That’s right garden pals, for weeks I have told you not to bother looking at seeds because it was just too hard and you would probably stuff it up. But today, it all changes. *Bill Conti’s ‘Gonna Fly Now’ starts gently playing in the background*. You have pounded your herb garden into shape, you cracked and devoured the flesh of your lemons from your lemon tree and you have run up the steps of winter to reach the delightful platform of spring to throw your fists in the air triumphantly. You are ready to go there friends and now is the time! Please tell me you have seen Rocky otherwise you would not have understood that whole elaborate sequence that I described. Ok. Raising seeds! Let’s do it!
As previously described in my posts, raising plants from seeds can be difficult to get right. It certainly takes a lot more commitment than just buying the plants, but it is very cost effective in comparison and it is hugely rewarding. I’m going to try to break down into steps what I do to raise seeds and I will hope that it is easy enough for you to translate into your own situation. Good luck green thumbs! This is a bit of a new endeavour for you, so that means you will need some new stuff! With the assistance of the old stuff too.
First thing is a seed tray. As we are focusing our energy on seeds that are unlikely to/won’t survive if you just put them outside you will need a seed tray to give them a lovely temporary home. You can pick up some super sweet versatile ones from any garden shop. Sometimes I reuse old plastic planters left over from plants I have bought which is pretty good. Some people (not myself) have also had success with old egg cartons! My advice is just buy the seed tray first up just to make it really easy for you.
Second thing is the soil. Seeds often need a bit of extra somethin’ somethin’ when you are kicking them off, more so than the plants we have been buying. I advise using Tui Organic Seed Raising Mix to start your seeds. It’s good wholesome stuff and I love a good kiwi brand. If you are becoming a bit of a garden nerd (welcome, brother) you can also Google how to make your own seed raising mix which would ensure you know exactly what is in the soil. I’m not going there because I don’t want to overload any of you.
Third thing is newspaper. Start raiding the local recycle bins for that week old copy of The Press or your local equivalent. This newspaper is going to be like the little duvet you are going to give your seeds so they can snuggle down and start working their magic. Your goal is to be getting your seeds to ask you “How did you get my bed so cuddly?”. Content of the newspaper doesn’t matter but you will be seeing this newspaper for the next few weeks, so try to avoid articles about lost rugby matches or TPPA. It’ll just get you on a bad buzz for weeks every time you go to check your seeds.
Fourth thing is glass. We place a glass sheet over the top of the newspaper which is on top of the seeds to give them warmth and keep them protected. You could also use perspecs or something of that nature I suppose but glass is good and reliable. I pick up off cuts at eco store occasionally for cheap, you could also go to a hardware store or similar and ask for some off cuts. They will give you them for next to nothing. Another new tip I have in regards to this is using the glass from old picture frames. You’re welcome.
Fifth thing is a thing to water with. Seeds are so gentle in their early stages that the watering process can be rather tricky. Some people jab small holes in old disposable plastic water bottles to delicately drip the water onto the seeds. I have no more exciting ideas around this but that’s the genre you are looking for and obviously if you are reusing something that’s pretty boss too.
Sixth thing is labeling devices. Whether it is as adorable as a coloured popsicle stick with the vegetable hand written in glitter ink or a letter indicator on the side with a sharpie. You need to label which seeds are what, because once they start to grow they are all going to look the same, and you are going to be really mad at yourself if you don’t know what you’re planting in the super sunny spot in your garden in the weeks ahead. Boy have I been there. Also don’t write it in a place water could end up because the ink might actually run and then you’ll be in the dark again. Boy have I been there, too.
Now am I missing something… Oh yeah! SEEDS. Seeds is number seven! You need seeds to grow yums. Do your research before picking which seeds you choose to go with. The first seeds I raised in seed trays were silver beet and broccoli and they were wee gems. This year I will be growing tomatoes from seed for the first time with the help of my brother Brett (this is the first he has heard of this but it’s happening) so we will get on to that pretty soon. When picking seeds you need to read the back of the packet. We are hoping to be planting into soil in early spring with this lot so you don’t want something that is going to take a long time to germinate straight out of the gate. I suggest picking something with a short germination first and maybe a few longer ones to go along side it later. Remember that as a gardener it is important to feel the success, especially while we are still learning. Be kind to yourself.
Preparing your tray
Gardening gloves on and don’t breathe in that seed raising mix! Outside always. A safe gardener is a happy gardener. Put some seed raising mix in the tray and pat it down gently. Be careful not to over fill, you want at least 1cm of space at the top of the tray. Give the tray a bit of shake to settle the soil, and at this stage I would dampen the soil, being careful not to incorporate too much water. Read the back of all of your seeds packets for planting instructions but as a general rule I would make a shallow trench with my finger and gently drop the seeds in. It is often sensible to plant two seeds together each time. The idea here is that once the two grow you will pluck the one that doesn’t look as healthy as the other, thus improving your chances of a full crop later on. In the business, we call that “thinning”. Gently spread more seed raising mix over the seeds, just to cover them and pat the soil down, again, gently does it. Another slight sprinkling of water over the top then, like a bunch of CGI penguins, we are making our bed. Newspaper over the top and glass on top of that. These babies now are ready to start developing so find a safe warm place with some natural light, I use the shelf in my garden shed that is by a window. And that is all your prep done!
While these guys are snug as a bug they will need you to poke your head in every now and again to see how they are going and make sure they aren’t drying out. I would say check on them at least every second day. Just lift the paper and see if you have anything starting to burst through the soil and have a feel if the soil is damp enough. It’s important that they stay damp or this whole thing was in vain. Make sure to cover them back up once you are done. Eventually you will start to see the little green stalks start bursting through the soil- it’s super exciting. Once they are growing too tall for their little bed it’s time to take off the newspaper and glass and let them soak in that beautiful light. Keep checking on them and keep them damp, every second day should still do it. Keep an eye out for seedlings that are getting too gangly, sometimes when seeds aren’t getting enough light they will grow super spindly and tall to try and reach it, which makes for an unhealthy plant. Shift them to a brighter area and turn the tray 180 degrees every so often to stop them from growing on their side. If you still can’t beat this problem I like to stick mine out on the porch in the morning and bring them in at night. Now you can “thin” your plants if you have doubled up your seed in favour of the stronger looking plant. Eventually they will have about two sets of leaves and start to look too big for your tray.
Moving on/Bachelor Pad
Now it is time for them to fly the coop. Once that’s done it’s time to move these plants into small pots or bio pots depending. Bio pots are cool because they can go straight into the ground meaning you don’t have to replant again. If you are using pots remember the importance of drainage. You can fill these pots with vegetable mix or something like that if you wish but I usually go for the tried and true ‘little bit of seed raising mix/potting mix combined with some good soil from my garden’ technique. Standard planting into pots rules apply, just be exceptionally careful with the tender shoots of your seedlings. Remember it’s their first time away from home and its going to be hard for everyone. Pat them down firmly round the base and make sure you have left room at the top for watering as per usual. Now definitely start to leave these plants in their pots in a sunny and protected part of the garden but still bring them in at night and on crumby weather days. They will need more watering too so you can ditch your little dribble bottle for a good soak around the base of the plant every so often. Keep that soil damp!
Once you are certain that the frosts are all done and the plants look about the right size it’s time to plant in the garden like you would any plant you would buy. Standard planting rules apply. You’ll know the plant is ready when it looks a similar size to the plants you have been buying from the garden shop. Just because you have raised your seeds at the same time doesn’t mean that all seedlings will be ready for garden transfer at the same time, so keep an eye on it. Mostly that will come down to exposure to light. Bio pots make garden transfer super easy but no worries if you are using pots. Keep watering and let the joys of weeding begin! And there we have it! You have experienced the miracle of seedling birth. Congratulations!
Before I go, this week was a tough one for me because I could have picked this article or writing an article about planting strawberries. While I chose this I still want to implore you to plant your strawberries soon. They are so easy to grow and are versatile plants. You can plant them in almost anything and most established strawberry plants are good for 4 seasons. I planted some in a hanging basket last year that were super cute and I have a strawberry patch with 30 odd plants in a sandy part of my garden. I have heard glowing reports about growing them in old car tyres too, so please look into that one. Strawberries respond well to being planted in a trench-like formation, you need to keep an eye out for dandelions which will totally strangle your plants if you let them, and they need plenty of water. You may also like to read my article Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner for a few tips about strawberry predators. Go well, any questions flick me message. It’s a busy time of year for us garden geeks.
E Cus out.