Here are a few pointers for you to bear in mind when you’re ready for sowing.
When you get your vegetables seeds you’ll notice there is lots of information on the seed packet; it’s worth reading this gem of information that covers sowing times, plant care and harvesting information.
Although you can keep and store seeds before sowing for a longer time than keeping young plants before planting, seeds still have a shelf-life. The sooner you sow, the better. The quality of seeds deteriorate with age. Store unopened packets of seeds in cold conditions. If you are storing seeds for successive sowing, reseal the packet and place the packet in an air-tight container.
When possible use new seed containers (trays and modules) for each new season. This reduces the likelihood of fungal diseases being carried across on containers from year to year.
Here are some of the basics for successful sowing;
Sowing small seeds in seed trays (peppers / celery)
1) Fill a seed tray / half seed tray with seed compost – which is light and contains a small but balance level of nutrients in the soil. Overfill and strike excess soil off with a board so that the seed tray is filled to the top with un-compressed soil.
2) Press the soil down evenly with a seedboard so there is a 1cm lip at the top.
3) Submerge the seed tray into a waterbath beneath so that the soil slowly absorbs the moisture from the bottom without disturbing the soil on top.
4) Sprinkle seed evenly on the soil level using the furrows in your palm and tapping the seed off with the other hand.
5) Cover the seeds with a small layer of vermiculite or perlite.
6) Water above with a fine hose and add fungicide to the first watering to guard against damping off.
7) Label and date the seeds and place in a cool light place
Sowing larger seeds in pots (like courgette/ runner beans)
1) Fill a 6-9cm pot with seed compost – which is light and contains a small but balance level of nutrients in the soil. Overfill and strike excess soil off with a board so that the seed tray is filled to the top with un-compressed soil.
2) Submerge the seed tray into a waterbath beneath so that the soil slowly absorbs the moisture from the bottom without disturbing the soil on top.
3) Press the seed/s into the soil to a depth of about 2cm using a dibber or pencil.
4) Water above with a fine hose and add fungicide to the first watering to guard against damping off.
5) Cover the seeds with more of the seed-compost.
6) Label and date the seeds and place in a cool light place
Keeping and storing seeds
Sowing as soon as possible is recommended. However should you need to keep seeds in store for a while, here are some pointers.
Seed packets are sealed so that they are air-less. This ensures a good shelf-life for seeds and keeps them in a dormant stage. If you open the seed packets and keep some seeds stored within for future use, their chance of germinating is reduced. If you are storing seed for future use, increase germination chances by storing them in as air-tight a container as you can.
Short term storage- Place your seed in a jar or plastic container. Seal the jar or container with a screw-on lid. Position in the refrigerator set to between 5 – 10°C.
Long term storage- The best practice is to open the packet immediately before you need to use the seed and reseal the packet with its special seal immediately after use, then place in the refrigerator.
Prevent fungal diseases
Seedlings are very prone to a disease called damping off. This is a fungal disease that occurs when your seeds have been sown too densely, and light and ambient temperature fluctuates too much.
To control the light levels and ambient temperature, invest in a seed propagator which regulates humidity levels and distributes light evenly to the seedlings beneath. The micro-climate has a controlled temperature too that prevents damping off.
Knowing the lingo
When your seeds germinate you should notice that the first pair of leaves look different to the leaves that come after. This is because the first pair of leaves are the seed leaves, that provided the seed with food but have the ability to photosynthesise too. So when a guide refers to the first ‘true leaves’ it means the leaves that appear after the seed leaves have unfurled. Bear this in mind for when you are advised to move on seedlings.
Handling with care
Seedlings are very fragile and plants can damage so easily further on in their development if they are checked at seedling stage. When watering make sure they are watered underneath using a seed bath under the tray or with a very fine hose. This will get water to the seedlings without deluging them.
When transferring seedlings from a seedtray to a pot or into the ground, unearth them with a dibber or pencil to loosen the roots and hold onto a seed leaf when transferring and definitely not the stem. Squashing the stem even slightly will check its growth later in its development.