Top tips to start seed off

Need to know the best time to plant?

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Top tips to start seed off

Postby selwein » Sat Mar 28, 2020 1:59 pm

Hi Pawty!

I think I agree with Johnboy! My only surviving greenhouse cucumber was sulking big time, but my grafted tomatoes were in flower so I mixed up the tom feed & just watered it on the whole lot of pots. The little sad cucumber has perked up along with my aubergine which was also on strike!

Nothing to loose!
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sally wright
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Re: Top tips to start seed off

Postby sally wright » Mon Mar 30, 2020 12:52 pm

Dear Selwein,
Good seed sowing practice starts with cleanliness. Get that right and the rest is so much easier. I sow around 15-20000 seeds in any year and I have found the following things very helpful to me.

Clean your seed trays well; not just a quick dust before sowing but a thorough wash with hot soapy water and a dish brush. After washing allow them to dry completely; if you do not then they will stick together in the stack which is maddening. When they are dry store them in a clean bin liner tied shut so they do not get dirty again.
DO NOT put them in the dishwasher - COOK will NOT be amused!

The compost you use should be one specifically for seed sowing. These composts are usually low in nutrients and should only be used for seeds and cuttings. Get a fresh bag each Spring and keep it closely sealed when not in use; this prevents two things - drying out and contamination by fungal spores and weed seeds. I like to add about a 1/4 by volume of horticultural sand to my seed compost as I find that most seed composts do not drain as well as they should and it makes getting the seedlings out a lot easier.

If you are doing cress or salad rape do not add any sand as it does not come off the seedlings and it is truly nauseating to eat.

I use vermiculite as a seed cover for most seeds. Use at least the medium grade (the finer grades just disintegrate) and sieve it to remove the dust as this will cap the surface of the compost and ruin the germination rate (wear a mask for this!). For larger seeds (cabbage seed size and above) press them into the surface before adding the vermiculite to make sure they stay moist.

Always use fresh tap water (from a clean can) to water your seedlings. Rain water contains lots of nasties that you do not want anywhere near your plant babies.

Always sow more seeds than you need plants of; it is a rare day indeed that you get 100% germination. Any surplus can be swapped, donated to the local school fete or sold via an honesty box at the end of the garden. I take mine up to the allotments and I feel like the Pied Piper of Hamelin as the other plotters emerge and start following me to my shed hoping for freebies.

Label well. I write on the name and variety, the date, how many seeds there are (or an approximation) the seed company (use initials) and the year I purchased the packet. I will also indicate how many trays of this seed I have sown by doing this 1 of 4, 2 of 4, 3 of 4, 4 of 4 etc; so that at a glance I can know whether I need to look further for the rest of the batch. This may sound like a lot of information to write on a label but it can tell you so much in a simple way. I also have a little black book with the same information in it and I have a large envelope stapled to the wall of my potting shed for the empty seed packets. The black book is invaluable for when it comes time to order more seeds.

For larger seeds that have a reputation for going mushy before germination such as the bean family or the marrow family. I do two things, one I open the packets a day or two in advance; this is because commercial seed companies dry their seeds and seal them in foil packets for longevity which is good but I believe that these seeds need to regain their natural moisture state before planting without being exposed to soil borne contaminants. The other thing I do sometimes (especially with home saved seeds) is to slightly moisten these large seeds and then put them into another pot with a little green sulphur and roll them around in it; not too much you only want a little bit around the seed. Use gloves and a mask if you have them.

If you do get damping off in a seed tray - do not despair - carefully remove the affected area as soon as possible with a spoon making sure to leave vertical sides to the hole in the compost. The fungus does not like the changed conditions of the hole edge and this should stop the spread of the problem. Keep the seed tray a little drier in future and prick out the seedlings as soon as you can.

When you have finished pricking out your seedlings, save the remains of the soil and the vermiculite into a bag. I re-use this compost with fertilizer pellets added at the rate of 4g per litre in the bottom of my larger pots and tubs - waste not, want not!

I hope these tips are of use to you,
Regards Sally Wright.
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Re: Top tips to start seed off

Postby Geoff » Mon Mar 30, 2020 3:18 pm

Great advice. Two things I would add, the first agrees with RHS but MD does the opposite. If you have time and space fill the trays the day before (or perhaps just a few hours), water and put them where you are going to germinate the seeds to acclimatise. Most useful practice if you are using a propagator but valid anytime you are germinating them warmer than where the compost is stored. After sowing mist the surface with a hand sprayer and if possible only continue to mist regularly rather than watering until you get germination.
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Re: Top tips to start seed off

Postby Monika » Mon Mar 30, 2020 6:51 pm

Great advice, Sally and Geoff. Even a (very) old gardener never stops learning .....
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