February is well upon us – the start of the seed sowing season, and always an exciting time as we look forward to a summer garden full of magnificent flowers and tasty home grown vegetables. There is always a satisfying feeling when the garden plants have been home grown and it is not too difficult to achieve if a few basic rules are considered. So, before the first tray of seeds is sown let’s look at a few crucial considerations.
All seeds which are seen in catalogues as being half hardy annuals are started off indoors eventually to be planted outside as the weather conditions improve. Many vegetable seeds can also be sown in the protection of a glasshouse but for the best results from any seed sowing it is important that basic rules are adhered to where hygiene and actual growing conditions are concerned.
-Seed must be of top quality and as long as it bought fresh, in modern packets, from a reputable seed houses then there should be no problems with poor viability and quality. Remember that many vegetable and flowers seed varieties comes as F1 hybrids and are therefore more expensive. Do remember that in many ways they are far superior to old varieties, particularly in uniformity, vigour and maturity but these traits make not always what the amateur is looking for. Read all packet instructions thoroughly.
-Cleanliness is next to Godliness’ is the old saying and nowhere is this more so than with seed sowing. Always use fresh, new compost for the job and containers must be washed, especially if they have been used before, to avoid the possibility of disease attack especially from `damping off’. Use water from the tap rather than from water butts, for irrigating seeds, again because of contamination and it should always be at room temperature.
-Correct techniques is all important and although there are many ways to sow seed in containers germination is reliant on there being sufficient moisture, warmth and air in the compost. When preparing for sowing, fill the container to the surface, evenly, and only firm the compost lightly and consistently throughout. Heavy firming will cause waterlogging and the seed will fail to germinate or seedlings will rot off. Where fine seed is being sown water the compost first and then sow. Although many seeds are covered after sowing some require light to germinate so do refer to the packet for instructions.
-Although some seeds will germinate quite happily at low temperatures most prefer values of approximately 21°c (70°f). Consistency is the all-important factor and the even temperature found within a propagating frame will encourage seeds to germinate within a few days or even hours. The more the conditions fluctuate the more erratic will be the results. Humidity is often vital for germination and so individual trays of seeds can be covered with glass, cling film or placed in a plastic bag. Always protect seed and seedlings from the direct sun as too high a temperature can be as damaging as being too cold.
-Regular checks must be made on seed trays and as soon as seedlings come through the covering must be loosened to allow the introduction of fresh air and after two or three days removed altogether. At this stage light is most important so seedlings can be moved to a light but sun free bench and with a slightly reduced temperature 13°-16°c (55°-61°f) will be ideal. Do note that seedlings will become drawn if sown too early and without light values to match the heat. Most plants prefer sixteen hours’ daylight to keep them growing well, in February we are lucky if we get nine hours of good light.
-Once seedlings are large enough to handle by their cotyledon leaves they must be potted on or pricked out into individual containers or trays in order that they can grow on to a suitable size for planting out. Again, make sure that the compost is consistent and not over firmed, and where seedlings are to share a container make sure that they are spaced evenly in order they can all achieve the same amount of root growth. Use a good quality compost for this purpose and either mix in a little slow release fertiliser or be prepared to liquid feed at the slightest sign of nutrient deficiency which will show up as yellowing leaves.
Correct sowing techniques will help guaranteed that you obtain value for money from your packets of seed and hopefully reap a rewarding harvest, either visually in flower, or gathered in fruit and vegetable
John. E. Stirland.