The transformation of a seed to a plant is a true wonder of nature. Here are some tips if you’d like to start some seeds of your own in pots. We’ll be sowing salad and herbs for summer at the ‘sow your salad leaves and herbs’ workshop on Saturday 14 October 2017 at the Environment Centre Hawke’s Bay.
Sowing seeds in pots means we can sow earlier in the season than outside. Some plants don’t like to be moved so we have to sow them direct, particularly root vegetables. Sowing in pots involves more work, but we’re likely to get a greater success rate as the seeds get more attention and protection when they’re at their most vulnerable. If we’re short of space we can have seedlings waiting in pots when a space comes free in our garden.
There’s nothing wrong with buying seedlings, but seeds offer us more choice of varieties. Buy from somewhere they are well cared for.
1. give them a good start with good potting mix
The potting mix provides the seedling with nutrients and water. Most mixes allow good drainage and are sterilised so we won’t get any weeds. I don’t usually bother buying seed raising mix although some potting mixes are too lumpy and we need a fine one for seed raising. Certified organic potting mix can be difficult to find – some is labelled ‘organic’ but this just means it comes from organic matter (usually bark-based) which is the case for all mixes.
2. choose your pot
We need a pot that’s big enough to let the seedlings’ roots to grow as long as it’s in the pot. I sow two or three seeds in a pot for each seedling I need and pull out the extra ones if they all emerge. I use ten centimeter square pots or small individual pots. I don’t use seed trays as I don’t like all the disturbance to the seedling roots when you try to separate the seedlings to plant them out.
Another alternative is to sow lots of seeds in a pot and then ‘prick’ them out into bigger pots. I think this just adds work and disturbs the seedlings unnecessarily, unless we need a lot of seedlings. Why not sow four lettuces this week and another four next week rather than to have eight all ready all at the same time.?
3. water, sow, water
I fill my pots to the top with potting mix, tap them to settle the mix and water with a fine spray. Then I make a small depression in the centre (about 5mm deep) with my finger and sow two or three seeds for small seeds. The depression gives the seed its own mini micro-climate. It also ensures the water flows towards the seed and makes it less likely that the seed washes away.
For larger seeds (cucumbers, melons, zucchinis) I just use one seed per pot and press them into the soil about the depth of the width of the seed.
For small seeds I don’t cover them with soil. I water them after sowing using a hand-sprayer to give a fine mist or a hose with a misting setting. Unless you find a watering can with a very fine rose (which I haven’t yet in New Zealand), a watering can will deliver too much water and may wash your seeds away. Once they are up and established you can use a watering can safely.
4. label your pots
I find the label on my seeds can be the only record I have of when I started something so I always label my seeds with the variety and date of sowing. I get into a routine of always labelling my pot at the same stage in the process, for example after I sow. Some seeds are difficult to see and I find I’ll forget what and whether Ive sown and end up with empty pots or ones with twice as many seeds as I needed.
5. keep them moist and at the right temperature
Check your seeds daily to ensure they don’t dry out. They may need shelter from sun and wind to keep them moist. Keep them at an even temperature if possible. Kings Seeds catalogue gives some great information about preferred germination temperatures and how long things take to germinated – do you know how long two weeks seems when you’re waiting for seeds to emerge? Once the seedlings emerge, choose the healthiest seedling and pinch off the others so you don’t disturb the roots of the one you’re keeping.
Watch out for slugs and snails particularly if your seedlings are outside. Birds and mice can eat seeds too. Fresh seed germinates best but if you look after your seed you’ll find it will last two or three seasons at least. Once you see roots poking through the bottom of the pots it’s time to plant the seedlings out or move them into a bigger pot.