Preparing for sowing
Realise your gardening dreams

A harvest from a handful

From Sarah's garden to yours

The great thing about growing from seed is you start with so little and end up with so much. The investment is small, a few dollars for a pack of seeds containing thousands of potential plants, or even better, a worn old envelope passed across the back fence between friends and neighbours, with the promise that it will be wonderful and should be tried.

Something as small as a seed can yield so much, from an almost never-ending supply of tiny cherry tomatoes to a huge pumpkin so weighty that it can hardly be lifted. Let’s not forget the humble carrot - ordinarily so inexpensive to buy that one wonders what is the point of growing it - until one tries a homegrown one. The sweet, juicy crunch says it all and more carrot seeds are sown to ensure a continual crop.

The ability to make dinner decisions right there in the garden, making the menu from what is ready and what is fresh is priceless. It is certainly worth the effort and time to turn a few tiny seeds into a gourmet delight.

Handful of seeds

While growing from seed is easy enough, it does help to know what you are doing. Firstly, crucial decision making is required. What are you going to grow? Once you start looking into this, a world of possibilities opens up. It is likely there will be vegetables you have never heard of before, or seen in fancy cookbooks but were at a loss as to what they were, let alone what they would taste like. And within the range of vegetables, there are different varieties of each to choose from; over a hundred kinds of tomatoes, if not more, just waiting to be planted and eaten. The opportunity to eat like royalty starts with a humble seed.

Once you have acquired your chosen seeds, next comes the task of bringing them to life. With this there is a degree of responsibility. As young plants they are fragile and vulnerable, and therefore must be treated with care. The equipment you use needs to be clean so it doesn’t harbour disease that has the potential of bringing your gardening efforts to an abrupt halt.

Next, select containers to grow your plants in. You can use anything - from purpose-made seed trays, last season’s trays, upcycled yoghurt pots, cut-down-to-size milk bottles or any other container that will benefit from another opportunity to be used. Do ensure that all containers are scrupulously clean and have adequate drainage holes in the bottom.

The growing medium that will give the best results is a quality seed-raising mix that has been created for the purpose of growing seeds. It should be free from large lumps that could hinder the seedlings efforts to push through to the surface. The appropriate seed-raising mix will also have a gentle blend of nutrients, as young seedlings come prepared with what they need within the seed and have little use for a heavy feed. A seed soil also comes with moisture retention abilities to reduce the risk of the soil drying out. While any soil can be used, the greatest chance of success comes with using the kind of media made for the job.

Sowing the actual seed can be as simple as sprinkling across the top of the soil and that’s it. Other seeds need to be lightly covered or buried deep, with the average rule of thumb being three times as deep as the seed is big. Some like to germinate in the dark and others don’t mind starting in a sunny spot. So, it does pay to find out what plant you are growing and how they like to be treated. Most seed packets will tell you what you need to know. Once sown, gently firm down the soil around the seed so both are in good contact.

As you place the seeds in the seed trays, it is important to give them plenty of space. If they come out of the packet a little too thick, grab a pencil and nudge them into their own spot. Plants have a strong sense of personal space and with seedlings, it is even more important not to crowd them. If they are too close together, the reduced airflow around them brings the risk of Damping Off disease which, will wipe out the lot.

Sewing seeds

The germination process is started with the addition of just the right amount of water. The key is to keep the soil consistently moist, not wet but moist; all the while avoiding the boom and bust situation of very dry and then very wet. Misting the seed tray often will work well, or place it on a wet newspaper in a suitable container and water from below so the soil can take up what it needs to stay damp.

The final ingredient is warmth. On the windowsill or in a greenhouse, the spring sunshine is just what seedlings need. Once the seedlings pop up, it is important to ensure that they have good access to the light, or they will stretch and reach to find it themselves. A long, skinny seedling rarely does well as a full-grown plant.

Continue to keep the soil moist and you are on your way to a bountiful harvest.

Salad seedlings