GROWING VEGETABLES FROM SEED
Growing vegetables from seed is a great way to garden. Personally for me it changed so much about how I think about gardening, and the results that I get! Some of the benefits of growing from seed include:
Being involved with the whole life cycle of the plant
Choosing which varieties you grow or being able to source locally adapted varieties
Not introducing unwanted pests and disease into your garden via commercially grown seedlings
Knowing the progeny of your plants if you want to save seed
Easily grow extras to share with friends and neighbours
So, here are some tips to help you successfully grow plants from seeds!
SOURCING SEED AND CHOOSING VARIETIES
Ōtepoti Urban Organics runs Dunedin's very own Seed Savers Network, specialising in heirloom and open pollinated varieties that are tried and true to do well in the Coastal Otago climate. We really appreciate people's support in helping us maintain and improve this genetic stock for present and future food growers in the region. To get on the email list and receive a free seed list, simply send an email to email@example.com . More information on our seed bank can be found HERE.
There are also several other options for sourcing seeds. You can get them from friends who have saved seeds, grass roots seed saver networks, or commercial seed companies. For Otago / Southland growers, you can also try sourcing seed from the southland seed savers network.
When choosing seed, you need to consider its suitability to your region and the season. All of the species of veggies listed in the species specific gardening guide of this site (and more) can be grown in Dunedin and Coastal Otago in general. Also, different strains of the same vegetable may be suited to different parts of the year. For instance, some strains of spinach grow well in spring, others in autumn.
Seeds can be started in pots or trays of soil, or sown directly in the ground where they are to grow. Small pots made from newspaper or peat are good for directly transplanting into the soil with no disturbance to the tender roots of the seedlings. Seed trays (flats) can be purchased cheaply from garden centres and can be used time and time again - or you can make your own from untreated timber or other materials. Any type of tray that has drainage and can hold 5-10cm of soil is good.
Making a Seed Bed (for direct sowing)
For seeds that you are sowing direct into a garden, it pays to prepare a 'seed bed' of suitable soil to plant into. The plot should be thouroughly weeded before hand, then raked flat. A fine soil (rather than one with big chunks of bark, clay or other materials) works best. If your soil is not very fine, a basic seed mix as described below can be added to the areas that you're sowing seed in.
An ideal soil mix for germinating seeds will be fine, and hold moisture but also have good drainage. Seed mixes do not need to be high in nutrients. In fact, a lower nutrient mix is preferable as it will help your seedlings be less prone to rot while growing.
Seed raising mix does not need to be complicated. A basic mix is about 70% sieved soil (soil sieves can be purchased at garden centres) and 30% coarse sand (often sold as propagation sand, river sand or crusher dust, or you can forage it yourself).
Avoid big chunks of bark, clay, compost, stones etc.
GERMINATION AND EARLY CARE
A common mistake is to sow seeds too densely. This is especially common with smaller sized seeds. Be sure to give your seeds enough space to grow into seedlings without being too crowded.
When sowing seeds, general rule of thumb is to cover the seed with between 1 and 2 times its own depth in soil. For very fine seeds, such as lettuce or brassicas, seeds can just be sprinkled on the surface and covered with a sprinkled layer of dirt. For larger seeds like pumpkins and beans, poke holes in the dirt where each seed is to go, and then place one seed in each hole.
After you've sprinkled or planted the seeds, water the tray / pots with a gentle, fine sprinkling of water, which will fill in the holes with soil and not disturb the seeds too much.
Place the trays in a location that is warm but not too dry. Direct sunlight is best avoided for early germination. Keep the soil moist at all times.
After a few days to a couple of weeks (depending on your strain) you will notice the seeds germinating and sending out 'cotyledons', the 'seed leaves' which are the most basic type of leaves. After this the plant will send out 'true leaves'.
Once the seedlings are of a manageable size, you can plant them out into your garden, or transplant them into another tray at wider spacings if you aren't ready to plant yet.
If you sowed seed direct into the ground, then you're set to go. Some species, like carrot, will usually need to be 'thinned' out a little bit after direct sowing. In other words, you remove the smallest / runtiest seedlings in the row until plants are spaced appropriately.
TRANSPLANTING AND POST TRANSPLANT CARE
For plants grown in newspaper or peat pots, plant them direct into the ground including the pot. If kept moist, the roots will easily grow through the pot and into the soil.
For plants grown together in trays, you'll need to carefully separate them when transplanting. Sometimes it's easier to lift out a chunk of seedlings from the tray and then separate them out from there, rather than trying to dig them up individually from the tray.
To transplant from pots into the garden or into larger pots, simply loosen the root ball up a bit by squeezing the sides of the pot, then, holding the stem of the plant between your fingers, flip the pot upside down and ease the root ball out of the pot. Transplant into an appropriately sized hole.
For all types of transplants, water well after transplanting until the plant starts showing signs of fresh growth, then water as per required for that particular plant. Just watch your plants and see if they seem like they need watering or not. You'll get a feel for it.