Open a pack of heirloom seeds and potential life comes spilling out. If you are in the habit of collecting your own seeds, then you know just how abundant they are and at what little cost they come. A pack of seeds offers the best value and opens up a far greater catalogue of plants and varieties....so knowing how to use them is an essential skill.
Select seeds based on what is in season, type of light the plants will receive and what you like to eat. If you don't know what to grow, have a look over the neighbour's fence or chat to the local patch master on your street. Every street has one. I often pass by mine on the way to dropping the kids off at school. My patch master has taught me that tomatillos love Melbourne and how to grow rocket like a climbing plant. If you prefer a less invasive approach, seed packaging will generally describe the ideal environment for the plant in question.
Once you've settled on what to plant, it then becomes a question of where and how. Here are a few basic rules that will help you determine the best method;
Soak seeds with a hard coating (beans, peas, nasturtium, etc...) overnight. This accelerates germination and improves the probability that your seed will, in fact, yield a plant. Drain the water into your garden and plant the seeds to their prescribed depth. This method works so well that drained seeds left in a jar will sprout all by themselves!
Some seeds don't mind being sowed directly into the veggie patch, however others prefer to be propagated in a seed tray (with a little protection) before being transplanted in the garden. This has a lot to do with what you are planting, but all when you are planting. Early spring conditions - with cold, chilly nights - make it a safer bet to propagate most seeds indoors, and then transplant into the patch later. However some plants don't mind being directly sown in the patch when conditions are mild. In spring these include;
- most herbs (basil, coriander, chives, parsley), beans, peas, corn, cucumber, melons, leafy greens, edible flowers, root vegetables, spring onion, pumpkin, zucchini
Other want to be propagated under some cover before making the move later. In spring these include;
- tomato, chilli, capsicum, eggplant
Plant seeds to a depth twice the diameter of the seed in question. This is a rule that generally applies to larger seeds, such as the ones pictured above (that would be a broad bean, peas, and beetroot). For example, a broad bean is about 2cm in diameter, therefore you should plant it 4cm deep. Check the package for spacing information and plant away.
The gardening world is full of short-cuts and gadgets, but the best tool ever invented is a hand with fingers. Use those fingers to borrow little holes in the soil. To be extra sure that the seeds will grow, plant two in each hole. We call this, "the buddy system."
Not all seeds are created equally and some are simply too small to measure and plant individually. For these seeds, tomato and radish come to mind, the broadcast method is a better option. Create a shallow furrow with your index finger and lightly sprinkle the seeds down the line. Dust with soil to cover and prevent bird/wind theft, but not so much as to inhibit growth. Very little coverage is required for small seeds.
Last but not least, don't forget to water the newly planted seeds. Ideally, get to them first thing in the morning and if you can, give them a few waters daily until they have germinated. The idea is to keep the soil moist, without soaking them. We know it's hard for anyone with a full-time job. Do the best you can and watch out for extremely hot days when newly germinated seeds can perish without water.
Take a cup of coffee with you and make it part of the morning routine. Watering is a nice way to be seen and look like a responsible citizen. Admire your work and wait for the compliments to start rolling in...