From Seed to plant
This is an exciting time for the gardener , when we can bring live to all these dormant seeds and (with a bit of help from us) will transform these tiny seeds into big plants of all sorts of shapes, sizes, colours and tastes. Just imagine, the content of your seed box could become a selection of sweet smelling colourful flowers, productive vegetables up to 2 meters high , crunchy salads or tasty root vegetables. Producing more seeds at the end of their growing time so the cycle of life can start again. It’s almost like a miracle and a cheap way to grow your own.
If your seed box is over flowing with half empty seed packs have a sort out and make sure your seeds are still up to date. Some seeds keep a bit longer then others, for example carrot -, parsnip – and leek seeds are not doing so well the 2nd year, where as tomatoes can be kept up to 5 years without a problem.
There is a table on my seed guide, which comes free with any order of biodynamic seeds which states the storage time of the most popular vegetable, if stored in the right conditions (dry, cool and dark)
TIP IF you are not sure, test your seeds first, before spending valuable time and money and test the germination rate by placing them on a damp cloth or kitchen towel , inside a clear plastic bag in a warm spot.
So what do you need, and how do you transform these tiny seeds into productive crops?
As just mentioned, seeds should be kept in a cool dry and dark place (so most garden sheds are not the best place!) For germination you need the opposite which is moisture, light and warmth (there are some exceptions, like parsley
You also need some sort of containers or seed trays when sowing indoors and compost
Containers could be anything from the bought seed tray with a clear lid called propagators or seed trays with individual modules, to home made pots of newspaper, the inside of toilet paper rolls, pieces of guttering or recycled containers. Just make sure that there are holes in it for drainage . I like to recycle empty croissant containers, which come with a clear lid, similar to the propagators you can buy.
Fill your chosen container with suitable compost (see next chapter) tapping it down to settle the compost (or sit another seed tray same size on top to firm it down)
I prefer to water the compost before adding the seeds. IF the seeds are tiny (salads,carrots, radish) it is enough to sprinkle them on top of the compost and firm them down before covering with a thin layer of light compost or vermiculite. Seed packs will tell you the exact depth, but as a rule of thumb, the bigger the seeds , the deeper you should plant them.
Now you can cover your seed tray or pots with a clear lid to create a moist environment , but keep an eye out for mould. As soon as green growth appears, take the lid off and keep the seeds in a slightly cooler place to prevent them from getting “leggy” To speed up germination most seeds benefit from a warm soil to start with.(there are electric propagators on the market, or use a piece of carpet or a warm spot for extra heat.
When the seedlings are big enough to handle, they are ready for transplanting, which you would do whilst the moon is decending. (following the lunar calendar)
IF you garden biodynamically, you would choose the right day for the different seeds, leeks,salads on leaf days, beetroot,carrot,radish on root days, tomatoes beans, peas, peppers on fruit days and flowers on flower days.
IF you use seeds “in situ” which means that you sow them where you want them to grow, make sure the soil is warm enough for the seeds to grow and that you prepared the soil to a fine tilth and got rid of perennial weeds first.
The fine tilth is necessary, so light can penetrate the soil and it is also easier for the developing tiny roots to penetrate the soil.
I suggest you draw a drill for smaller seeds or prepare a trench for bigger ones, water it first, add the seeds and cover with dry fine soil. Keep moist and cover if necessary to protect from cold weather or birds. (use fleece, netting, chickenwire…)
Mark the area with labels (recycled oak labels available at the on-line shop)
You can use special seed compost or make your own compost, by adding sand or vermiculite.
Seed compost doesn’t need lots of nutrition, but must be light and keep the moisture so sun light can penetrate to the seeds and keep the seeds moist.
Tips When choosing a container, think how big the plant will be when you transplant it. For bigger plants (like courgette, beans) I choose individual pots and for small seeds (salads) a seed tray will do. If you choose one with individual modules I use 2 seeds for one module . The modules makes it easier to transplant the seedlings without disturbing the roots .
Seeds like sweet corn or also climbing beans or sweet peas prefer a deeper pot for longer roots and you can buy root trainers or recycle the inner bit of a loo role.
Peas are popular grown in guttering and the whole row can be transferred into a prepared trench in one go.You also can soak your seeds first to help germination.
Before planting beans and any other “thirsty” crop, add newspaper soaked in water at the bottom of your planting hole or trench, to hold the moisture.
When I use bigger and flat seeds like courgette or pumpkin seeds, I push them into the ground or compost at a slant, to prevent them from rotting.
For very small seeds like carrots, you can mix with radish seeds (which will germinate quicker) to mark the row of seeds.
Cover the soil with a dark sheet to warm up before sowing for early sowings (especially clay soil, which takes longer to warm up).
Use good quality seeds, if possible organic or best biodynamic seeds to make sure the seeds haven’t been treated with chemicals, pesticides and are open pollinated. (so you can safe your own seeds and are not dependent on big companies for producing seeds.
Use peat free compost and containers and watch out for chemicals and added insecticides when buying compost for containers. (for example vine weevils)
Always water with a fine rose
Don’t forget to label your seed trays, pots or rows and protect them from slugs, birds, frost mice….
Some seeds (like beet root, peas) benefit by soaking them in water first.
More about protecting your young plants and transplanting your seedlings next time