Posted 14th Apr 2015
Learn how to sow seeds and create a delicious garden in a container with this step-by-step guide from the book, One-Pot Gourmet Gardener by Cinead Mcternan
Seeds and sowing
Sowing seed is much cheaper than buying plugs or plants and it is hard to beat that sense of satisfaction when the seeds germinate and emerge through the compost and, some weeks later, you are able to plant out home-grown young plants.
Depending on the amount of seed you are sowing, choose a 9cm/3½ inch pot, a seed tray or a modular tray. Many pot recipes in this book call for a packet of seed, but you do not have to sow the entire packet – use your discretion. If the pot recipe calls for three plants from a packet of seed, sow double the amount of seed as plants required as an insurance and use a 9cm/3½ inch pot or three cells of a modular tray, with two seeds sown in each individual cell. Feel free to sow more if you have space and can plant the seedlings in other containers or other parts of the garden. You may even want to grow extra plants to give to fellow home-growing enthusiasts.
Whichever type of tray or pot you use, always fill it with seed compost and drop the tray or pot on to a table to knock out any air. If needed, add a little more compost to reach just under the rim of the tray or pot and firm well. Use an empty pot or tray of the same size or a ‘tamper’ tool to do this – the aim is to create a firm, flat surface upon which to sow the seed. Use a watering can with a fine rose to water the compost and allow to drain: it is better to do this before you sow the seed to avoid displacing it with the force of the water.
Mix fine seed with fine sand to help spread the seed evenly and sow it on the surface of the compost. Then use a layer of vermiculite, rather than compost, to cover it. Vermiculite is lighter and allows light through it – most fine seed needs light to germinate – and it also provides a bit of support as the seed germinates and the vulnerable seedlings emerge.
To sow seed at a certain depth, as directed on the seed packet, it is best to sow on the compost surface and then cover it with the right amount of compost. Make sure you leave enough room at the top of the pot or tray to accommodate this layer when you initially fill it with compost. For larger seed, such as that of beans and pumpkins, make a planting hole with a pen or your finger to the appropriate depth, drop one seed in and cover with compost.
Care of seedlings?
The ideal place for most seeds to germinate is in a dry, warm environment: a greenhouse or potting-shed bench is perfect, but a sunny windowsill will do just as well. Cover your tray or pot with a plastic bag propped up with a short cane, to keep in the moisture. Some seed may require a heat source to trigger germination, in which case use a heated propagator with a lid.
Do not let the compost dry out, but make sure it is not waterlogged, because wet compost will cause the seedlings to be vulnerable to issues such as damping off. This is caused by several soil-borne fungi, often the culprits when seedlings fail to emerge or completely collapse. Avoid damping off by making sure that all your pots and trays are clean before use; also sow seed thinly to avoid overcrowding and ensure that there is plenty of air circulating around emerging seedlings. Once seedlings are infected, there is no remedy: dispose of the seed tray, compost and seedlings and sow fresh seed in a clean tray or pot.
Once tray-sown seedlings are large enough to handle, prick them out into 9cm/3½ inch pots to grow on prior to planting in their final positions. For each seedling, hold one of the leaves rather than the tender stem and use a dibber to ease out the roots from the compost, then gently plant it into its new pot.
Step by step: SOWING SEEDS
1. Fill a seed tray with seed compost
|2. Water the compost before sowing seed. Sow each type of seed as directed on the packet.||3. Cover smaller, delicate seed with vermiculite rather than compost to reduce the risk of damping off.|
Step by step: PRICKING OUT
1. Fill a 9cm/3½ inch pot with compost to just under the rim, firm and make a hole in the centre.
2. Carefully lift a seedling, gathering the soil around its delicate roots, and transplant into the pot.
3. Space the roots out in the hole. Firm the compost gently around the seedling and water well
Extract taken from One-Pot Gourmet Gardener by Cinead Mcternan, published by Frances Lincoln, is available at all good book stores, RRP £16.99.