Phoenix Gardening Course – Sow & Grow. Chapter 2

Carrying on from last week’s What, Where, When and How of sowing crops.  Now you’ve chosen your veggies and planned your layout, this week learn about sowing seeds and getting the best out of them when you pot them on and plant them out.

Cahpter 2 Seeds

1. Sowing Seeds

  • Start in seed compost with warmth & light and pot on into potting compost.
  • A good guide is to sow seeds to a depth twice the seed size; the larger the seeds, the deeper they need to be sown. Cover small seeds with THIN layer of compost.
  • It’s easier if we don’t have to thin seedlings, so try and sow thinly according to the packet’s directions.
  • Temperature:
    • For plants which are ‘Hardy’ (ie: can withstand freezing temperatures): 8-10C and can be sown direct. Eg: brassicas, peas, broad beans, onions, potatoes
    • For ‘Tender’ plants: 13-15C and start indoors in April, or sow outside from mid-May after the risk of frost has passed. Eg: squash, courgettes, runner beans, tomatoes, chilies

1a. Sowing seeds in seed trays/ modules

Reasons for sowing seed in containers:

  • Earlier crops for both hardy & tender varieties. For example, tomatoes & peppers take 20 weeks from sowing to harvest, so need an early start.
  • Easier to protect from slugs, birds & weather
  • Can start to grow if beds not ready, (e.g. compost not spread, previous crop still in ground)
  • Faster growth in warmth
  • Must have lots of light and need to be hardened off
  • Robust seedlings suffer less damage from pests, disease & weather (the plant tissues are harder)

1b. Sowing seeds direct into weed-free soil

  • Make a shallow drill (channel or hollow of soil) and water it
  • Sow seeds thinly then draw dry soil over them
  • Pat down to firm
  • Don’t forget to label!
  • Keep well watered until seeds appear and are well established with first pair of true leaves.

2. Potting on (for those seeds sown into modules or trays)

  • Pot on into potting compost (this has more nutrients than seed compost)
  • Hold by leaves not stem to avoid damaging the main systems of the plants for water and nutrients.
  • Plant deeper than in seed tray up to first leaves (NB: don’t do this if you have bought any ‘grafted’ vegetables, you must plant with graft site above the soil)

3. Hardening off

  • Acclimatise to outdoor conditions [not too exposed e.g. patio or cold frame]
  • Take seedlings out of doors for a week, bring in at night
  • Leave out at night also for another week unless weather is harsh

4. Planting out

  • If possible, put cloches (covers) in place to warm soil 2 weeks before planting out
  • Ensure root-balls soaked before planting
  • Water in well, draw dry soil up to stem
  • Replace cloches (ventilate) unless weather is warm & sunny and not windy
  • Protect plants from:
    • Cold
    • Wind
    • Weeds
    • Pests
    • Disease
  • Using:
    • Cloches: these can be made of glass or plastic
    • Nets: particularly for crops that birds are keen on!
    • Fleece: a woven fabric which allows sun and rain in but provides a physical barrier to pests and extreme weather
    • Mulch: any organic matter added to the surface of the soil, including cardboard, newspaper, bark chippings, compost, manure, grass clippings. Mulches keep moisture in & stop weeds and every organic garden needs them! See previous article on mulching.
    • Care & attention!  Happy Sowing!

Coming soon: further Sow & Grow Chapters which will concentrate on supporting soil and making compost and dealing with common pests.

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