The wonder of growing food from seed – Organic gardening for beginners
by Hans Wieland
Growing food from seeds is one of the wonders of gardening and often taken for granted, but it is definitely one of the most exciting and even addictive activities one can undertake. Browsing seed catalogues early in the year the all important question is: “Is it worth all the trouble of raising your own plants, rather than buying them ready for planting out?“
My answer is: “Yes, yes, yes and yes, because you are spoilt for choice”. Most organic seed catalogues list nearly 50 varieties of tomatoes, more than 50 varieties of lettuce from Butterhead to Cos Lettuce and Loose Leaf Type to Oriental Greens. Many suppliers have 20 different carrot seeds in their programme from Autumn King and Early Nantes to “Healthy Coloured Carrots”, specially selected for their health benefits when eaten raw, rich in antioxidants, beta carotene and Vitamin A.
We all know that the freshest vegetables we can get are from our garden. Home grown vegetables are proven to give us more vitamins, minerals and nutrients than shop bought alternatives – and they have so much more flavor too!
You might also want to grow unusual vegetables that are expensive to buy or hard to get, Kohlrabi, your seeds for your champion pumpkin, your yellow courgettes and purple beans.
Another important reason to grow from seed is to avoid the risk of introducing soil-borne diseases into your garden. It also is more economical to grow from seed than to buy expensive transplants. Last not least it is fun and satisfying too!
For good germination there are four basic requirements:
Seeds must be of good quality and not too old. On average most seeds store for 2-4 years in a cool, dry place. Check the germination information on the package. Seeds should never be left in a hot or damp polytunnel as they will deteriorate quickly.
- Correct Temperature for Germination
Each crop has a minimum, optimum and maximum temperature for germination. An average temperature for most seeds is between 16 – 20°C. Tomato seeds for example like it warm, around 20°C. On the other hand, too high a temperature can be detrimental to certain crops, i.e. lettuce does not germinate well above 24° C. There are different types of heated propagation units available with heating pads or mats with thermostat or soil warming cables.
Seeds need moisture and air to germinate. The higher the required temperature, the higher is the water uptake, but beware of overwatering the seeds as it encourages fungal diseases.
Once germination has occurred, all plants require light, ideally from above. Germination on window sills works only to a degree and plants often become leggy. Note: A few vegetable seeds require light to germinate, e.g. lettuce, celery, they need to be sown shallow.
Direct sowing or sowing in trays?
At The Organic Centre we are often asked is it better to sow direct into the soil or in pots and trays. It depends on the crop is the answer. Most root crops such as carrots, beetroot, parsnips, swedes and radish are better sown directly, because they don’t transplant well. Also vegetables with large seeds such as peas and beans are generally sown direct.
Most other seeds are sown in modular or cell trays. The seedlings can then be transplanted into the prepared bed or potted on into bigger pots for another 2-4 weeks. This has the added advantage that those well established small plants are more resistant to slug attacks.
You can buy different types of plastic or polystyrene trays or you can recycle yoghurt pots and cut milk cartoons or use home made seed pouches from newspapers.
To produce quality transplants requires some skills and experience. Learn more at The Organic Centre’s one day introductory courses “Grow Your Own Food –Organic Gardening for Beginners”.