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Beginners guide to Sowing Seeds

If you are thinking of starting a garden in January - seeds are a great place to start

Getting Started with seeds

  1. Order seeds as companies will run out as the season goes on. If you are a beginner then exercise self control – grow what you like and what is relatively undemanding.  Lettuce, cabbage, peas and beans, beetroot, pumpkins and courgettes are all well within anyone’s reach.  Potatoes and onions are also great for a beginner.  Herbs are also a good choice and also decorative so could perhaps go on the patio or in the flower garden.  Keep records – easy if you have a camera phone – it is very satisfying to see you garden grow and develop over the year.
  2. Try and have all your seed paraphernalia in one dedicated place. This will mean that you have no excuses when it comes to the great Spring rush of sowing.
  3. Your seedlings might need a bit of extra heat or light to get them growing. You could consider investing in a small propagator or heating matLED grow lights are also good for extending the season.

How To Sow Seeds.

Sowing seeds is a very rewarding thing to do – a little miracle that starts when you open the seed packet and continues on ‘till you end up with a beautiful plant.  One of life’s little pleasures – but only if you pay attention to the detail!

Modular tray with seedlings

Fill your chosen container with seed compost, level it firmly and  gently (the base of a jar is good for this) and then water well.  Either scatter or place your seeds on top and then cover with a thin layer of seed compost.

Label your seeds so you know what you have sown (it can be surprisingly easy to forget what you have sown!) lightly water again and cover with clear polythene or a sheet of glass, or place in a heated propagator with a lid.

Maintain a temperature of around 15 - 18ºC  unless the seed packet states otherwise. Check daily for emergence. Once germination occurs, the glass, polythene or propagator lid should be removed to increase ventilation.

It is a good idea to read the back of the seed packet before you start, as some seeds require specific sowing treatments, such as light-exclusion, temperature or scarification .

Seed plug with healthy roots

Small seeds can be sown into shallow seed trays and pricked out (transplanted) into larger pots while still very small.   Alternatively, they can be sown into a modular plug tray, one seed per plug.  This can be tedious but saves time in the long run as there is no need to pot on the young plants - they can be planted straight outside when big enough.  Large seeds can be sown individually into 9cm pots.   Seeds can also be sown outside once it is warm enough (end April onwards).

  • Always use viable, good quality seed. Seed that has been kept in the wrong conditions or is past its use by date will not necessarily give you a good level of germination.
  • Always use good quality seed compost – preferably organic.
  • Make sure you containers are clean.
  • Pay attention to watering.
  • Make sure the temperature is correct.
  • Avoid leggy seedlings by not sowing too thickly and paying attention to light and water.
  • Keep records of what you do.

Damping off

Damping off is caused by soil-borne fungi which infect seedlings and causes them to either collapse and decay or to not emerge at all.  It is worse when you have a high level of humidity and poor air circulation.  Damping off is especially damaging in spring when light levels and temperatures are low and seedlings grow slowly.

Control measures

  • Always use good quality compost.  If using your own then consider steam sterilising it.
  • Make sure your pots are clean and free of old compost.
  • Sow seedlings thinly to avoid crowding.
  • Use clean water.  If using rainwater make sure the butts are kept clean and free from debris.
  • Do not overwater.
  • Keep seedlings well ventilated.
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