Your complete guide to successful seed sowing
21st March 2019
Sowing seeds is a practice that many keen growers use in order to enjoy healthy, productive crops. There are other options available, including buying in young plug plants and mature edibles that will need very little care before harvesting, but experienced gardeners often relish the concept of starting from scratch. As long as the correct care is given, this method results in productive veg. Germination can be a challenge, but by following these key steps you will reduce the likelihood of problems.
Sowing seeds is a practice that many keen growers use in order to enjoy healthy, productive crops. There are other options available, including buying in young plug plants and mature edibles that will need very little care before harvesting, but experienced gardeners often relish the concept of starting from scratch.
Purchasing the correct equipment for seed sowing is a vital part of the process, and choosing your container or veg bed position are factors worth considering carefully. Crops that do not like to be disturbed (such as carrots) will benefit from the use of plastic modules, where one seed is placed into each space and there is no need to separate roots when pricking out. Varieties that struggle to germinate, such as the hotter chilli types, can be started in trays. This gives you the opportunity to sow more and increase your chances of success. If you’re using containers from a previous season, be sure to give them a good scrub first to remove any pests or diseases that may still be lurking in the old soil.
If you’re starting directly on the plot, remember that soil temperatures need to be constantly above 7°C, with some varieties requiring warmer conditions. For this reason, it’s best to sow into your veg bed once the risk of frost has passed, which is usually around May. Check that this spot receives plenty of sunlight and the pH balance is fairly neutral to suit a range of crops. If the earth is in need of a nutritional boost, dig in a dose of well-rotted organic matter a few weeks before you begin.
It might be expected that any seeds planted into compost will germinate and develop well, but there are a variety of elements which need to be controlled in order to give your crops the best possible start in life. For example, sowing into trays or modules filled with cold compost from a bag that’s been kept outside will dramatically slow down the rate of cultivation, which will not only keep you waiting, but also deny your edibles the extra growing time. To avoid this, remember to place your containers filled with soil in a warm room for a day or two before you begin. This will raise the temperature of the compost and create a suitable environment for your seedlings to flourish.
The type of compost you choose is also an important element. Soil that’s been specifically tailored to sowing seeds is a great option, but a good-quality, general purpose brand will also work well. If you’re unsure of what to pick, always read the bag to check what the product is suitable for. Vermiculite is often recommended as it is a lightweight medium that holds a large amount of water – this is a great option as seedlings can push through the surface easily without wasting energy and can find the moisture they need to develop quickly. Some seeds require preparation before you start sowing. For example, peas and beans which are large and may be wrinkled will benefit from soaking, as this will allow them to take in moisture from the soil more readily, so remember to read the packet.
Spacing your seeds correctly will prevent complications in the long run, as this avoids unnecessary disturbance of roots by thinning, and reduces competition for space, light and nutrients. A spacing rule is a useful tool if you struggle to maintain precision, and a dibber will help you to create a drill in the compost that is the perfect depth. Using a spray bottle will provide a light covering of moisture to keep conditions even and prevents the seeds from becoming too saturated. Before they’ve sprouted, seeds need warmth, water and oxygen, which means that a dark environment such as an airing cupboard is the perfect place to keep your trays and modules while you wait. Generally, most varieties require a constant temperature of between 15°C and 21°C at this stage. If you’re struggling to maintain this, a heated propagator should be considered, as many models give you the option of controlling conditions. Beware of windowsills – they may be light and warm during the day but temperatures drop fast once the sun goes down, which can be too chilly for your seeds to cope overnight.
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