It's sow easy and budget-friendly to grow vegetables from seed. Here's how
Edible gardening guru Jane Griffiths has put together a simple beginner's guide
DIRECT SOW OR SEED TRAYS?
Vegetables with a central tap root (carrots, radish, beetroot, parsnips etc.) are sown directly, as transplanting damages their roots.
Seeds which take a long time to germinate and reach transplanting size (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower etc.) should be sown in seed trays.
Leafy greens (lettuce, rocket, mustard, chard, mizuna etc.), large-seeded beans and squash are easy to sow directly.
Tomatoes, basil, eggplants, peppers and chillies can be sown directly, but there are several advantages to sowing these in seed trays:
- Seeds can be nurtured more easily.
- Frost-tender plants can be sown under cover to get a head start on spring.
- It makes better use of limited space as something else can be growing in the beds.
- With smaller seeds, even careful direct-seeding can result in uneven plant spacing, as broadcasted seed falls in random patterns and not all seeds germinate. Seedlings however, can be transplanted into a spacing pattern best for optimum growth.
HOW TO SOW SEED IN SEED TRAYS
Fill trays with damp seedling mix (see recipe below) and press down firmly. Make dents (according to the depth on the packet) and drop in the seeds. Cover with seedling mix and gently firm down. Mist the surface with water until moist but not waterlogged. Label and place in a warm, light protected spot.
Once the seeds are sown, mist daily or twice a day in hot weather. Turn trays regularly to keep the seedlings growing straight.
SOWING SEED DIRECTLY
Seeds need a smooth surface with a fine tilth: clear the area and rake smooth. Cover evenly with a 1cm-deep layer of seedbed mix (see recipe below). Mist the surface until damp.
For small seeds, scatter evenly across the surface. Don't rake after sowing - this will make them congregate in one spot - rather poke the tines of the rake gently into the ground, evenly over the entire area. Cover with a light layer of finely sieved compost. Press down firmly using a flat piece of wood.
2 parts sieved compost
2 parts pre-wet coco peat
1 part pre-wet vermiculite
Organic seedling fertiliser
4 parts finely sieved compost
1 part worm castings
Organic seedling fertiliser
To sow in rows, make furrows the depth specified on the packet. Place seeds evenly, push the earth back over and gently press down.
For individually planted seeds, such as beans or squash, poke evenly spaced holes in the ground and pop a seed into each. Fill and gently press the soil down. When sowing tiny seeds, such as carrots, mix with sand before sowing. This helps to distribute them evenly.
Once seeds are sown, use a fine spray until well moistened. Keep seeds moist but not waterlogged until the seedlings emerge. Reduce watering to encourage seedlings to develop strong roots.
TIPS FOR SOWING SEEDS
- Birds will target newly sown areas. Protect with netting or upside-down plastic laundry baskets.
- Slugs and snails love munching freshly germinated seedlings. Surround seedbed with a barrier of metal pot scourers rolled into long sausages.
- Seed germination rates vary. Sowing two or three seeds per hole will guarantee at least one seedling but is a waste when using expensive seed. Rather sow one and if it doesn't germinate fill in the gaps later, resulting in a successive harvest.
- If seeds are sown too thickly, leave until about 7cm high. Thin by snipping them at the base with small scissors. Don't waste thinned seedlings, many are delicious - and healthy in salads.
• Griffiths is the author of several popular vegetable gardening books. Visit janesdeliciousshop.co.za