Growing From Seed
Raising plants from seed is one of the most satisfying aspects of gardening. I am always thrilled when I check the propagator to find the first seedlings appearing. Seeds are a low cost way of growing vegetables and flowers but select the plants to grow carefully. With the high energy costs today it is very expensive to heat propagators and greenhouses so I would avoid growing Geraniums Begonias and Impatiens which have a long growing time before they flower unless you are prepared to have them on your kitchen window sill from February until May. Buy ready grown plants instead. Tender species like Marigolds, Nicotiana, Tomatoes and Cucumbers however can be sown in April. They will germinate in a protected environment from 15 to 20 degrees and be ready to plant outside from the end of May when there are no more frosts. A warm place indoors can be useful to help germination and then the small plants can be moved to a greenhouse or protected place to grow.
Fill pots or seed trays with seed compost tap to settle and lightly press the surface to make it level and firm. Water the compost and allow the excess to drain. Space your seeds evenly over the compost. Avoid crowding.
Cover the seeds thinly with fine sieved compost or a layer of sterile vermiculite to just cover the seeds. Put the pots in a propagator or the clear lids on the trays to retain the moisture which is crucial to aid germination.
Put in a warm place and check regularly removing the covers occasionally to release any condensation. Move to a light place to prevent weak leggy growth as the seedlings start to emerge. Prick out the strongest seedlings and pot them individually where they can grow without competition. The seedlings should be watered regularly in order to avoid the compost drying out and after 4 weeks add a diluted liquid general fertiliser to promote strong and healthy growth.
Some vegetables don’t transplant well especially root vegetables like carrots, parsnips and beetroots so sow directly in the garden where they are going to grow. A good new variety of carrot is Carrot Nerac with long tapering sweet and crunchy roots it stores well during winter. When the soil is warm to the back of your hand simply rake level to a fine tilth and sow the seeds thinly. Cover with a thin layer of fine soil and protect with fleece or wire cloches to stop the birds eating the young seedlings as they emerge.
Peas are another vegetable crop that should be sown directly where it is going to grow. Prepare a trench filled with good garden compost either homemade of bought in and plant directly into this. Plant a few hardy pot marigold seeds nearby to prevent Pea Moth, the maggot inside the pea shucks, laying its eggs. Broad Beans however are much more adaptable so sow some in small peat fibre pots in March to plant for a few young early beans and then directly on the Veg Patch in rows in April for the main crop.
French and Runner Beans benefit from being sown in April in peat fibre pots and planted in the Veg Patch at the end of May.
Seeds of Broccoli, Cabbage, Brussels Sprouts Leeks and Cauliflower germinate readily outdoors in small 1 cm deep drills. The plants should be transplanted to their growing positions when they are 10cms tall. Try a new Cauliflower De Purple. It has deep purple heads is sweet and buttery excellent in salads or lightly steamed to preserve the colour.
A lot of hardy flower annuals also benefit from being directly sown in the borders where they will flower. Simply rake the soil to a fine tilth and scatter the seed. Then cover with a layer of fine compost. Planting hardy annuals like Cosmos, Nasturtiums, Cornflowers, Annual Chrysanthemums and Rudbeckia can increase the colour in mixed and herbaceous borders during the summer months at very low cost. A couple of new varieties to try are Sunflower Cut Flower Mix and Poppy Black Swan. Or plant a wild flower patch by directly broadcasting seed in finely raked weed free soil.
Some seeds like Sweet Peas may require soaking overnight before you plant them. Check out a new variety Sweet Pea Primrose an unusual colour with gorgeous scent and lovely long stems. The seed companies provide excellent growing tips on the back of seed packets so make sure to check the information before sowing.
One of the great perks of growing your own plants and vegetables from seed is the fact that you’ll have so many to choose from even heritage varieties that can never be found as plants.