Thursday, August 30, 2012

Things I'm Still Learning About Seeds

I'm fairly new to this growing from seed business.

I wonder how long I can keep getting away with saying things like that? I kid myself that my novice status excuses and covers up my actual disorganisation and laziness. Truth is, I've been attempting to grow from seed for a couple of years now. But usually I end up with big gaps everywhere in my patches and go out and buy seedlings too. And I have way too many seeds some of which get wasted. I do love my little packets of seeds (which I've only recently started housing in sealed containers in the back of the fridge as instructed). I could happily while away many a minute with pen in hand circling interesting things to grow from a catalogue.

The thing is a germinating seed makes me very, very happy. It never ceases to make me smile when I see a little stalk poking its way up through the soil. But I'm still learning and playing around with what works for me. So I have a few questions for you.

To Soak or Not to Soak?
I've read that you ought to soak your seeds first. But I've never done it. I've also read that soaking the seed in diluted seaweed solution is a good trick. But I've never done that either. Who does and is it worth the effort?

When to Plant the Seeds?
Again this year, I've started my spring seeds off too late. I don't know how I managed it but I have. I am following some ripper local blogs and that, I've discovered, is a great way to keep you on track with your own planting but nevertheless, I'm behind. I think I need some diary system that'll tell me each year when to plant the seeds and pop them indoors or in the green house and then when to relocate them outside. Oh and I mustn't forget that annoying hardening off period you're supposed to do. I think my diary system needs to come with reminder alarms too.

Old Seeds & New Seeds & Why Are Some So Slow?
I had half a pack of tommy toe tomato seeds leftover from last year and they still haven't germinated. They're planted in the same container as some freshly bought yellow pear. The yellow pear is all up and has been for a week but not the tommy toe. I wonder if it's 'cos the seeds are older or if it's just the different variety? You could learn lots growing seeds and conducting little experiments. If I had more energy and my kids were less obsessed with soccer or minecraft maybe I'd do just that.

What to Grow them In?
(Jiffy pots. Image from here)
I'm also wondering about the best containers to grow your seeds in. When I started out, I purchased these little jiffy pots. But I've given up on them cos it seems a bit of a waste of money. Then I felt oh so pleased with myself rolling out these newspaper pots. But they're starting to fall apart. Mine seem to be a bit flimsy. I have collected a few plastic pots and things which work well. But I must admit I'm not diligent enough to wash them with soapy water between uses. I'm just spreading my diseases around I suppose. I had read that toilet rolls were a bit too firm and tricky for the roots to get through - the cardboard being a bit thick. But I decided to give them a go anyway. I hope they'll work.

Is it Worth Making Your Own Mix?
And then there's the seed raising mix. Does anyone out there make their own? I wonder if it'd work out cheaper to make your own? Maybe if you got stuff in bulk - but you need the space to store it. And let's not forget I am kinda lazy.

Where to Put Them?
I've got a bunch of seeds sprouting in my laundry but there's not much more room there for any more. And last year I bought a super dooper mini greenhouse which was very reasonably priced and just needs a couple of bricks to keep it from flying away in a storm. But where to place it? It's currently in a protected spot down the side of my house which gets morning sun. It can get warm and humid in there. I think I might be cooking the poor things. Are you supposed to open the greenhouse up during the daytime and just close it up at night?

How Hard is it To Save Seeds?
But what I really want to get my head around and my fingers organising is to save my own seed. I mean how hard can it be? But shamefully I haven't really managed it yet.  Only with sunflowers and that was so easy it surely doesn't count.

So many things still to learn. This gardening caper could be a full time job if you were to do it well. What works for you and what have you learnt along the way?


  1. Hey VG, this is a brilliant post! It addresses almost all the questions that a novice gardener would need answered. I have been gardening now for more than 25 years, but I'm still learning, and to be honest there is NO correct answer to all your questions. Seeds never perform exactly the same way two years in a row. There are just so many variables to influence their performance. For me, this is one of the main attractions of gardening (as opposed to just veg-production). The very "variability" is a challenge in itself. The only real answer to your questions is to experiment and see what works for you.

    1. Thanks Mark. I'll keep experimenting. I'd like to keep a record of the results and do it all properly but in reality I'll just rely on my memory.

  2. Great post! I made newspaper pots this year, but made them three sheets thick instead of one, and they're holding together well. I like them because there's plenty of room for the roots to develop before they go in the ground.
    I also did some very "scientific" experiments involving soaking vs not soaking. I found that with all my fruiting plants (Toms, Eggplants, Chilis, Cukes, etc) the longer I soaked them, the faster they germinated (I used tepid water, not hot water). I even did the "fold seeds in a couple sheets of wet paper towel inside a plastic bag and leave in a warm place" thing and they germinated the fastest of the lot, and are looking very strong. I agree with Mark though that it really just depends. When it came time to plant out herbs I was so over my tedious experiments that I just threw the seeds in the dirt without doing anything (including labeling them). They germinated just fine too! I do keep a gardening diary so I can remember all of the whats & whens.

    1. Beth I haven't heard of the wet paper towel in plastic thingi. Ok well I think I will try the soaking thing from now on. Glad to hear that others have already done the experimenting. I can just imagine you throwing the lot in the dirt at the end of it ha!

    2. I was eager to try the paper towel thing because it seemed quick and easy, but also because it would save me the drama of dealing with fluctuating germination rates. I could just toss out the ones that didn't germinate without having to plant them in their own little pot. Works for me! Here's what I did, more or less:
      It took 3 days for my cucumber seeds to germinate, then I put them in pots. Too easy!

  3. Hey VG,re:soaking seeds...I bought 6 packets of peas seeds this year to plant out I put 2 packets in the ground and I got 5 seeds to germiniate...the next 4 packets I soaked overnight and every pea has germinated..Soaking is the way to go from now on

  4. Yes, I am a bit like you with seeds. It seems the methodical part of my brain just doesn't kick in with the ongoing planting thing ...that's why I decided to do plantings where I sowed the whole garden ( which is working really well for now ).I am getting better at it though as time goes on.
    I have learnt rosella seeds do better if soaking and capsicum seeds will germinate quicker if you put them in the fridge the week before planting ( I wonder it if would work with your tommy toes?). I think the reason the yellow ones came up quick is they just naturally germinate easier - we have yellows coming up all the time like a weed.
    keep experimenting ...great post!

  5. Great post veggiegobbler, I so relate with what you are saying. I have been finding seedling raising a challenging art too. For the first time I feel I am on schedule, and it sounds like you are are too. I don't think you could have planted much earlier, unless you have a greenhouse. Would you believe, we are growing tommy toe and yellow pear also. Both are newly purchased and we are experiencing the same phenomenon with the yellow pear germinating well ahead of the tommy toe. So I think it is variety. I have tried toilet roles and paper pots with little success. The biggest problem I have come to learn with seedling raising is the soil drying out. The paper/cardboard wick the water out of the soil. I have since been advised to fill the toilet rolls to the very top, this will reduce the wicking effect. Seed saving is something I have not yet attempted, one step at a time.

  6. Great post!! I have used the wet paper trick for parsnip seeds but think I will extend that to other seeds given the comments. Germination of old seeds (more than 1-2yes old) does decline though this varies a lot between type of seeds, but it might mean a germ rate do 50% in old seeds compared to 80-90% in fresh seed. When in doubt with old seed Just sow extras, though if you use Beth's wet paper trick you should see the germ rates pretty well, in fact that's how we germinate seeds in the lab - on wet paper (with certain scientific substrates and pre-chilling and other fancy techniques of course!) You know my predilection for toilet rolls, and while it is thick cardboard the roots just grow out the bottom so aren't affected (that I've noticed). I'd never bother making my own seed raising mix, it's just the commercial stuff for me! My sown seeds usually go in the kitchen on a sideboard, but I'm sowing some more tomatoes this weekend and am thinking of putting them on the hot water unit to see if the extra but of heat it gives off helps. On saving seeds (assuming you don't grow hybrids which produce sterile seeds) yes the seeds may not go true to the parent plant, but with seeds I've saved from carrot, leek and beetroot I have never had a problem, and they've usually germinated really well! And I always find self seeded tomatoes fruit really well when I let them do their thing...

  7. Sounds like you are right on track. I sowed a couple of weeks ago, took great care of them in the warm house and now the seeds are approaching the size for transplanting and it's way too early to plant them out! I can't win with timing either.

    Good luck avoiding the gaps this year :)

  8. Loads of good suggestions. Thanks everyone!

  9. My plastic covered greenhouse thingy gets morning sun too. So far I've left it zipped up but I think I'll start leaving it unzipped from here on in. As for pots to sow in I just use the seedling punnets and endevour to wash them first...sometimes.....As for your other questions I agree with everyone else although I don't tend to soak my seeds but reading everyone's advice perhaps I should...

  10. Hi VG
    I follow Linda Woodrows method of raising seeds and it is great for the forgetful gardener like me who is prone to letting them dry out. She offers lots of good advice here and I think she might even answer most of you questions. Also check out liz's blog for info about seed saving

    1. Thanks Fiona. I've only fairly recently started reading Linda's blog so I will check that link out. I do read Liz's blog religiously - but I haven't got my head around seed saving yet. Must do. Must do. :)

  11. you never stop learning with this gardening caper, I am a great seed collector but less skilled in the sowing department. I would love a heat mat to surge seeds along quickly to make up for my tardiness.

  12. I love seeds. Some of my favourite memories as a kid! Nothing is more exciting then watching little sprouts poking their heads up. I personally like to soak, but think it's totally not necessary, just quickens the process. I soak in a jar, then swirl the seeds and pour them straight into the garden (along a shallow trench in the dirt). I've heard of people using a water bottle with a squirty top to get small seeds evenly into the soil. I prefer straight into the garden as I can't be bothered with the hardening off process and have also been caught out with timing.


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