Growing from Seed

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Growing plants from seed often throws people into a panic and seems to challenge us, walking into uncharted territory. This should not be the case as probably the most important thing to remember is that nature has been doing it, for millions of years.

Seed is, without a doubt, the most successful of reproductive techniques and will continue to happen, everywhere in the world, every day.

All we have to do is to get on natures’ bandwagon and plant what we want to grow for food, medicine or pleasure in the right circumstances, at the right time.

While growing herbs and vegetables from seed is natures’ way of ensuring survival of the species, it is not always easy to be successful unless you keep in mind the nature of the individual plants themselves.

There are numerous helpful tips from just about anyone flowing through the internet, and from ‘celebrity gardeners’ everywhere but the one thing to keep in mind, is that nature has already perfected the techniques and all we need to do is to fit in with what is already established as successful.
So, throw away the paper towel and plastic bags, hessian pots and other crafty ideas and get back to basics.

Once you have researched what will grow in your area and decided what you want to plant,
purchase good quality seed. As local as possible is always best. Most large seed merchants buy their seed from the most economically sound suppliers which does not always equate to good quality, fresh seed. So, direct from the grower is going to give you a better start, and the internet makes that easily possible in today’s marketplace.

There is a popular opinion, that has become a bit of an urban myth, that if you place your seed in a glass of water, the good seed will sink to the bottom and the bad seed will float. As a grower of seed, who plants seed every day of the week, I can categorically say that this is rubbish.
The physical factors that contribute to a seed ‘sealing off’ are many and varied and this is no indicator of viability.

Because seeds are naturally ‘shut down’ to survive until the circumstances for germination are ideal, all we have to do is to provide these ideal circumstances to wake the seeds up.

Most plants, with the exception of the Radish family, some beans and the Grass family, have a preferred time where germination is most likely.
Now, season is the best general way to determine that time but ‘season’ is a combination of, temperature (both air and soil), day length and moisture. If you ignore these factors, success rate will drop.
Some seeds simply will not germinate until their internal clocks have decided that these factors are correct and no amount of coaxing, yelling or weeping will encourage them to germinate outside of their ideal conditions.

While it is possible to soak some seeds overnight before planting, it can also make it more difficult to sow them physically, as the wet seed sticks to everything and you end up wiping them into the soil instead of popping into the hole. Wet seed is also easily damaged.
Soaking may encourage germination a little faster by a day or so, but it does have some drawbacks and I prefer to remain patient for a day or two extra, for the benefit of better seedlings.
Some people like to simply sow their seed directly into the garden where they intend to grow the plant and this is quite natural for many plant types but, you must accept the fact that nature plays the numbers, and you will need to sow much more than you need to germinate.
This practice works best for large seeds like pumpkins and beans as well as cereal and grass seeds and so I prefer to raise my seed to a strong plant before planting out.

The following tips are listed below but minor variations may need to be adapted as common sense will probably suggest.
Germination technique and expected times to germination are often indicated on your seed packets but most assume that you are familiar with the fundamentals of gardening.

1. Always use or make a good quality Seed Raising mix. The mix should always contain sieved material to keep it fine enough for young roots to navigate. Sand, sieved potting mix and ‘vermiculite, pumice or pearlite’.
Potting mix is too coarse, unless you are planting Coffee seeds, soil is too dense generally to be consistent.

2. Never sow seeds too deeply. This is probably the most common mistake that people make. If the seeds are too far down, they may be attempting to germinate but unable to reach the surface before the nutrient stores within the seed run out.

3. Try and keep them uniformly moist during germination. Seeds that are allowed to dry out or are left to sit in bog will probably not survive. Roots also need to breathe. You must never over-water the seeds or seedlings.

4. Firm the soil around your seeds by pressing down on the seed mix after you sow. If you have enough vermiculite in your mix it will not become too compressed and air and water will circulate around the seeds.

5. Emerging seeds are reasonably delicate and easily damaged by sunlight even though they are attempting to reach it. Full sun or full shade are not helpful. A bit of each is best until the seedlings are looking after themselves. Morning sun is better than afternoon sun but some reprieve from the sun is best initially.

6. Many seeds, (but not all) need warmth to germinate. It’s not just air temperature that matters but also the temperature of the soil or seed raise mix.

7. Be patient. If you have done all the right things as suggested above, then it is just a matter of time until your seeds sprout. Sometimes you will get everything coming up at once and other times
germination will be staggered.

8. Do not over fertilise.
A little slow release fertiliser like ‘Osmacote’ may help but most seeds do not require nutrient until well after they have sprouted.

9. Most seeds will, of course only germinate between certain temperatures.
Too low and the seed takes up water but cannot germinate and therefore rots, too high and growth within the seed is prevented.
Fortunately most seeds are tolerant of a wide range of temperatures but it is wise to try to maintain a steady, not fluctuating temperature. Once several of the seeds start to germinate the temperatures can be reduced and ventilation and light should be given.

Symptoms of Low light in your Germination area:
1. Elongation of the stems.
2. Slow growth.
3. Yellowing of the lower leaves.
4. Softer growth in the larger leaves.
5. Plants are bending in one direction.

Seeds are basically divided into two categories which determine their germination style.
One is to soak up the moisture in the soil, swell to re-hydrate the embryo, and then send forth a stem with the emerging leaf or leaves attached.
Once open and producing energy from the sun and air, they will send roots down to establish the plant.
The second type operate by sending forth roots to settle the plant into the ground, using the food source from within the seed. Once settled, they send forth the stem and emerging leaves.
Germination in the first type seems to happen much faster as there is evidence of the plant above the soil earlier, but they are slower to mature to ‘potting on’ size.

Generally speaking, once you have struck your seeds successfully, you will wonder why you were hesitant in the first place as the magic of the process is confidence building and exciting every time you do it.

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