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The Essentials of Growing Seeds
Avoid the 3 big Mistakes People are making with growing Seeds
Don’t believe any tales of woe which tells you it’s hard to grow your own seedlings from scratch. It’s one of the simplest and most joyful jobs in the garden but in order to avoid disastrous mistakes, you do need to know seed growing essentials, failure with the basics can result in the loss of your entire tray of seedlings.
Home-grown seedlings, too, are often preferable to shop-bought stuff. You can, frequently, use better seed than the nursery chains use; and if you raise and care for them properly, in the sun, you can transplant them on even the hottest day without the need for ‘hardening off’.
Buy the best seed you can afford, always — and remember that special seed, is usually better quality – I prefer the heirloom varieties. Most first-class seed sellers have special seeds — look for them; and you’ll be more than pleased with the result.
The Essentials of Growing Seeds
Three essential points must be remembered, in seedling – raising; use only light, friable soil — never heavy, clayey stuff; never bury the seed deeply, and never allow the seed tray or bed to become dry.
It’s easiest to use small pots, or seed trays, but you’ll do just as well in a half-shaded patch of light soil in your garden — provided you can give it shelter from the rain. Rain washes off the surface soil and dislodges the seed. See that the box has sufficient holes or cracks to enable all surplus water to drain away easily; cover the bottom with half-an-inch of stone chips, charcoal, or sharp grit; then fill the box with light, loamy soil, containing almost half sand. Pat it down lightly, to level and firm it; and then spread your seed thinly on the surface. If the seed is very fine, mix some sand with it, to facilitate spreading — or cover the soil in the box with a fine film of white sand, to show you where the seed is falling.
Cover the seed with a very light coating of sieved earth — sieved manure is better still — and dip the tray gently into the water just deep enough to reach the tops of the sides, or put it in a tub, and the water will soak up through the bottom drainage holes, and saturate the soil, and the seed. When it is properly soaked, remove the tray, and let it all drain away.
Put the box where it will catch all the morning sun, with shade in the afternoon; and keep it damp always, even if you have to water it twice a day.
How to Prick Out Seedlings
Have ready a second seedling tray, prepared like the first one; and as soon as the plants are big enough to handle, prick them out, separate them individually, and put them in the second tray, about 10 cm or so apart. Do this in the shade.
Leave the box in full shade for two days, and then gradually push it out into the sun, until it can stay there all day (don’t forget the watering). When you want to transplant, you can lift them individually from the box, each with a ball of earth attached, and you won’t lose any of them, even on the hottest day. Top Tip: I use an old tablespoon for this job, gives you more precision than a trowel, and avoids getting too much dirt under your nails!
Top Tip: An effective rain shelter for a seed tray can be fashioned from a piece of fine wire gauze. Fix it on a frame at a steep angle over the box, and facing the weather. The gauze will let the sun through, but most of the rain, except in heavy wind, will drain off.
The object of watering the plants is one which is often misunderstood by the amateur. The idea is not to wet the foliage or to moisten the surface of the soil, but to apply the water so as to get it to the roots. The best system is to apply the water close to the stem so that it can easily get down to the roots and while watering thoroughly to prevent puddling or soaking of the soil. Wetting the foliage on dry days will cause the leaves of certain plants to scorch and some, such as Cabbage and Lettuce, often decay if left moist over night when the air is warm.
In watering, as an alternative to soaking the tray in water, use a hand pump spray bottle – it will give you a perfect seed-tray waterer, throwing a fine mist-like spray that cannot wash away the seed.
Seedlings Under Glass
In cold areas, and in cold weather anywhere, you must cover a seed tray with a sheet of glass, but the glass should be removed as early as possible after the young plants come through and the weather has warmed — if you leave them with glass protection for too long, the seedlings will become spindly, reaching up to the glass; and they’ll wilt quickly when you plant them out.
Reasons for Seedling Failure
Sometimes things don’t work out, if your seed tray isn’t a success, the cause probably will be one of these: insufficient water, allowing the surface soil to dry out; poor drainage to allow surplus water to escape; too heavy soil; or seed planted too deep or too shallow. And the chances are that the first-named will be the right one.
Disease in Seed Trays
Disease in seed trays can be disastrous — a soil-borne fungus rots the stems of seedlings at ground level, causing them to fall. It’s known as “damping off”; and it will spread, almost within hours, through a whole planting of seedlings. There is no cure that does not use nasty chemicals; so the soil used in the box should be discarded.