In a cold climate, such as in Melbourne, Australia, the summer is never quite long enough to grow all your summer annuals vegetables, such as tomatoes, chillies, capsicums and so on. The best way to get a long productive season is to start the seedlings early indoors, so they can be planted out in the garden as soon as the weather is warm enough. By sowing the seeds earlier, the plants will of course fruit earlier, and with warm weather continuing after fruiting, they can then produce a second round, doubling your yield for the season.
The summer vegetable seeds can be started indoors in later winter (August in the southern hemisphere), so the plants have a few weeks to grow enough in size to be planted out time for spring (September in the southern hemisphere).
The advantage of starting plants early indoors is that you can continue your gardening grow plants while the weather is still too cold outside, and you can utilise the heat within the house to not only warm yourself in late winter, but to grow your plants as well.
It’s very easy to start seedlings indoors, there isn’t much you need, and you’ll see results in a week!
There’s a few points I’d like to bring up in regards to planting seeds which are worth discussing. The first is the matter of growing medium and the second is direct sowing versus sowing on containers.
1. Growing Medium
Growing medium is basically the medium (the “stuff”) that you grow your plants in. Plants do grow in various materials, from their natural soil to a range of man-made potting mixes. The textbooks will insist that you specifically use “seed raising mix”, you can find small bags of this in commercial stores, and it’s fairly expensive, but the reality is that you don’t need it. Seriously, a lot of it is just plain bunkum. Seeds have been naturally falling on soil and sprouting without human intervention for the last few million years before commercial seed raising mix was ever thought up. From personal experience, I find that in practice you can use virtually anything that plants will grow in to raise seeds in.
Sure there’s common sense, if you’re planting very fine seeds you might not be able to use a really coarse mix with large pine bark pieces in it as it wont surround the planted seeds closely enough to retain moisture, and soil can retain more water retentive than artificial mixes, which may be a concern for moisture sensitive plants, but this is not a problem for annual vegetables, they grow in anything.
Just keep in mind that gardening, if done sustainably, is all for free, as nature provides everything you’ll need.
My folks have been starting their vegies indoors for as long as I can remember, in plain garden pots filled with garden soil, Did it work? To put it simply, it worked brilliantly. Just keep in mind that gardening, if done sustainably, is all for free, as nature provides everything you’ll ever need.
Working in the garden nursery industry, I meet many gardeners who have had problems sowing seeds in seed raising mix – they find that their seeds sprout but their seedlings only reach a very small size and then STOP GROWING, and the resultant seedlings are very thin and spindly! That’s because seed raising mix has absolutely no nutrients in it, and is totally unsuitable for sowing seeds in. It’s actually misnamed, it really should be called SEED COVERING MIX, because that’s what it’s designed for. You need a nutrient-rich mix underneath such as quality potting mix to raise seedlings!
2. Direct Sowing
Most seeds can be sown into pots or punnets (flat seedling trays), and then be transplanted into the garden or even into bigger pots. But there are some plants that don’t take too kindly to having their roots disturbed, and become badly affected by transplanting, so these plants must be directly sown, that is, the seeds are put into the ground where you intend the plant to grow.
Here is a quick list of plants whose seeds are best sown directly straight into the ground:
How to Sow Seeds
Sowing seeds is not that difficult, there are a few basic rules to follow, and nature does the rest!
The general rule for planting seeds is that they should be planted three times as deep as the diameter of the seed.
There’s no real need to get this exact, as seeds will often germinate regardless of soil depth, just try to get it fairly close.
Follow seed packet instructions for planting depth, and if sowing directly into the garden, follow the recommendations for spacing – how far apart from each other the plants should be spaced.
Most seeds need to be buried, while some seeds require light to germinate, and prefer to be sown directly on top of the soil. This will be specified on the seed packets.
Note – if you’re collecting your own seeds or are given seeds, and don’t have “instructions”, you can look up the seed sowing recommendations in a good gardening book or search for the information online.
To sow vegetable seeds indoors for an early start, you will need:
- Some sort of growing medium, such as seed raising mix, potting mix or even regular garden soil
- A container to hold the soil that you will grow your seeds in.
- A drip tray of some sort to place under your container to stop water running everywhere when you water your container.
- A cover of some sort you can place over the container to hold the moisture in (can be a piece of cardboard, a square of glass, shrink wrap that you use for food. etc)
- Seeds of the plant varieties you wish to grow
- A watering can
- A small garden spade or trowel to scoop up potting medium
- A “dibber”, chopstick, pencil, or similar implement to make small holes in the surface of the potting medium to put seeds into
Here are the basic steps, they’re quite straightforward and easy to follow.
As well as being an instructional guide for starting annual vegetable seeds in pots, this set of instructions is also a basic guide in seed planting for any kind of seeds you wish to grow.
Starting your warm season annual vegetable seedlings indoors in late winter is a great way to get a good head start of a few weeks before spring arrives. By the time the weather is suitable for planting out seedlings, you’ll have nice strong seedling plants that will better survive pests and inclement weather!
Thank you so much for this information. You wouldn’t believe how impeccable your timing is! I have just been sourcing some seedling trays etc to start doing this very task. Last time I tried this it failed miserably. Not sure why, maybe too wet or too dry or too early in the season? I will be following your tips very closely to ensure success!
Mike (PDC Trinity College Alumni)
Hi Michael, hope the seedlings go well this time round! Thanks for the feedback, I’m aiming to write up articles that are seasonally relevant, so people can read the DIY articles and give them a go straight away without having to wait for a change of season.
Great Site Angelo and good to see you with Geoff in his recent video.
Just an FYI on starting seeds in plain garden soil for those out there. I tried it and maybe 1/4-1/3 survived. Its because of a thing called damping off. Basically the seed sprouts. It starts growing and then it just dies. The soil is moist enough, its getting good light and air circulation, still the seedling dies. From what I’ve found online its because there are pathogens/bacteria/mold/etc whatever it is in the soil that inhibits strong seedling growth.
Didn’t seem to make sense to me because as you say seeds have been falling to the ground and growing for millions of years in plain old soil. Don’t know how to explain it any better but all the sprouts that died looked exactly like what they call “damping off”.
Maybe the soil was too heavy, maybe I should have mixed in something finer? I am now trying a store bought seed starter mix(even though I’m strongly against the idea), we’ll see how it goes.
Thanks for your comment, you’ve raised a good point. It really does depend on the quality and health of your soil. If you have a healthy, rich, friable, well draining organic soil, it helps both plants to grow and seeds to germinate, after all, that’s where plant seeds have evolved to grow! Growing up, my folks always used soil for raising vegie seedlings, and we always had the biggest strongest plants as a result. I guess they always knew which soil was good for that purpose!
If the soil is heavy, with too much clay, doesn’t drain well and you try to grow seeds in it, then the seedlings will have too much moisture around them and they will be attacked by fungal diseases, ‘damping off’ is an attack by soil borne pathogenic fungi. If your soil is unhealthy, heavy, or of poor quality, then it is not ideal for using as a seed raising mix in pots for raising seeds in. Better to get a seed raising mix or make your own.
As a cheaper alternative to seed raising mix, I recommend buying a potting mix which is fairly fine grade, that is, with very few large coarse pieces in it, and put it through a garden sieve to take out the larger particles. Use the fine mixture that goes through the sieve to raise your seedlings in. Even cheaper yet is to use coconut coir, the stuff you buy in a compressed block that you soak in a bucket of water, which expands into a very fine dark brown crumbly medium, I’ve used it for both cuttings and seeds, and it’s way cheaper than any other propagating medium.
This was very helpful. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.
Random comment: Cucumbers don’t need to be direct sown. I never have, and they’re an absolute staple in our household. I’ve also never directly sown Asparagus, but this was from seed and not from roots. that said, 1000% never, ever try to transplant beans, they loathe it
As long as the snails don’t mow down the young cucumber seedlings (by protecting them), they can probably be sown directly!
Bean seedlings seem to transplant fairly well here, they’re very popular in garden nurseries, but as with all seedlings, minimise root disturbance, ideally by planting in separate seedling containers so that seedlings don’t have to be torn from one another’s roots at planting time.
You are so perfect.
You look wonderful, your voice is wonderful and your garden is one piece of paradise. Wish you that your garden is blooming forever.
Thanks, so nice to receive such a lovely compliment! Hope your garden is looking amazing too.
I guess I really love what I do, and love sharing it with the world, and I feel blessed to have all that.
Wishing your garden is amazing too! Regards, Angelo
Should you have little time sometimes, could you write me to my email? Thanks sooooo lot in advance
Just chanced upon this article. It’s so well written and informative. Thank you for sharing.