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!