If I knew how easy it was to start a plant from seed I would have done it years ago. There are few simple rules to follow, but the result is so much more rewarding (and cheaper!) than buying plug plants. Unfortunately, nobody taught me how to grow seeds when I was a child – I tried, I failed, and I grew up thinking seeds were just some “mystical thing” too difficult to give it a go.
Of course, I have now changed my mind and I’m now so deeply into sowing that I consider seed probably the most fascinating part of a plant. And here I am, sharing with you some tips to demystify the mystery about starting growing from seeds!
The first thing to know is that seeds are really little bombs of energy ready to explode, they need nothing but water and a warm place to germinate (germination is the phase where a seed starts developing a new plant).
TOMATOES, AUBERGINES & CHILLIES
Some seeds such as tomatoes, aubergines, and chillies need an environment with a temperature of at least 25ºC to grow, so it’s for this reason that it’s recommended that the seeds are sown indoors: at home on a windowsill would be the ideal place until the temperature outside gets warmer and any risk of frost has passed. In many parts of the UK, this happens between April and May.
BEETROOT, CHARD, MUSTARD & ROCKET LEAVES
Other seeds such as rocket leaves, mustard, beetroots, and chard can start growing in about 10-15ºC, so they can be sown outdoors in early spring (March) or early autumn (September) as they can be quite resistant to cold temperature once well established. Broad beans and peas can be frost resistant, I sow them outdoors in October just to have an early crop the next Spring.
The first phase of seed growth is germination at the right temperature. Following this, the seedling will very soon need good light and a growing medium to develop root and leaf functions.
An environment with plenty of light but not the scorching sun is ideal especially if you use a transparent cover to keep the compost moist and warm. Seedlings indoors tend to grow toward the light, it’s better to rotate the pot where they grow often to avoid them bending to one side.
A perfect medium for growing seed would be a light and fine compost or coir block. At this early stage the seedlings do not need a rich compost, but a good medium where they can easily grow roots and get water and air.
If you are using coir blocks, start the sowing by soaking the block in water, but then add water only when it starts to get dry, as the seedlings may rot or develop diseases if too wet. Apply a rose to your watering can when you are watering or use a spray bottle to avoid washing out your seeds with a too strong flow.
Seeds can have many shapes and sizes – a simple rule is to sow them as deep as twice their size: lettuce and rocket have very fine seeds that can be scattered on the surface of your compost and then gently pressed without being covered.
Tomatoes and mustard have slightly bigger seeds that can be gently covered with a very thin layer of compost (about 5mm will be enough).
Courgette and beans have chunky seeds, they need more space for their roots than smaller plants. A 10cm pot or larger will allow them to have enough space for the baby roots and leaves before planting them outside.
Last but not least: label your pot. This is a simple but crucial rule in order to sort out what you have planted as many seedlings at the very beginning look so alike. Write the name of your variety and the date sowed.
Now you should be ready to start your sowing, it’s so exciting: grab those seeds and have fun!
Happy gardening and let us know how it goes!
CLYO PARECCHINI, LIVEWELL COORDINATOR
Clyo heads up Wen’s Live Well cooking and food growing courses in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Classes explore in a practical way how diet and lifestyles has an impact on the planet. Attendees learn and try new plant based recipes, spend time in the community garden and enjoy a delicious lunch.