Growing your own plants from seed is a great way to supply your own garden, not only is it a cheaper option but it also enables you to get more variety.
There are three essential conditions that all seeds need for germination air, heat and moisture and while not all seeds need to be grown in seed trays, using seedling trays means you can have greater control over their environment.
Start by filling your trays to about 1cm below the top of the tray, level off the soil and firm down gently with your hand, sow the seeds to the depth stated on the packet.
Cover the tray with glass, plastic or a sheet of paper. Covering will keep the seed moist and warm during germination. Lift the cover and water each day if necessary, the soil should be damp not wet. Use a mister to give you a finer spray and help avoid over watering. Once germinated, this is when you see green growth uncover they now need the light. Move your trays to a warm, sunny, sheltered position winter –filtered light is better than full sun.
As a rule of thumb your seeds are ready to put in the garden when they have produced at least four true leaves and have good strong stem growth. It is important to remember that if you have grown them inside you may need to harden them off before you transplant them in to the garden. Hardening them off is the process of gradually introducing them to the weather a little more each day. Seedlings are vulnerable to sudden changes in temperature so by hardening off you lesson the shock. The length of time you need to give them to harden will depend on your climate and the time of year but as a rule of thumb about 7-10 days will be enough. You may still need to cover them at night for a while especially in area prone to frosts. Plant only the strongest most viable seedlings stretched, stunned seedlings will perform poorly.
Seeds of hardier vegetable can be planted straight in to the ground, right where they you want them to grow; peas, beans and pumpkin fall in to this category. Prepare the ground by working through the soil some compost, break down any lumps and bumps to make it easier for the seed to sprout through the soil. Moisten the soil after you have planted the seeds.
Reading your seed packet
Most seeds especially the finer ones are hermetically sealed in foil – each packet will give you the date that the seeds will expire.
Each packet will state a batch lot, the year and or the month that they are due to expire; it is after this date that the rate of germination will decrease.
Maturity – This is the approx number of days, from the day you plant the seed to the day of harvest.
Germination this is the number of days between the seed being sown to when the first shoots appear.Sowing depth
This is the optimum depth for the seed, don’t plant any deeper as you risk the seed rotting before it germinates.
Plant space – Is how far apart between each plant when you transplant your seedlings in to the garden.
Failure to germinate
Always follow the planting depth instructions on the packet any deeper can lead to the seed rotting.
Over watering can also rot the seed so use a mister this will give you a finer spray prevent overwatering and is gentler on the soil –the soil should be damp not wet.
Seedlings wilt and collapse
Often referred to damping off this is a fungal disease and is due to over watering or lack of ventilation especially if using a greenhouse or hot humid conditions. Ensure you don’t over crowd your seedlings and they do get good air circulation. Before using your seedling trays again give them a good wash in a mild solution of Janola and warm soapy water.
Always use a seed raising mix when using any propagation tray or container it has a finer texture, making easier for the seed sprout to push through.
For sowing finer seeds tip your seeds out on a paper towel and using a pencil moisten the tip and touch to the seed, the seed will stick to the pencil, and then transfer to the mix.
Use scissors to prune out the smaller weaker seedlings when too many have germinated, cutting them off at the base leaving the better ones undisturbed.
Use your empty seeds packets to label your trays.
Slug and snails love tender young seedlings so also protect with slug and snail bait.