The month of January has exposed gardens to lots of wind, occasional snow and plenty of rain so most gardeners have looked on their garden from the comfort of their house. If you are like most gardeners, suffering from cabin fever and cannot get out into the garden, why not plant some seeds on a window sill and bring the garden into your kitchen. It is at times like this that many gardeners wish they had a greenhouse or polythene tunnel where they can potter away during this bad weather. A greenhouse is a worth-while investment for the keen gardener, it extends your gardening season to twelve months and gives you the opportunity to grow frost tender plants over winter.
Seeds are one of nature’s best inventions. Plants have thrived on this earth due to their ability to grow from seeds. Each seed is different like the plant that produced it. Some seeds will germinate quickly in a week or two, while others like some trees may take a year or more so patience is required. Sowing seeds signals the start of another growing season, it offers you the opportunity to grow a large selection of different plants economically. Sowing seeds can be fun and is a great way to get children interested in gardening. Watching a tiny seed germinate, grow and produce a flower or fruit is one of the most rewarding things about gardening. For many years flowering plants were the most commonly sown seeds, in recent years this trend has changed, now vegetable seeds are the most widely sown, outselling flowering plants 60/40.
Germination of seeds
This is the growth of a seed into a plant. To germinate, most seeds require moisture, oxygen(air) and a suitable temperature. Some seeds, especially very small ones, require light. The heat required for germination can be provided by a propagator, a sunny window-sill or an airing cupboard. A temperature of about 16ºC is essential for most seeds to germinate. Seeds of most tropical plants will not germinate below 20ºC.
Most seeds are sown in plastic trays, make sure these trays are clean to avoid disease killing the young seedlings. Some trays have a number of internal divisions or modules. A few seeds are sown in each module and when they germinate one seedling is allowed to grow in each module. The seedlings can be left in the modules until they are planted on into larger pots or planted outside. The simplest propagator consists of a tray with a plastic lid that fits over it. This prevents the seedlings from drying out and increases the temperature. To grow exotic plants a heated propagator with a heating cable is required.
Sowing the seeds
Choose a potting compost as a planting medium for your seeds. Mixing some vermiculite or perlite with the seed compost will increase the water and air content of it. After mixing your potting compost, moisten it with a dilute solution of a copper-based fungicide, such as Cheshunt Compound, to prevent damping off.
Fill the seed tray with the potting-compost mixture, tap the tray on a table to settle the compost and then level it. Firm the surface using a flat piece of wood, do not pack it too tight. Sprinkle the seeds over the surface of the compost so the seeds fall in ones or twos onto the compost. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of sieved compost or perlite.
If using modular trays, place three seeds in each module. Large seeds can be inserted into the compost using your fingers. Some seeds, such as very small seeds, do not need any compost over them, they need light to germinate. Stand the tray in warm water until moisture has soaked up to the surface of the compost. Cover the seed tray with cling film and place in a warm place.