A Sowing of Seeds

I claim no special knowledge of growing plants from seed. I’ve done a lot of it and I think I’ve had reasonable results, but I’ve had my share of failures too.
There is an abundance of information available online about seed sowing, to the point that I wonder why I bother writing about my own methods, but maybe there’ll be something of use to someone. If I worried too much about an online abundance of information, I’d never write anything.

I sow most seeds into 9cm plastic pots. I have hundreds, all recycled. I wash them and fill them with compost. I am currently using Melcourt’s Sylva-grow, a peat free multi-purpose made from wood waste and bark. I bought a bag of their professional seed and cutting compost a couple of years back and it looked identical.

I break up any lumps in the compost, fill the pot loosely then tap it on the bench to settle it. I like to get the surface level in the belief that an uneven surface will mean uneven  moisture and therefore erratic germination. I pick out any lumps, if you get two or three seedlings rooted into a lump you can’t separate them.

My improvised seed sowing bench with compost and 9cm pots.

I then sow my seeds as evenly as possible. I usually have a bit of an idea how many of something I want and sow roughly 50% more than I need. 40-50 seedlings in a 9cm pot is as many as you really want.If I need more I sow two pots or a half tray. I then cover the seeds with a bit of fine compost and spread that out evenly before watering from above with a fine rose on the can.

Most things go onto my heated bed in the greenhouse, maintained at 20-25°C. The odd thing like tomatoes or chillies I will bring into the house and germinate at a slightly higher temperature. I don’t cover the pots but I will soon be putting shading onto the glass so the pots of seeds don’t overheat.

Seed pots on my heated bed. Most are veg but there are ornamentals too.

As soon as the seedlings are big enough to handle I will prick them off, usually into cell trays. If the roots are small I fill the tray, make holes with a dibber, put the seedlings in and push compost around the. If the roots are bigger I hold the seedling in the cell and fill around the roots with compost. I pick the strongest seedlings and discard any deformed ones.

Onions and lettuce pricked off into cell trays.

Some things get planted directly into the ground from the cell trays, some get potted up individually into 9cm pots.
I sow a few things directly into cell trays but I never get the uniformity that I get with pricked off seedlings. There always seem to be a few cells where nothing comes up or the seedlings are weak.

The unevenness of direct sown beetroot in cell tray.

Some things need treatments to break dormancy and that complicates things somewhat. Let’s not go there just now.

Cucumbers and chillies in a south facing window. Even here the light level is much lower than in the greenhouse, but these things need the extra warmth.

9 thoughts on “A Sowing of Seeds

  1. Seeds are fascinating, but I lack the patience for what is necessary for the vegetable garden. Most of what goes into the vegetable garden gets sown directly. Actually, almost all of it does. Professionally, almost all of what I have ever grown was from cutting. I have done almost no breeding, and what I have done failed miserable. (Rhododendron seedlings got eaten by mice.) We grow a few hellebores from seed, but even that is not done intentionally. We just scoop out the seedlings from below stock plants that we grow for division. We can not sell the seedlings as cultivars, but they sell anyway, just because hellebores are so scarce here. (I could do without them, and will be writing an article to that effect on Wednesday.) Anyway, it is compelling to see how so many others put so much work into starting things from seed inside.


    1. When I were a lad, living in Surrey and gardening on a light sandy soil, all the veg were direct sown. Now I’m in Cornwall, with heavier soil, milder winters and much more rainfall and most of the stuff I’ve sown direct has been eaten by slugs as it comes above ground. There’s rarely enough dry or cold to reduce their numbers, especially at seed sowing time.

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      1. Yes, that is why I do not normally sow tomatoes directly. I would prefer to do so, but it is too much trouble. I might do it this year, even though they will be getting a late start. (I might sow them in their section before the rest of the garden is cleared.) Everything else gets sown directly. I sometimes need to replace something if it does not get to growing faster than the snails eat it. There are snails here, but seedlings tend to grow faster than they get to them.

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  2. I’ve only sown tomato and chilli seed so far (other than tree and shrub seed and as you say let’s not go there!) Another month here before I’ll bother with cucubits. Although I have sown some achocha which seems to need a longer season to fruit for me, even in the tunnel. It’s its last chance this year! Thanks for the compost tip. Unfortunately location means lack of choice here – delivery is so expensive.


      1. There is an excellent small garden centre Skyeshrubs in Portree and main-stream seeds, compost and garden plants etc. are also available at some of the hardware shops there. I don’t go over there very often, since we run the local store/PO so I never have to go shopping! More unusual plants I have to buy online, although some (eg arbutus enedo – which I haven’t got yet) do well on Skye and I have seen at skyeshrubs.
        Achocha grows well from seed. It is a vigorous climber with attractive ‘cannabis’ leaves. The pods are the edible bit and they are a bit like small green peppers, maybe 1 1/2 in, but taste more of courgette perhaps. I never seem to get many of them, but still keep trying because I love plant, even though it is annual so needs reseeding every year. The bolivian giant variety has larger pods, 4 – 5 in, but is a bit more difficult to get hold of (real seeds is where I got mine). In my (limited) experience it seems to need a longer growing season.


      2. I think I may give Achocha a a go. It sounds like the sort of thing we’d eat, I think. Now I’m going to have to do a small order to Real Seeds, like I didn’t have enough seeds already. You still want Zingiber mioga?

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      3. I really like the real seeds seeds. I always get good germination from them.
        Yes zingiber mioga is definitely on my list of intersting edible perennials. There are lots of japanese mountain veg I’d like to try and that one should do pretty well for me I think.


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