For those of you who have been following our blog for a while, you will have read much of the detail we’re going to include below before. However, we think that sowing seeds well is super important when it comes to growing strong plants and ultimately being successful (most of the time!) with your vegetable crops. Therefore, apologies in advance, but we’re going to cover it again below.
Seeds come in lots of shapes and sizes. Therefore, the sowing method should be appropriate to the type of seed you’re dealing with. There are very few things that we sow directly in the soil as we find that there are too many outside sources acting against you – birds, rodents, cats, and the weather, to name just a few!
For most smaller seeds, we sow them in 1/4 seed trays in Seed & Potting compost. This is a finer grade than multipurpose compost, so we prefer to use it for seeds and young seedlings where we can. The trays are about 2/3rds filled and then given a light watering with a fine rose watering can to moisten the compost. You can fill the seed trays with more compost if you like, but we find that 2/3rds is sufficient for the seeds to get enough root before they are pricked out into another pot, but without wasting too much compost in the process.
Before the seeds are sown, we then use our handy “wooden block”. It literally is nothing more fancy than that! But the end of it acts as a great tool for gently pressing down the compost. It’s important to do this to prevent water and air pockets in the compost. A water pocket can drown your young seedling and cause it to damp (or rot) off. Equally, an air pocket gives nothing for the root to grow in to, so is no good either.
You need to be careful not to compact the compost too much as well, as that’ll just give the seed a harder time than necessary in trying to send its roots down. The trick with seed sowing, is to try and give the seeds as easy a start in life as possible!
There are a couple of other things that we think are really important when sowing seeds:
- Making sure that you label your seed trays. This is especially important if you are sowing more than one thing at the same time, and especially especially important if they are multiple varieties of the same type of vegetable! It only takes a few seconds to write a label, and it saves so much heartache if you forget and then have to wait all the way until the plant grows a fruit to determine whether it was a beefsteak or a cherry tomato you sowed in which tray a few months before!
- Carefully placing seeds in the seed tray where you can, rather than just scattering them. This is for two reasons. The first is that having seedlings come up a decent space apart in the tray makes the pricking out job a lot easier – something which is a godsend when you’re dealing with small seedlings! The second is that the “scatter” method can waste so many seeds, which you end up throwing away as you don’t have the room to grow them on. The leftover seeds can instead be saved for a future sowing (or even a future year if the seed is still viable!)
Another thing, is that you don’t have to use up the whole seed tray! Again, this wastes seeds and compost unnecessarily. As you can see below, we divided the seed tray in two with a plant label to distinguish between the two varieties of tomatoes we had sown here.
We sowed several varieties of tomatoes, all kindly sent to us by a good gardening friend who is a member of The National Vegetable Society like us. They are all new varieties to us, but ones that they have tried before and would recommend. The varieties we sowed were: Shimmer, Pink Honeymoon, Red Zebra and Honeycomb. In addition, we sowed some Brandy Boy, a new beefsteak variety for us this year that was recommended by another grower we know.
As well as tomatoes, we did an early sowing of courgettes. These are Midnight, the container variety we love to grow (and eat!) The tray for these was prepared in exactly the same way, with the seeds being sown on their edge as you can see in the photo.
After sowing, the seeds were covered with a pinch of vermiculite to exclude the light whilst they germinate. If you don’t have this, you can use a fine covering of compost instead.
The seeds were then put on the propagator and we’ll monitor their progress this week. Fingers crossed we get good germination and we can show you some photos of the young seedlings soon!