I guess, if you asked any gardener how to sow seeds, you would receive a different answer from each one.
I recently gave a zoom presentation to the Worcestershire Careers Association gardening group on seed sowing.
These are my thoughts.
There is a wide range of pots and containers for seed sowing, generally, I prefer to use small pots rather than seed trays because they provide a deeper root run until you get round to pricking out the seedlings.
Large seed trays also encourage the sowing of too much at a time.
I also use root trainers. The large ones are useful for growing sweetpeas, beans and sweet corn, and they save pricking out. You can then plant them directly into the garden. You can buy smaller ones, ideal for starting vegetables such as lettuce or annual flowers.
A free alternative is used toilet rolls centres which fit nicely into the plastic containers grapes are sold in.
The choice of compost can be a controversial area. Legislation regarding the use of peat is driving the move to peat-free compost.
I think you only need one type of compost, multipurpose. I use Melcourt ‘sylva grow’, a peat-free one recommended by the RHS. This year I am experimenting with using Fertile Fibre, a Coir product. This is dehydrated making it light to carry and is easily rehydrated for use.
There is no doubt peat-free compost requires more feed, which may explain why some comparisons show poor results.
I also use fine grade vermiculite for seed sowing, it is light to carry, helps prevent seedlings from damping off and benefits root development. Vermiculite is a naturally occurring mineral that is heat-treated. Traditionally horticultural sand or grit would have been used and as a gardener with recurring back problems, reducing the weight of materials is an important consideration.
For small seeds, I sieve multipurpose compost, to remove the larger pieces, mixing it 50/50 with vermiculite. When planting small seeds, I water from above before sowing or from below afterwards.
After sowing I lightly cover with vermiculite and label. You can cover it with a polythene bag and place it on a well-lit window sill. I use a heated propagator which negates the need to cover individual pots. You will need to remove the individual cover when the seeds have germinated, keep warm with good light to prevent them from becoming leggy.
Coir Jiffy pellets are useful for propagating seeds and cuttings, they require soaking before use.
Once germinated they can be planted out into pots to grow on, this also saves pricking out.
I use a mixture of compost with around 25% vermiculite for growing on.
I grow larger seeds such as sweet peas, broad or runner beans in the same 50/50 mix without sieving, planting into root trainers or toilet roll centres.
What is your secret to successful seed sowing?
8 thoughts on “In The beginning, Seed Sowing.”
You are right, everyone does it differently. I have had good results with those jiffy pellets for the second year in a row. My secret would be…. ‘patience’! I am always tempted to start too early when we get a warm spell in March, but our last frost is often at the end of May!
You are right about patience Cathy, all the gardening media encourages too early planting
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Scarification can be a bit ‘involved’ for some seed. I do not scarify canna seed, so they take a long time to germinate. Seed of some native species prefer to be heated, as if by fire. I have cooked some by oven, just to get them to germinate uniformly. Some insist that some seed need to be lain out flat, covered with paper, and then scarified by burning the paper over them! Not only is that too much work, but is likely unnecessary.
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I agree about the seed trays. You can end up with too many seedlings. I use seed trays divided into thirds or quarters for some of my own seeds like Cosmos or Tagetes, that I put all over the place. Tomatoes get the individual pots but I think the limiting factor is space as I need to put them into a little shelter in the evening. Amelia
A gardener can never have to much greenhouse shelter at this time of year Amelia!
My top tips are to sow only as many as you need and prick out as soon as the first true leaves appear. I use quarter seed trays, with root trainers for sweet peas and cell trays for sunflowers
I do sometimes use the quarter seed trays Cathy after seeing them on your blog.
Its’s interesting that we all have have slightly different methods Brian and none of them are right or wrong 😀 I use a mixture of pots, seed trays and root trainers depending on what I am sowing. My pots are square (they take up less room) and the trays are quarter size most of which I’ve used for the last 30 years or so. Like you I use vermiculite and find it much cheaper to buy in bulk quantities. My secret is to carefully check the optimum sowing conditions for every type of seed you sow beforehand 😂
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