Waikanae Be Green's Monique Engelen has started a blog! Check out Mo's Green Corner - a beautiful space where Monique shares stories about life, her green journey and gardening expertise.
So you’ve just been to a seed swap but despite your initial enthusiasm you're not quite sure where to start? Rather than just sprinkling those packets on the garden and hoping for the best, follow Monique’s "Sowing Seed's... Sounds Simple" guide to get those little babies growing...
How many of us have tried to sow seeds and it’s been a bit hit and miss? I know I gave up a few years ago except for peas and beans, and bought seedlings. Must say those Awapuni bundles at our Pak ‘n Save are pretty darn good if you’re having to buy them – and so many more in a bundle than a punnet – AND they don’t use plastic!
But no more! It’s really a lot easier than I thought and the time to sow is now!
Many of us will be all stocked up on seeds from New World’s Little Garden promotion. Fantastic to see a promotion where kids are excited to be growing plants! Bit scary that the dirt resembles nothing I’ve seen before (pretty cool though), but we’re rolling with it. There are however great crops that are missing from the promotion that you might want in the garden. Peas, beans, zucchini, and you may need more than 6 carrots to see you through summer.
So the quick how-to and tips that I picked up!
Those paper pots can be sourced from The Warehouse at $5 for 24 which would be a great to foster the kids’ participation. These would also be a nice start to a birthday present for all ages.
However these are a bit pricey for me with the amount of seeds I plan to sow and I have some spare plastic pots hanging around so that’s what I will use. Just give them a bit of a wash to make sure no fungus is lurking. Some people try egg cartons, yoghurt containers with holes in them – see what you have. Best results are probably gotten though by having around 6 or 7cms of soil depth.
So there’s potting mix and seed raising mix. The difference being seed raising mix has more pumice for drainage and the soil has been sieved so the smaller seeds don’t have such a hard job pushing upwards. There is normally also some fungicide. Now the big tip I have here – buy a small bag of seed raising mix. You only need it for the top 2cms to get the seeds going. Potting mix in the bottom, seed raising mix on top (feel free to use seed raising mix for the whole pot but it is a lot more economical this way).
So there’s some seeds you sow directly – ie pumpkins and zucchini, but they’re equally fun to grow in pots and plant out. When you sow these large seeds directly (normally you wait till beginning of November to plant out directly however the soil seems much warmer earlier this year!), plant in groups of 3 seeds and DO remove the two weakest ones when they’re about 5 cms high – I would just snip the stem at the base so I didn’t disturb any roots.
Peas and beans you can also sow directly now and for some of them you can plant most of the year around – in lines with a thought of how you will support those climbing varieties. Remember plant as deep as the seed is high.
Only sow carrots directly – a fine layer of soil on top. Because the seeds are tiny they are not meant to be sown deep. A good tip is after watering in to lay a plank or piece of wood on top and keep an eye for when they’ve sprouted (check after Day 5). This keeps the seeds moist and stops cats messing about with your lovely lines!!
Other plants, ie tomatoes, lettuce, capsicum, cucumbers, basil… will be best suited to being sown in containers.
A quick note that when the seeds state F1 hybrid – you normally can’t harvest the seeds and get the same as the parent. I still bought these for capsicums as I want GOOD capsicums, but if you want to save seeds, avoid these.
For most of the other plants, planting in pots and then potting out or into the next container will increase your germination success. So clean your pot, potting mix in, then 2cms seed raising mix. Water. Sow seed. At this point take care positioning your seeds, even the finer ones as it means there will be less root disturbance when you go to move them. For larger seeds, I would use those compartmental plastic seedling containers so there is no need to pot on later. Then a layer of seed raising mix as high as the seeds – so some may be only JUST covered. Then SPRITZ with a spray bottle – this has been the best tip I have learned lately – it means we’re a lot more gentle to our seedlings when they emerge.
CARING FOR YOUR SEEDS/SEEDLINGS
This container is a cheap one from The Warehouse – the plastic is degrading in the sun but use it for my potted on plants.
|How you store your seeds will determine germination success too. A glasshouse – you are so lucky! A plastic house – I’m jealous (may have to build one over summer). But for most of us who don’t have much space, you can buy little plastic propagators OR you can wrap a plastic bag over the pot. This is what I’ve been doing and when it was cooler I would pop it in the hot water cupboard for faster germination. Snap lock bags work well if you seal them at the top – and no mess, no trays and a cute little environment for them. Just check by opening every couple of days – lightly touch soil to check moisture – if dry, add a spritz of water. Tiny seeds are very sensitive to too much water so just moist. Also snap in some new air. A windowsill is a good spot – or an area on the warmer side of the house. And so you wait… then as soon as the seeds start to germinate pop them in full light (if not already) or else they’ll get long or leggy stems.|
Just remember DO NOT OVER-WATER. Rot is what kills most seedlings!
If your plant leaves get quite yellow, they will be needing a bit of nitrogen. I would add a little bit of liquid blood and bone (Nitrosol) in my spritzer and just give them a little (blood and bone doesn’t affect pH too much unlike other fertilisers).
For those seeds planted directly outside, protecting them is a great idea if you have cats and also from birds. For plants like zucchinis – a plastic bottle with the bottom cut off is sufficient. Once carrots have germinated I would look into a cover such as chicken wire – The Ōtaki Hydroponics place has great cloches already made up for about $13 that I was looking into – just thinking of making something like that myself. And then those slugs and caterpillars! Slug slam or such may be necessary if you plant out young plants – my broccoli seedlings just got nailed and same with my basil. I wasn’t going to use such products but until I discover a new alternative I will keep it on hand. It’s gutting to see your hard work turn into bare stems.
POTTING ON / POTTING OUT
So the first two leaves you generally see are not proper leaves. Called cotyledons they’re part of the embryo and it’s normally the second or third set that are the true leaves. Note this as when you transplant you will hold onto the cotyledons not the new leaves. So there are grassy types of plants that you won’t need to worry about this with, but ‘non-grassy’ plants will have different looking second leaves and after those subsequent leaves have developed and are strong it’s a good time to pot on or out.
I do this at a bench at a good height (I mostly do it on my kitchen bench actually – until hubby builds me an outside potting table). I use a knife and slip it down between the plants and curve the knife upwards so the seedling is sitting along the knife will pop it in a prepared pot of soil with a finger dug hole. Plant the seedlings so those cotyledons are just above the soil, so you bury them to their ‘shoulders’. Just potting mix at this stage and no need to cover with a plastic bag. Then firm the soil around and moisten with the spritzer. Wind and rain protection is needed at this point so I pop them on a tray inside my little ‘plastic house’. Then watch the tray to see when the plants need more water. I water my tomatoes by the tray at this point too as sometimes they don’t like being foliar sprayed.
Depending on the plant I would plant out when they are larger and a more defined root mass (often you’ll see the roots snaking out of the bottom of the pot). At this point I would take the plant out during the day, popping it out of full sun for the days and bringing them in at night. I would do this for 3 to 4 days – it will help your plants acclimatise to the big wide outdoors.
Then congratulations you’ve grown seeds into plants – awesome you.
Look after your packs of unused seeds. They should last a couple of years in an airtight dark container – an old milo tin is perfect… or in a sealed plastic bag in a dark plastic bag in the shed – just dark and airtight. Fold the foil over and over in the seed packets to make airtight and hold the seeds together. AND share them. Our neighbourhood group had a seed swap and it was fantastic to do as I didn’t have to buy a lot of seeds. No one needs that many tomato seeds! Do it with friends – I know a few of mine who paused for a cup of tea were sent home with an array of little plastic bags.