As the song line says, “from little things big things grow”.
This is true in life but doubly true in the garden. With money tight, now is a smart time to learn how to grow your own plants from seed. If you are looking to the garden to escape the global financial crisis, growing from seed is the place to start. Buy seeds to get started then if you want to economise further, save and swap seeds to keep the garden going for very little outlay.
Start with something easy that germinates readily and fast. Vegies, peas, rocket and leeks, are fast and reliable. For ornamentals, try sweet peas and enjoy sweet smelling flowers in winter and spring.
Most seeds are best started off in a container rather than planted directly into the soil. This is because it is easier to control the growing environment in a container. If you are impatient and just want to scatter seeds into the garden or plant them straight into the vegie patch, stick to large seeds such as peas, sweet peas and broad beans.
- Grow seeds in punnets, seed trays, small pots and even egg cartons. Whatever you use, make sure the container has drainage holes in its base. Shallow containers are best for seed raising.
- Reused punnets or pots must be clean and sterile. Wash them thoroughly in disinfectant, such as Dettol.
- To avoid disease, use purchased seed raising mix, which is sterile and designed for seed growing. Other products that can be used include vermiculite, perlite or a homemade mix of coir peat and propagating sand. Don’t use garden soil in pots.
- Fill the clean container, press down the mix, sow the seed and lightly cover it with seed raising mix. As a rule of thumb larger seeds are planted a little more deeply than small, fine seeds. The seed packet gives all the information you need about planting depth, sowing times and the expected length of time between sowing and seeing the first tiny shoots appear.
Keep the seed raising mix moist but not too wet. Keep seed trays warm while you are waiting for germination by popping the pot into a homemade glasshouse, such as a foam box with a piece of glass over it. Keep it out of direct sun.
If you’ve sown too many seeds and they all shoot, gently thin them out leaving only the strongest seedlings to keep growing. Do this while the seedlings are still quite small (around 12mm high). It seems a waste, but overcrowding leads to fungal diseases such as damping off. You may lose your entire crop if you let all the seedlings grow.
Once they are large enough to handle, either plant them out into well-prepared soil in the garden, or pot them on into a slightly larger container with potting mix.
When transplanting seedlings, water them with a seaweed solution to reduce transplant shock and encourage root growth.