Thursday, July 17, 2008

Growing vegetables from seed.

As with all gardening I think it's a good idea to start with something easy. That way you gradually feel encouraged to keep trying new things. Another way is to try and get things right the first time around - not always so easy.
Growing your own seedlings is a very economical way to grow food. A packet of seeds often costs a similar amount to a punnet of 6 or 8 seedlings from a nursery.
I will explain here some of the steps to growing your own seedlings, but firstly you need a few things.

Propagation area.
Make sure this is somewhere you will see or can visit easily every morning. It can be easy to forget to water in summer or miss a snail in winter and your seedlings will fail.

Seed-raising mix: Seedling mix is usually finer than general potting mix. It has less chunks in it and less fertliser. A seed has enough energy in it to germinate and grow to a size where you can move it into a larger pot or the ground.

Seeds: Seed catalogues are beautiful things. I love to peruse a Digger's Seeds or Greenharvest catalogue. You may prefer to get organic seed. It's a good idea to get open-pollinated, heirloom varieties as you can save the seeds of them and acclimatise them to your area.
Labels: Cut up some stiff plastic and write on them what the seeds are. It can be easy to get some plants confused.

Ok, so get some empty seedling punnets or a tray and fill it most of the way to the top with seedling mix. Pat it down.
Make little divots in the soil or rows if it is finer seed.
Generally with seeds they get buried at about twice as deep as they are wide, so bean seeds (big) go about 1 centimetre below the soil level, while carrot seeds (tiny) only get a little bit of soil sprinkled on top of them. This makes them a little trickier to germinate as they need to be kept moist and the thin layer of soil above them will dry quicker than the deeper soil over the bean seeds.
Label the rows or punnets as you go.

Water the seedling mix gently so you don't disturb the soil surface too much and expose the seed.
Now wait. Seeds have different germination rates. Some will come up in a few days, others can take up to 2 or 3 weeks. Be patient and don't let them dry out but don't drown them either.

Pricking out/transplanting.
When the seedlings have their two true leaves, (not the very first two leaf-like bits, which are the unfurled seed, but the first things that look like real leaves) then you prick them out into a pot or into the garden. Don't leave them too long- it will retard their growth if they get too big before transplanting.

Fill your pots with good potting mix or get the ground ready by making holes a few centimetres deep to place the seedling into.
Pricking out is kind of an art, which once practiced becomes much easier. Take a teaspoon or a short blunt knife, about 1-2 cm wide and push it gently about 3 or 4 centimetres into the soil near one of the seedlings. Ease the knife back a little and pull upwards. You will have the little seedling and hopefully most of its roots on the knife. Now gently place it into the prepared hole, make sure the roots are all pointing downwards, carefully push the soil in around it and water in gently using a seaweed tonic to help them settle in quickly.
Congratulations. You have created life! Some seeds are trickier than others but with the right set up and a bit of water you can grow pretty well whatever you want.

Good luck.

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