Growing from Seed

Beryl Harris

Successful sowing indoors requires careful preparation. Taking time to create the optimum conditions will give your seeds the best chance of success:

1 ) Start by deliberately overfilling a suitable container with seed compost. (the light, open compost, will tend to settle down as the container is filled, (bang it on the table top to shake it down).

2) Using a piece of wood, remove any surplus compost above the rim of the container, and remove any that has "clumped together" Pass the wood over the container in a sawing motion to remove the excess compost.

3) Firm the compost evenly over the surface of the container, until it is about ½ an inch lower than the rim. Thus creating a level seedbed. For fine seeds, sieve another fine layer of compost over the surface and firm lightly and cover with either glass or clear plastic wrap.

Many plants will not germinate without extra warmth - you can purchase special cables or if you are lucky enough to still own an old fridge – the top of that works very well. Remember the old axiom, warm feet, cold heads and lots of light.

Sow the seeds as evenly as possible over the surface. Sieve a thin layer of fine compost over the seeds and firm gently. If you have very fine seeds, you can mix them with a little sand, press them very lightly into the surface of the compost, and do not worry about covering them with more compost.

Most inexperienced home propagators fail because they are not consistent in caring for their seeds. Regular watering, well aerated and free draining compost, stable temperatures and adequate light are all vital. Seeds are most likely to germinate if they are fresh, so do not keep your packages more than two growing seasons. Store them in a cool dry place. Some seeds have a particularly hard coats and you will find that germination takes place much more readily if this casing is scored lightly before the seeds are sown. A nail file works well. Seeds such as peas and beans will benefit from being soaked in warm water for 24 hours to soften their outer casing. Parsley seeds are small and germinate more readily if you pour boiling water over them. Very small seeds can be mixed with a little sand to make seeding easier.

A note here about condensation problems. Condensation will form inside a propagator or on the sheet of glass covering the tray or pot. If this becomes so heavy that drips start to fall on the germinating seedlings, ventilate.

The ideal growing medium for germinating seeds indoors is made up of two layers. The base layer comprising of seed or multi-purpose compost the upper layer is made of free draining vermiculite or horticulture grit. The advantage of this two layer system is that the seeds are sown in the free draining layer of grit and the compost in the layer below provides the nutrients that are required once the rooting process starts. You can also fill the containers with multi-purpose growing medium.

You can transplant the seedlings when they get their second set of leaves – be very careful, for the roots will be at least as long. Soil in the new container should not be too rich . If the roots must seek further for food they will build a strong and healthy root system which is more important to the plants growth at this time than the height of their stems.

Thomas Jefferson was as badly hooked on gardening as most of us are. In 1953 the American Philosophical Society published his sixty-year diary of gardening and this is a marvel of minute observation as well as precise, vivid writing. There is a story that he grew tomatoes, which at that time, were thought to be poisonous, in his garden. He ate one publicly to prove that they could be eaten without harm. Tomatoes were regarded as decorative but dangerous, in truth they are a relative of the poisonous and narcotic plants of the Solanacea family, one of which is the deadly nightshade. We all know that they, tomatoes are delicious and harmless.

Try this with your tomatoes. Take a milk bag and fold it down by one inch folds until you have a small bag – fill this with moist potting soil, and put in about 5 seeds. When they sprout, remove the weak ones. As the plants grow, turn up and keep filling the bag with soil, by the time it reaches the top of the bag – it may be time to harden the tomato plants off and place them outside.

One way of re-cycling those wax milk cartons is to cut them in half lengthwise, lie them on their sides, poking holes in the bottom and sides of one half.. The planter half with the holes is placed inside the other half to catch any drips, you can add an inch or so of either gravel or sand in the bottom half. The planter part is filled, using alternatively, one handful of compost plus two of sand, whilst the sand contains little in the way of nutrients, it does make removal easier, the compost of course supplies the "food"

Most seedlings should be ready to plant permanently in approximately ten weeks, so if you would like to follow the moon-sign lore, start your seedlings under the sign of Pisces – which covers the period from February 19th to March 21st. This is of course considered a highly fruitful zodiac sign. Under Pisces the moon emerges above the plane of the earth’s orbit and is "good for planting"

Of course my grandfather did not have peat pots, but he did have eggshells and he used these for his seeds, but here is advice from an experienced gardener in 1880. "Take egg shells cut in half, make two or three small holes in the bottom of each one, fill with sifted soil, sink in a box of sand, sow seeds and cover with a sheet of glass (plastic) and keep in a warm, light place. Water only the sand. When you transplant, plant the whole eggshell you may break the shell off if you wish. This way you will not disturb the roots and thus lessen the danger of transplant shock."

I remember the gardener on the CBC, television program saying that a gardener in the nineteenth century advised a way of sprouting very small seeds. Fill a clay pot with a very fine soil mixture and sprinkle seeds on the surface, do not cover them, but place a sheet of glass over the pot and put the whole thing into a pan of water. The water will draw up to the surface of the soil. Remove from the pan and each time it needs watering repeat the process. Some seeds that did really well when treated this way are Cyclamen, Christmas roses, Cannas, Gentians. Nasturtiums, and Violets.

The old gardeners were just as careful to transplant under the right sign (Cancer, Scorpio or Pisces), as they were to plant the seed in the first place. My grandfathers advice was "When you can sit on the ground with a bare bottom – the temperature is right" – but still check with your weather person for the date of the last frost.