of money and this is one of those times when you get more than enough seedlings contained within that punnet. The other varieties, e.g. lettuces, cauliflowers etc. usually only give you 6 to 8 plants a punnet. However, the main reasons I grow from seed are: a) I like to grow heirloom varieties which are not always available as seedlings and b) I can grow enough seedlings to meet my needs.
Raising from seed is not a difficult process, but one of the things I would remind you of is that you only get out what you put in. I'm referring to in this instance, your choice of soil. I would always recommend using the top quality seed raising mixture. I, myself,
use professional grade and also when I come to the potting up stage I use premium potting mix.
What is the point of putting in the time and energy when you choose to use poorer quality growing mediums. Your seedlings will do so much better in the best you can give them.
Always read the sowing depth given to you on the packet but as a general rule of thumb most smaller seeds like lettuce etc need to be planted 1/4" (5mm) deep and bigger seeds like peas, beans etc around 1" (25mm) deep.
Fill your punnet with the required amount of soil and firm down. I use another punnet to do this, it creates a nice surface on which to sow your seeds. Don't sow your whole packet in one go, that packet should last you several goes. Just sow your seed thinly. I have found especially with small seeds that a neat little gadget called a seed sower really helps you distribute your seed evenly and gives you control over the amount you sow.
This little gadget is worth its weight in gold and is an inexpensive purchase. You can find them really cheap on e-bay Seed Sower Link
Once I have sown my seeds, I like with smaller seeds to sieve the seed raising mix over them to the right depth, rather than sprinkle it by hand. What using a sieve gives the seeds is a finer mixture which is easier for them to push through.
Sieves come in all sizes and prices. I use a small metal one and I find this easy to handle and perfect when I'm sowing into a punnet. Of course, if you are sowing bigger seeds like beans for example, then you just need to fill your punnet to the top. There is no need to sieve. Instead place each seed in position and just push it down with your finger to the right depth.
Now you could water your seeds from above, and this is perfectly ok for those larger ones, but when seeds are small you do stand the risk of dislodging them. So I like to stand my punnet in a tray of water and let it soak in from the bottom upwards. This way the punnet has plenty of moisture and those tiny seeds stay safely in place.
The next step is to give those seeds somewhere warm to germinate. The soil will have to reach a temperature of somewhere between 45 - 85 degrees F or 7.2 - 29.4 C. If you don't have a greenhouse or a heated propagator, then you could use a cold propagator and place it somewhere it will catch the sun, or if it's in the colder months somewhere in the house where it's warm. I've used in the past my heating ducts in the floor. If you haven't got a propagator then the bottom cut out of a plastic drink bottle will work too or a warm facing windowsill. Don't let your seedlings dry out, but don't drench them either. I use a spray bottle to damp them down when required.
When your seedlings have emerged and grown a couple of true leaves, remember the first leaves are called seed leaves, then it's probably time to pot on.
I have another couple of gadgets that help me do this. One is for lifting the seedlings out without damaging their roots. It is divided at one end and has a spatula at the other. The second gadget allows me to make a deep hole and pop my seedling in with as little trauma to the plant as possible. Both these gadgets I purchased from my local garden centre at a very cheap price.
You can pot 6-8 seedlings into another punnet containing good potting mix or you can pot them up into individual plugs or pots depending on how big you would like to grow them before planting out. Remember when potting up seedlings never to hold them by the stem but instead hold them by a leaf. If you damage a leaf it will grow more, if you damage its stem it most probably will not recover.
So there you are, seed sowing and raising is a simple thing to do. My golden rules are use the best quality soils, provide the seed punnet with the required heat and moisture. Pot up when the plant has at least two true leaves.
Happy seed sowing!
All photographs shown are my own.