How to grow vegetables from seed with success every time
July 11, 2017
I grow about ninety percent of our vegetable garden from seed. I choose to do this because it allows me to grow high quality organic seed, non genetically modified. It provides me with a wide range of plants at a very low cost. I can select the most robust of the seedlings to plant. If stored correctly seed will last a number of years if sourced from a good supplier. If I wanted to do so I could save seed from the plants that grow for future planting. I don’t tend to do this, but it is an option.
The seed I choose to grow is from Birdland Organics. I use this seed to stock the Kitchen Garden Box® and where possible to raise plants for my customer’s gardens – time permitting for the set up timeline.
I will provide further detail on each of the above but first, this is the equipment you will need to grow from seed.
I have mentioned my supplier above. I am confident they are the best quality seed I have come across. I visit the farm often and know the plants will thrive in my garden and that of my customer’s gardens. Birdland Organics only supplies seed that has a very high germination rate. If the owner, Ben is unsatisfied with the rate he will not supply it. This gives me great confidence that if I sow a three seeds I will have three seedlings ready to plant in my garden, or that of a customer once they develop.
I prefer to raise my seed in trays so I can keep an eye on them and make sure they are strong before being moved to the garden. There are some vegetables that are an exception to this – they dislike being disturbed once they develop roots so are best planted where they will grow. Carrots are an example of this.
Seed raising soil is lighter and finer than regular potting mix. You can make your own if you wish from a mix of 1 cup each of sand and coconut peat, 1/4 cup of perlite, 1/2 cup handful of worm castings and a cup of compost. Mix together and place into a tray.
I am in the process of testing this mix so it may require a little tweaking, mix it up and add additional sand if it seems too dense.
Note: seed requires nutrients in the soil to germinate and develop. It will use up the soil’s nutrients quickly so it is important to transplant into the garden, or a larger pot with new soil once the seedling has developed 3 or 4 leaves. If the plant is are not large enough to go into the garden at the point of having developed a few leaves, gently transfer it to a larger pot with new soil to keep the plant developing. Avoid root disturbance as much as possible when you do this.
Space the seeds you are raising approximately 1 cm apart. The most important thing is to not plant the seeds into the soil too deeply. They should be planted just below the surface so they are not using all their energy to break through the surface of the soil. As a general rule I plant the seed as deep as the seed is. For example, lettuce seed is tiny so it is planted just under the surface of the soil, covered with only a very fine layer of soil. Pea and bean seeds are larger and can pushed down into the soil.
*Note: ensure you are planting the seed at the right time of year. Seeds are seasonal and if the conditions are not favourable, eg: too cold, or too hot, you will not have good results.
Once the seed is planted and covered by the seed raising mix it should be lightly watered.
Keep the seedling tray protected from frost and extreme heat. Winter seeds can be raised outside as they need the cold to thrive – unless possums are a problem in your area. If possums are a problem they may disturb the trays, or eat the new seedlings before you get a chance to transplant them.
When you begin tomato seeds or other summer seeds it is best to start them in a warm sheltered position such as near a window, protected from the cold evenings. I start the first summer seeds in mid spring on the bench of the shed. If you are lucky enough to have a glass house then use that to provide protection.
Take note of any issues you experience so you can avoid them the following season. It will only be once that the possums destroy your seedlings, or the tomatoes fail to germinate due to being hit by frost. You will quickly learn what works in your conditions. For this reason I like to plant just a few seeds of different plants at various stages of the season (or impending season). This means I am will hit the perfect timing with one of them. If I notate this timing it can be replicated in the future and means I never loose a whole crop of plants that I can’t replace.
When raising seeds the soil should be kept damp, not wet. It should not dry out. If you are raising seed in the warmest months of the year you will need to water lightly each day. Ensure you water the seed gently eg: dumping a tub of water into the seed tray will dislodge the newly planted seeds. Use a watering can or a nozzle that allows for a gently spray of water. As the seedlings grow water at least once a week with Eco Seaweed or watered down worm castings.
This video demonstration was made a little while ago to show you how I start my seed.Watch it if you prefer video instruction to reading, or to review the process outlined above.
Things to remember:
Once the seedling has developed at least three leaves and begins to get it’s “real” looking leaves it is time to transplant into the space they will continue to grow. If the seedling growth stalls it is usually because it has run out of nutrients in the soil.
Newly planted seedlings are particularly attractive to garden pests such as snails. You will need to protect your newly planted seedlings with either a cloche, crushed dried egg shells, to keep snails and slugs from feasting on them.
You can read more about pest protection for seedlings here.
Do you grow your vegetables from seed?
Have I left out any of your tips or success factors? Please let me know below in the comments if there is something else you do that works well for you.
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