Grow vegetables from seed

How to Grow Veg from Seed

Growing your own veg has become a very popular thing to do. This is because it is a much more cost effective way of feeding your family. Not only this, but there is nothing more rewarding than a fantastic crop of tasty veg that you have grown yourself. It gives you the opportunity to experiment with different varieties to grow. Therefore, you will find something that really suits your taste buds.

The size of the seeds you are sowing determines the exact method you should use to sow the seeds. However, the principal is the same. The compost is a very important part of growing successful veg from seed. We advise using Gro-Sure Seed and Cutting Compost, because this is specifically developed to ensure perfect growing conditions for seed germination. It contains Vermiculite, which aids drainage and aeration, as well as being enriched with seaweed to stimulate strong seed germination. It is a fine compost which is great for sowing seeds because it maximises contact. Here is how you sow the seeds!

Sowing

Small seeds:

  1. When sowing small seeds it is best to sow in a seed tray. Fill the seed tray with compost and gently press down to flatten the compost. Water the compost so that when you plant the seeds the water doesn’t wash the seeds the way.
  2. Take the seed pack and open the packet into the palm of your hand. Lightly sprinkle the seeds over the compost surface, spacing it as evenly as possible. If the seeds are clumped together, then they will out compete each other and not grow properly.
  3. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of vermiculite to help insulate them.
  4. Label the plants and cover with a propagator lid or cling film to keep them warm.
  5. Once the plants have germinated and filled the seed tray, you can plant the individual seedlings into their own small pot. Simply loosen the soil, and carefully remove the seedling, and put it into a pot adding more soil if needed. Make sure you are careful not to damage the roots.

Large seeds:

  1. Larger seeds such as French beans do not need sowing into a seed tray because for ease of planting out you sow each seed in a separate small pot. Fill several small pots with compost.
  2. Take a dibber or a pencil to make a small hole in each pot. Place one seed into each of these holes and then cover over with compost.
  3. Give the pots a light water and cover with a propagator lid or cling film until the seeds germinate.

Sowing direct:

A large amount of vegetables can be sown directly in the garden such as broccoli, cabbage and carrots. Seeds can be sown into prepared beds in spring, summer and autumn.

  1. Prepare the soil on where you are going to sow the seeds to a fine consistency. This is because if the soil is in large clods and heavy then it is going to be hard for the shoot to push through. The bed should also be covered over with a layer of fleece a couple of weeks in advance to sowing to warm up the soil. Try and add some organic materials, such as Gro-Sure Farmyard Manure to introduce more nutrients into the soil.
  2. Create a drill (small depression in the soil) for the seeds to be sown into. The depth that the seeds should be sown at depends on the type of vegetable so it is best to read the seed pack. However, it is normally three times as deep as the diameter of the seed. Water the drill before sowing the seeds.
  3. Sow the seeds thinly with good spaces between each seed. If they are too close then they will be competing for nutrients, light and soil against each other. For large seeds aim for spaces of about 4cm (1 to 2 inches) between each seed. For smaller seeds it is harder to get this accurate spacing, but sow evenly and thinly across the whole area.
  4. Gently cover the seeds with soil and place a label in the soil. Use a fleece to cover the area where the seeds are sown.

Thinning out

Thinning out is the process of removing seedlings from the vegetable patch or seed tray when they are young. This is an important thing to do because it helps to prevent overcrowding as they grow bigger. Once the seeds have germinated and are about 2cm (1 inch) tall, thin them out so that you leave one good plant every 10cm (4 inches). The more room that you give the plants, the stronger they will grow, meaning you produce better vegetables.

Planting out

When the danger of frost has passed, vegetable plants can be planted out directly into the garden soil. Here are the steps to planting out:

  1. To start with the plants need ‘hardening off’. This is acclimatising them to the outdoors before planting them out. To do this, place your plants outside during the day and then back into the shelter at night.
  2. Prepare the planting area by digging over with a garden fork, while also removing weeds. This should create a fine tilth.
  3. Work out the correct spacing and position for your vegetable plants. Dig a hole for each plant.
  4. Take each plant out of its pot and position in the prepared hole. Fill in around the roots with your compost and firm in gently. Water each plant throughout the growing season.

Plants that grow tall such as peas and beans will need staking to support their growth. Bamboo canes are a good support to.

Feeding

To maximise the crop of vegetable that is produced it is advisable to feed the plants. Sulphate of Ammonia is a great food for vegetable plants. This is because it has a very high nitrogen content. This improves leaf colour, encourages strong steam development and promotes lush, green vegetables.

Following this guide will mean that you produce a juicy and divine crop of vegetables which you can proudly state you have grown from seed!

Growing Vegetables With Seeds

Many people, such as myself, enjoy growing vegetables from seeds. Using the seeds from your garden’s previous growing year not only can provide you with the same succulent produce, but it is also a good way of saving money.

Finding Vegetable Seeds

When you’re obtaining seeds to grow a vegetable garden for the first time, you may want to select them from a catalog specializing in vegetable gardening. These sources are typically ideal for beginners, as they provide useful information, better quality and a wider selection. Start with familiar varieties that are easy to grow. The seeds should be ordered well in advance of planting time and after you have planned your gardening space and individual needs. Ordering this way will help ensure that you purchase the proper amounts.

If you already have a garden and want to collect seeds for the following year, save only seeds from non-hybrid or open-pollinated varieties. Take the seeds from fleshy varieties such as tomatoes or melons when they are at their ripest; collect beans once they have fully dried out. Clean the seeds and allow them to dry thoroughly. Be sure to store your seeds in airtight containers that are placed in areas which are cool and dry.

How to Grow Vegetables from Seeds

Seeds can be planted directly into the soil of your garden, or you may start them indoors.

Growing Vegetables Seeds Indoors

Start your vegetable seeds indoors about four to six weeks before the growing season begins. Many people prefer to place seeds in flowerpots, paper cups or small flats. If there is no outlet for drainage, be sure to place small holes in the bottoms of your chosen container beforehand. Fill the flat or other acceptable container with a suitable growing medium such as vermiculite or equal parts of sand, peat moss and soil. Soilless potting mix can also be used.

Sprinkle seeds onto the soil and cover them according to their proper planting depth found on the seed packet. You also may refer to planting guides found in many garden centers or catalogs. Lightly moisten with water and keep the seeds in a sunny location, such as a windowsill. The location should stay reasonably warm and receive at least six hours of full sunlight. Additionally, the flats can be placed in a cold frame where they will receive ample amounts of sunlight, ventilation and a suitable temperature.

Placing bricks or concrete blocks under flats will help supply additional heat, if needed. Once the seedlings have developed leaves, they can be transplanted into other suitable containers to prevent them from becoming weak. The plants need to be hardened off for about two weeks before planting them into the garden. Water plants generously prior to moving them out to the garden.

Planting Vegetable Seeds Directly in the Garden

When planting directly into the garden, sow seeds in shallow furrows with plenty of moisture. Use a rake to create the furrows for sowing seeds. After seedlings show signs of healthy growth, you can thin them as needed. Pole beans, squash, cucumbers, corn, and melons often are planted in hills of 8 to 10 seeds and thinned to two to three plants per hill once they have reached adequate size. You can also interplant faster growing varieties of crops between the slower ones.

Keep in mind that different types of vegetables have different needs; therefore, it’s best to refer to the individual seed packets or other resource that shows the quantity of seeds required for a given space and plan accordingly. Once harvesting season has begun, you can start collecting your favorite seeds and continue reaping their rewards for years to come.

~ Tips for Beginners ~

If you are just starting out growing vegetables, here are a few bits of advice we think might help:

Tip 1: Don’t buy too much seed.

It is really easy to get overenthusiastic and carried away reading catalogues. Lots of first-time gardeners order huge amounts of seed, far more than necessary or advisable. If you try to grow loads of different things, and try to learn how to garden at the same time, you won’t be able to look after them all properly, and you may end up discouraged.
We think you will do best trying fewer things the first year, as you’ll be able to give them each more attention and learn from what they do. In general, if you spend more than £20 or £25 on seed in your first year, you may be setting your sights too high. Growing veg is really easy & fun, but it is a learning process and you need to walk before you can fly . . . .

Tip 2: Read the instructions

All of our seed packets have basic sowing instructions for the variety printed on the label. Do read these before starting! Make sure to check sowing times – sowing too early into cold soil is usually worse than sowing a bit late.

Tip 3: Get a really clear gardening book.

If you are a complete gardening novice, we would recommend getting hold of a good book from your library. We recommend Joy Larkcom’s book Grow Your Own Vegetables, which is very clear and easy to follow.

And some general guidelines:

Vegetables need light, space and water . . .
and suitable soil to grow in. Sadly, you can’t grow a vegetable garden in the shade – you really need your plants to be in the sun for most of the day.

If the weather is dry, you’ll need to water your crops. Before deciding that you need to water, dig down a couple of inches, you’ll often find that the soil is quite damp enough down by the plants’ roots. If you do need to water, it is much better to water thoroughly a couple of times a week rather than a little bit every day. The aim is to make sure that there is plenty of water deep down. Pots and containers are an exception to this – they’ll need watering every day in summer, and possibly twice a day if the weather is very hot.

Most garden soil is fine for growing vegetables, though you’ll need to think about keeping it fertile from year to year. The best way to do this on a garden scale is to make plenty of compost from all your weeds, kitchen scraps, lawn mowings etc. Most councils offer free or subsidised ‘dalek bins’ and often advice on composting too.

Sowing in pots or trays
If you want to start your seedlings in trays, modules or small pots (many can be sown direct in the garden), you’ll need to buy ‘seed compost’. This is a special mixture for sowing into, different from the garden compost that you make at home. You can make it yourself, but its best to buy from a reliable source for your first few growing seasons. Peat free compost is best, but you need a good quality one – ask your local garden centre to recommend a good brand for seed sowing.

Weeds are easy to kill when small.
Getting over run by weeds is really bad for your crops – it’s not just light but water and nutrients they steal in huge amounts. Many people leave the weeding until too late – once they get their roots down it is hard work to pull them out – especially without disturbing your plants.

But the secret is this: when only an inch or two high you can kill them with a very light and easy hoeing. Weed on a hot dry day and they die from the damage with no chance to recover and re-root.

Cold spells will prevent seeds germinating.

Seeds need a certain number of hours of warmth to germinate. Your seeds may not germinate on a windowsill or greenhouse even when they days are warm – because they are getting too cold at night. If you are having problems with germination, 99 times out of a hundred, you need more steady heat.

An easy test is to wrap the ‘stuck’ pots & trays in a carrier bag (to keep them damp) and stick them in the airing cupboard for 2 days. Often they will come up straight away.

Once you see the problem you can come up with other solutions: Bring your seed in from the greenhouse at night. Or cover it with cardboard boxes , or a quilt or something at night to keep the heat in.

We actually germinate a lot of our seed in the airing cupboard, and whip it out into the greenhouse as soon as it comes up. It doesn’t need such high or constantly high temperatures once it has germinated – but it does need light once it has broken the surface of the soil.

And finally: Learn to save your own seed.

Seed saving is VERY EASY. Even doing it really well is still PRETTY EASY. It constantly amazes us that people keep buying seed from us year after year. There’s really no excuse, we give you seed saving instructions with every packet, and we offer a subsidised seed-saving book, so there’s no need to give us your hard-earned cash for the same seed next year.

Seed saving allows you to select varieties that suit your soil, keep growing veg that are commercially unavailable, and will give you really great seed to share with your friends. We won’t be doing this for ever (maybe another 10 or 20 years at most), so if you want to keep on growing these great varieties, you should have a go at keeping your own seed occasionally.

Do read our free instructions though and check the basics:

  • might it cross?
  • if so what do I do to fix that?
  • have I chosen the right number of plants?
  • have I chosen the good plants?
  • how to physically do to clean up the seed ?
  • have I dried the seed really well?

All the answers are easy, by the way.

And also: Befriend the oldest gardener you can find.

You will learn the most from the oldest gardeners. Want to know when to sow cabbages? Find the oldest person you can who has truly great cabbages, and do exactly whatever they say*. They will have seen it all, and they will know what you can and can’t get away with in your particular local climate and soil.

*of course, if they use F1 Hybrid seeds, lots of chemicals and pesticides, then this doesn’t count. But in that case their cabbages won’t actually be truly ‘great’ cabbages, they’ll just be big shiny cabbages full of toxic residues, which isn’t the same thing at all, so the advice still holds.

But most of all, enjoy growing your food, and pay attention to what is happening to the plants as they grow, and you can’t go too far wrong.

Growing veggies from seed (successfully!)

Why grow from seed?

©Maria Ciavarella, My Green Garden
It’s good to grow many veggies from seed for a variety of reasons:

  1. Its fun – and it always exciting seeing the seeds germinate.
  2. The variety available from seed is much greater than seedlings.
  3. It’s far cheaper buying a packet of seed than a punnet of seedlings.
  4. Some are dead-easy to grow from seed and others just don’t do well when transplanted from seedling punnets.
  5. Excess seedlings become another “commodity” to take to swap-meets.
  6. If growing heirloom varieties, seed saving can be done and so you minimise the inputs into your garden – closing the loop.

However, you do need to be a bit more organised, knowing what to sow when and not missing the
time bracket. It is also more time consuming, sometimes with a few extra steps involved before the
seedlings are ready to plant.

What is involved?

Soil temperature
This is one of the most critical factors when getting seeds to germinate. Warm season veggies
especially need heat to activate germination.
Check soil temperatures by:

  • Using charts to indicate when the timing is right
  • Using a soil thermometer for more accurate readings
  • Using the palm of your hand on the soil to feel the warmth

When the soil is still cold outside, you can start summer veggies by:

  • Germinating seeds indoors
    • Use a hot spot in your house e.g. top of an indoor hot water unit; or the top of the refrigerator
    • A sunny window sill
  • Using a purpose-made heat bed for seed-raising
  • Using an outdoor greenhouse structure.

Direct sowing in ground

This is used when soil temperature is in the correct range for:

Hints for sowing carrots

I use fine tea leaves and mix the carrot seed with that. You could also use fine sand. Make shallow drills in finely tilled soil (one that has not been recently fertilised) and dribble the seed/leaves mixture in the drills.

Water carefully. Cover the drill with some shade cloth or a narrow plank of wood to help avoid the seed drying out. Check regularly to see if germination has occurred and lift the cover as soon as you see green. Thin the growing stems to about 5cm apart and then eventually to about 10cm apart. If this is all too hard, there is carrot seed tape available which makes it very easy to sow.

Hints for sowing basil and spinach

Sowing in-situ is dicey with these as they are very temperature dependant (basil needs heat, spinach prefers cooler soil temps). Instead of directly in the ground, use the 2-step method described below (using several seeds per biodegradable pot) in an environment where you can provide the correct temperature. When the seedlings get big enough, plant the pot in the ground.

You could also sow them directly in the ground (at the correct temp) but cover the rows with fine mesh or similar to keep out marauding fauna pests until the seedlings can look after themselves.

In direct seed sowing (2-step)

This is used for seeds that are

  • grown early, before it is warm enough or cool enough
  • or that are very small to handle and may get lost in the garden

You will need some sort of seed-raising medium. This is different to potting mix as it is only the medium to hold the seed moist until it germinates. The seed contains enough food to get it germinating so the seed-raising mix need not be nutritious.
You can use;

  • a seed-raising mix, available at nurseries
  • sterilised compost
  • make your own from a 50:50 mix of fine dry cow manure: propagating sand or 50:50 coir peat: propagating sand
  • good potting mix for larger seeds is ok.

Step 1
Sow the seed in the moistened mix in a biodegradable pot and cover seed with twice its depth of the mix. Water using a fine mist. Do not allow to dry out as this will kill emerging seedlings. Use seedling punnets for lettuces, onions and silver beet.

Step 2
The cotyledons (baby leaves) will appear first, followed by the first set of true leaves. Once the seedlings appear, they will need feeding by you in the form of weak seaweed solution or a diluted liquid organic tea. When the seedlings are about 10 cm tall, or when they have two sets of true leaves, plant the biodegradable pot straight into your prepared garden bed; or (from punnets) prick out each seedling individually and pot this into the garden bed.

In direct seed sowing (3-step)

This is used for seeds grown early, before the outdoor soil is warm enough.
Step 1
Sow the seed in individual jiffy pellets and keep them warm.
Step 2
When the second set of true leaves appear, place the jiffy pot straight into a biodegradable newspaper pot or individual tube pot. The seedlings will continue to grow in these while waiting for the soil temp to warm up.
Step 3
When the soil has warmed up adequately, plant them into their
permanent position. You may still need to protect them from
cold nights if you are planting early for summer.

Hints for success

  • In step 1, plant what you need plus a few more in case some fail to thrive.
  • Water the seedlings in step 2 with a cooled chamomile tea. This helps prevent “damping-off”, a fungal problem with seedlings.
  • Make your own “watering can” suitable for seedlings using a plastic milk bottle with holes pierced in the lid.
  • To warm up outdoor soil, keep mulch pushed away so the sun can heat the dark soil.

OTHER NOTES

  1. Some seeds benefit from being soaked overnight prior to planting out (e.g. beetroot, legumes, sweet corn).
  2. Anticipate a 6-week process up to the point of planting out, compared to buying seedlings.
  3. Collect toilet paper rolls for sowing sweet corn or sunflower seeds as they like to put down deep roots.
  4. For most vegies, it is worthwhile growing from seed but for others, such as onions, you get so many in a punnet that you may as well buy seedlings, unless you are after a particular variety not available as seedlings. If you do grow from seed, it’s easier to use the in-direct 2-step method, planting out after the initial germination (no need to plant on before going into soil).
  5. Some seed need to be fresh and should be purchased every year (e.g. sweet corn, parsnip).
  6. Some seeds are now available in seed tapes or seed mats, making the spacing and sowing much easier.

For instructions on making the biodegradable pots out of newspaper:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQVFtq1B4Nc

Timing for seed sowing

(Reference: Sow What When Chart – Diggers)

COOL SOIL 10oC SOWING METHOD MILD SOIL 12oC SOWING METHOD
Broad beans Direct Beetroot Direct
Broccoli Indirect (2-step) Cabbage Indirect (2-step)
Kale Indirect (2-step) Carrot Direct
Leek Indirect (2-step) Cauliflower Indirect (2-step)
Onions Indirect (2-step) Celery Indirect (2-step)
Pak Choy Indirect (2-step) Lettuce Direct or Indirect (2-step punnets)
Peas Direct Rocket Direct or Indirect (biodegradable pots)
Radish Direct Silver beet Direct or Indirect (2-step)
Spinach Direct or Indirect (biodegradable pots) Coriander Direct or Indirect (biodegradable pots)
Spring Onion Indirect (2-step punnets)

WARM SOIL 15oC+ SOWING METHOD VERY WARM SOIL 18oC SOWING METHOD
Beans Direct Capsicum Indirect (3-step)
Sweet corn Direct (toilet rolls) Chilli Indirect (3-step)
Cucumber Direct or Indirect (biodegradable pots) Eggplant Indirect (3-step)
Pumpkin Direct or Indirect (biodegradable pots) Rockmelon Direct or Indirect (biodegradable pots)
Tomato Indirect (3-step) Watermelon Direct or Indirect (biodegradable pots)
Zucchini Direct or Indirect (biodegradable pots)
Basil Direct or Indirect (biodegradable pots)

Notes prepared by Maria Ciavarella, My Green Garden, February 2013 for Moonee Valley and Hobsons Bay City Council’s My Smart Garden program.

Growing Summer Veggies From Seed

If you love growing your own vegetables over summer then you’ll be pleased to know that many of them are easily grown from seed. The most popular vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumber, pumpkin, zucchini, beans and corn are great for beginners and there are many advantages to choosing seeds over seedlings.

Seeds are much cheaper than seedlings and will generally last a couple of years if stored correctly, as long as the use-by date is still current.

Choosing seeds instead of seedlings has a great environmental benefit. Seedlings are heavy to transport and use a lot of plastic, water and embodied energy in their production, whereas seeds are light, easy to transport and use minimal packaging.

You also have a much greater choice if you grow from seed, as only a small selection of the most popular vegetable varieties are produced as seedlings. You are not limited to what is available at the local nursery but can also take advantage of mail-order seed companies.

If you prefer to grow organic produce, choose seeds, as most seedlings aren’t produced organically, whereas there is a large range of organic seeds available.

If you grow open-pollinated, non-hybrid seed then you can save your own seed from year to year and cut out the middleman all together. Seed saving is a delight all of it own!

Growing from seed means that you can save space in the garden by propagating many plants close together, in a separate area first, rather than having to make room in the garden. Having your seedlings growing in a protected, sheltered area makes it easier to protect them from the cold and also from insects, snails and slugs. It allows you to get your plants growing strongly, ready for planting once the soil temperature has increased and they are more resilient to attack.

Propagating some vegetables first also means that, if you are pressed for time, you can simply check your seedlings for watering, rather than the garden beds, as your seeds and emerging seedlings will require more frequent attention than the established vegetables.

What do I need to seed?

Collect a few items first, before getting started. Seeds can be grown in egg cartons, toilet rolls or newspaper pots (see www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/paper-pots/9431122). You can also propagate them in washed second hand punnets or seedling trays. If you are using toilet rolls snip at frequent intervals around the base and then fold in to create a bottom.

You also need a growing medium and seed raising mix or potting mix is fine. Potting mix can be a bit coarse so sift if necessary to get the big bits out.

You need a place to put the seeds once you have sown them. A warm, sheltered spot away from frost is best. This can be on the veranda, a sunny windowsill or under a cold frame or plastic cover.

Be careful not to disturb the seeds with watering so use a very fine rose on your watering can or a spray bottle.
Are you direct or indirect? To sow direct means to plant the seed straight into the garden bed. This is normally done for larger seeds or very fine seed that does not like to be disturbed, such as carrots or onions. Beans can be sown directly, for example, as they are large, easily spaced out and they germinate easily. The instructions on the back of the seed packet will tell you whether to sow direct or indirect.

Pricking out

The term pricking out means to gently move the new seedlings into a larger pot, and is done if the seedlings have been propagated in a punnet or tray rather than individually. Use a chopstick or similar item to lever the seedlings out from below, being careful not to pull on the leaves or stalk. This is generally done once the seedling has the first true leaves or is about an inch long. Place into a larger pot prepared with potting mix and firm the soil around the roots gently. It is much better to plant deeply at this stage, especially with tomatoes, as the seedling may fall over if it is too shallow and tomatoes will develop roots along the stem.

If you have grown your seeds individually in compostable pots, such as toilet rolls or jiffy pots, then you can simply plant them straight into the garden once they are large enough and the weather has become warmer.

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