It’s just a matter of weeks before we’re all going to be clamouring for garden seedlings. Who will you be: the gardener who’s left it too late to grow their own and who heads off to the garden centre to spend a fortune on a handful of seedlings? Or the gardener who’s thought ahead and can supply not only themselves but even a few lucky neighbours with enough seedlings to fill the beds?
When seedlings cost so much, it makes sense to grow your own, especially when bought seedlings can bring into the garden unwanted nasties such as clubroot and sclerotinia rot. By growing your own, you’ll also know the history of your seedlings. While these important little plants can look healthy in a punnet on the garden centre shelves, you’ve no real way of knowing whether the plants have been left to dry out or have been starved of nutrition before someone remembered to top them up with some liquid fertilizer. Poorly treated seedlings won’t produce good veges down the track and are, instead, likely to run to seed.
Growing your own seedlings couldn’t be simpler. As a rule of thumb, always try to grow them in the garden (as opposed to punnets or pots). This may not be practical when you live in colder regions of the country and need to have seedlings indoors to get them off to an early start, but often, a simple cloche over the garden bed will serve the same function as growing indoors.
To growing seedlings in the garden, till a small patch of ground, about the size of a bread board, until the soil is crumbly and fine. Scatter the seeds on top and cover lightly with soil. Scatter over slug bait, and cover the patch with clear plastic weighted down with stones. As the seedlings come through the ground, raise the plastic off them just a few millimetres using canes of bamboo laid across the soil. As the seedlings grow taller, bend hoops of polythene pipe over the plants and net them to keep birds off the patch. When the seedlings are large enough to plant out, gently prise them from the soil with a fork. Seedlings grown directly in the garden can stay where they are, often for several weeks, before being transplanted out as required.
If you need to sow seeds into pots, rather than the garden, ensure you use the best seed raising mix available. We all have our favourite brands but, whatever you choose, ensure that it doesn’t include even the small pieces of bark. You are after seed raising mix, NOT compost (despite what it may be called). If you do find yourself with less than fine seed raising mix, don’t hesitate to sieve it. And if you can’t bring yourself to pay for commercial mixes, sieve your own compost, add a little sharp river sand (sieved builder’s mix) to it, and bunk the lot in the microwave until it’s piping hot and well sterilised. Cool before filling pots and sowing seed directly into it.
Once your seedlings appear (either in the garden or in pots), keep them damp but not wet. When they have their first true set of leaves (as opposed to the very first baby leaves to appear through the ground) water them with dilute liquid fertilizer (I use my home made version but it’s possible to buy commercial liquid fertilizer, too).
If you’ve been growing your seedlings indoors, gradually harden them off to the elements by popping them outside during warmer days and bringing them in again at night (note: birds enjoy the tender new leaves of seedling so you may need to cover your pots while they are outside).
Growing your own seedlings is a satisfying way to start an economical and healthy garden. Giving away surplus seedlings is also one of the nicest ways to help your family, neighbours, local school and community gardens. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t appreciate a punnet of home grown kindess!