Friday, 22 September 2017

How to sow seeds - A Beginner's Guide

How to sow seeds A beginner's Guide Green Fingered Blog
You don't need green fingers to be able to grow new plants from seed, and it only takes a few minutes.

This is the first of a four part series of "Back to Basics" posts covering a few easy ways of propagating new plants for your garden. Over the next few weeks I'll show you how easy it is to take cuttings, plant bulbs and pot up runners. To make sure you don't miss these, enter your email in the sidebar to subscribe, and you'll get sent a link to these posts when they're published.   

Why it's worth sowing seeds

  • Sowing seeds is much cheaper than buying mature plants. One packet may contain hundreds of seeds and cost only a couple of quid. Don't expect every one of them to grow to full size, but even if a small number do, then it works out as a very low cost way to grow them.
  • It's quick and simple. In many cases you just sow them and wait, with minimal effort needed.
  • It's very satisfying to grow anything from the very start, beginning with just a tiny seed. It's all your own work!  
Growing from seed is really easy, but if you don't have much experience then it can sometimes seem confusing. You can certainly can get technical about it if you want to, and your success rate might increase if you use special equipment and are extremely particular about how you do it. But The Green Fingered Blog is about keeping things simple, so here's how to sow seeds the quick and easy way:

What you need to sow seeds

The essential things you need are:
  • A Seed Tray - either a simple tray or one divided into modules 
  • Some compost - ideally a specialist seed compost but any will do
  • A watering can - preferably with a rose sprinkler head
  • Some seeds

What seeds can I sow now?

Here are some suggestions for what you can sow indoors in the UK in September:
  • Sweet peas - keep the seedlings frost free over winter and they will flower earlier next year than any sown next spring.
  • Lettuce - can be sown now and if grown indoors or in a greenhouse can be harvested well into winter
  • Herbs - can be sown to grow on your windowsill and used in the kitchen
  • Biennial/perennial flowers - for example foxgloves, if sown now can grow on this year and flower next year

Seed packets Green Fingered Blog

How to sow seeds in modules

First, fill a seed tray with compost. For smaller seeds like lettuce and herbs, a simple tray will do, or just a pot. For bigger seeds like sweet peas, it's good to use one divided into modules.
Seed tray Using a dibber Green Fingered Blog
Keep the seed tray (which has holes in the bottom to allow water to drain away) in a solid bottomed tray to avoid the water making a mess when it drains through the compost. 
To sow in modules use a dibber, stick, pencil or your finger to make a small hole in each module.  Check the packet to find out how deep the hole needs to be. This only needs to be approximate but its usually better to be deeper rather than too shallow. IN a deeper hole, plants will grow up and be well anchored in the compost. If they are too shallow they can become weak and fall over.
Using a dibber Green Fingered Blog

Seed tray modules Green Fingered Blog

Drop a seed into each module.

Covering seeds with compost Green Fingered Blog

Pinch the soil together with your fingers to cover the seed with the compost.

How to sow seeds in a tray

Fill a basic tray with compost. Stand it on another tray to avoid the water that drains through making a mess. You can either scatter seeds randomly or sow in a line (or drill). Some seeds are sown on the surface and may or may not need to be covered with a sprinkling of compost. Follow the advice on the packet instructions. Here, I'm sowing lettuce in a drill about 1.5cm deep. Run through the soil with your finger to make a drill to the depth you want. Then sprinkle seeds along the drill.
Sowing lettuce seeds in a tray Green Fingered Blog

Sowing lettuce seeds in a tray Green Fingered Blog

Then as with modules, run your fingers along, pinching the earth together to cover all the seeds.

Sowing lettuce seeds in a tray Green Fingered Blog
 Then you need to water them. Using a rose head on your watering can makes this a gentler process and avoids a deluge that can wash the seeds away. Don't forget to label them so you can remember what they are in the weeks to come. Include the date so you know how long they've been there. The packet will tell you how long it should take for seedlings to appear. 
Watering seeds Green Fingered Blog

Giving your seeds the best chance to grow

For the best chance of success, put your seed trays somewhere they will have a good chance of growing successfully.  Check the packet to find out what your plants need. My packets of Parsley and Basil say they need to be kept between 15 and 20 degrees Celsius, so I will put a plastic cover (usually sold alongside the seed trays) over them in our unheated utility room. If sown in a single pot, you can cover it with a clear plastic bag. Most plants are not that fussy but bear in mind that they need:
  • Light - a windowsill is usually a good place for them
  • Warmth - room temperature is usually enough
  • Ventilation - without a bit of air circulation, seeds can stay too wet and rot instead of growing.
  • Moisture - don't let them get too wet, but don't let the seeds dry out 
In practice this simply means put them on a windowsill and give them a little bit of water if they start drying out, keeping them moist rather than wet. In a few weeks they should be growing well, like these lettuce I planted a month ago.
Lettuce seedlings Green Fingered Blog

Generally you can then leave your seeds and they'll grow. Well, some of them will anyway. Sowing seeds means you can sow lots at the same time cheaply and even if a few succeed you have the plants you want. Don't be put off by the fact that only some will grow well enough to eventually plant out in the garden or harvest from.

Thin out seedlings

One last tip. Once your seedlings are growing you need to thin them out. If all the ones that germinate continue to grow together, they will be competing with each other for food and water and will be smaller. To end up with good plants, remove the smaller ones carefully so the stronger ones can thrive. Then when they are big enough you can move them into individual pots or plant them in the garden. Throwing seedlings away seems a waste but its part of the process of sowing from seed, starting with dozens and narrowing it down to the best few specimens.
That's how easy it is to grow plants from seed. What do you fancy sowing this weekend?
Make sure you come back soon to see how easily you can make new plants by taking cuttings from existing ones. 
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  1. Hi, I need to get growing from scratch again I love fresh salad and its easy to do, thanks for sharing these helpful tips #fabfridaypost

    1. Good luck! Thanks for visiting, and glad it was useful. Hopefully you'll be eating fresh home grown salad leaves in a few weeks.

  2. Great tutorial! You are absolutely right. While I wish I could afford more mature plants, it is SO much cheaper to start seeds.
    Most people probably aren't thinking about gardening this time of year, but we just planted some carrots, spinach, and sugar snap peas about a week ago. :) #fabfridaypost

    1. Thanks for visiting, great to hear you're growing your own. It's a bit late to sow carrots and peas here but I hope yours have time to mature, or are they for overwintering ready for next year?

  3. Great idea to sow sweet peas now for early spring flowers. I think I’ve got some dried out seeds I’ll have to sow. Thanks for sharing and linking up #FabFridayPost

    1. Thanks for commenting. Good luck with your seeds. Save some for spring and sow then as well and the flowers will go on for even longer next year :)