Sowing Your Own Seeds

Seed racks fill the stores, but when is it time to start, and what do you need?

Starting your own plants from seeds can be a very rewarding experience. Most seeds are quite easy to grow and reap the rewards of your labour, but others can be a little more difficult.

If you've never started your own seeds, I would suggest starting on the easy side. Vegetable plants tend to be easier to grow and more forgiving than annuals and perennials. Vegetables also get started much later in the year than other seeds so it's a little less maintenance. Once you've graduated from the small vegetable garden, you progressively try the more challenging seeds. Herbs are quite easy, but slower than vegetables. Annuals vary quite a bit and some will be easy and others harder. Perennials often require additional steps to make them germinate. It also takes them longer to establish from seed.

When making your check-list for supplies, there are a few basics.

  • Soil - It's best to use a "soil-less mix" for germination since you don't want any weeds or contamination on the young seedlings. Garden Centres can recommend the best product for you since some products are only available in very large quantities and others in smaller bags, though with a bit of a compromise. Just make sure there is no fertilizer in your mix.
  • Containers - For large numbers of seeds, an open tray works very well while for vegetables that will be transplanted outdoors are good in peat-pots. It's always a good idea to have a plastic tray to keep your other pots in just to keep the watering under control. Peat Pellets work very well for quite a few vegetables as well.
  • Dome - A clear plastic dome is essential. It covers the seedlings and increases humidity while still allowing light to hit the plant. The more humidity, the better the germination. Commercial germination chambers have as close to 100% humidity as possible to get the best germination. I have seen some people try and use plastic wrap and toothpicks as a make-shift dome, but it's better to invest in a proper one since plastic in contact with the seedling will often cause rot.
  • Seeds - It's best to buy the seeds as close to planting time as possible. In the wrong environment, seeds can go bad. More experienced seeders can start as early as December and beginners will often start in March or April, or even early May. Read the package directions for anything special you have to do and to get the proper seeding date.

Once you have all your supplies, follow the directions on the package for seeding. The general rule is to cover the seed with an amount of soil equal to the thickness of the seed (or course check the package directions for exceptions). Water the seeds in well with a very fine spray as not to dislodge the seeds. Cover with a dome and put in a bright area (unless the package states otherwise). Giving seeds bottom-heat greatly increases the germination rate, though watch for too much heat and drying out.

Observe your seeds every day - treat them like children. Water any time they start to get dry. Once the seedlings are up and have some leaves, you can probably remove the dome from your plants. Keeping them in a bright location and a little on the dry side will prevent excess stretching of your seedlings.

Of course, if all this seems too involved, it's easy to just purchase plants from your local Garden Centre. It's quick and easy and doesn't require as much effort. Sometimes, depending on your experience, you can often get much further advanced plants from the Garden Centre as well, so there's room for both do-it-yourself seeding and pre-purchased plants.

I suggest everybody tries to grow something from seed at some point, even if just for the experience. For kids, Sunflowers, Pumpkins, and Tomatoes are a great learning experience and are easy to grow. Urban families with cats should try a little tray of cat-grass for entertainment. It's fun to watch plants grow and seeds germinate, so have fun!

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