It is the time of year when everyone is talking about seeds. In our topsy turvy gardens you may either be starting to sow in the northern hemisphere or beginning to collect seeds in the southern hemisphere! Wherever your garden may be, seeds are a big part of any gardener’s world. It is thought that planting seeds around the time of the Spring Equinox brings growth, hope and promise, not only to our plants but to the sower too! It’s nice to think of it as another time of the year when we can all start from the beginning. Now is the ideal time to start sowing your seeds outside, either in pots or directly in the ground due to warmer, milder temperatures.
Why should we sow seeds?
Sowing seeds brings a lot of joy and excitement to me, there’s nothing quite as special in the garden as seeing that first green shoot pop up through the soil or when, at harvest time, you are gathering all the wonderful, homegrown produce that started off life as a tiny seed. It always truly amazes me to see something so small turn into something bigger and even more beautiful. Don’t forget a mighty oak that has stood the test of time once started off as a small acorn, also a seed. There really is something truly magical about plants and you can see why writers are inspired to write stories about them.
If you are new to gardening and are a bit worried about all things to do with seeds, you really needn’t. Despite their small stature, seeds really can be very resilient. They certainly could teach us humans a good lesson or too about not giving up so easily! Despite their good intentions, there will of course be some that you lose, whether it’s at the stage of germination, after that or even before. It’s all a part of life! Experiment, have a go, and more importantly have fun. I promise that once you start, you won’t be able to stop growing your plants from seed.
What are seeds?
Seeds help plants to make more copies of themselves. They come in all different shapes, sizes, colours and textures, and are often overlooked for their own distinct beauty. Don’t forget too that grains, beans and nuts are also seeds. Take a closer look and you’ll be amazed at how different each type of seed is. Some seeds are individual and some are clumped together, as in the case of beetroot, yet one things for sure, they are all truly remarkable.
Seeds contain an embryo and a temporary food supply called the endosperm, which under the right set of conditions will begin to germinate. Germination is the process of the seed turning from a seed into a seedling (a young plant). Until conditions are suitable, the embryo is protected in the seed’s outer shell called the seed coat. Some seed coats are harder and tougher than others so may require soaking in water for 24 hours prior to sowing in soil, to help encourage germination to take place. In our garden we do this with our runner beans and peas.
As they are so varied, please do make sure to read the instructions on the back of seed packets. The information really is there to help you! You will find tips on when to sow, how to sow and what to sow the seeds in. Learn from the mistake of my younger self who was so keen to start straight away and didn’t always read the instructions. There’s little wonder why my alpine plants didn’t germinate.
Another reason to read seed packets is that you may see some seeds with F1 hybrid next to their name. An advantage of hybrids means the seed has been modified by humans to become a better version of its original self, for example, the plant will have increased resistance to certain diseases or more uniformed flowering. On the flip side be aware that because of the time put into modifying these seeds, prices can be a bit more expensive. You also cannot collect the seeds come Autumn, as the plants that grow in subsequent years will not be the same as your original F1 parent plant.
You will notice that seed packets come with an expiration date. This doesn’t mean you can’t sow them after that date but it does mean that the quality of the seeds lessens over time. You may be lucky and get plants from seed sown past the expiration date but you could equally run the risk of not being lucky and having empty sowing trays or having plants that are not as strong or as healthy as they would have been!
How many to sow?
Once you have decided what you are sowing and have read the instructions on the packet, you may like me come to the all time question – how many do I sow, especially if the seed manufacturer has supplied a large quantity of seeds in the packet?
When I was much younger, I used to sow all the seeds in my tomato packets to increase the chance of germination taking place. As I’ve said before, some seeds however much you try to control the situation, will just not germinate. It would be true to say the end result was me having far too many tomato seedlings to look after. I’m sorry to have to say this, but the ones I couldn’t give away ended up on the compost heap, much to the horror of my brother. Thankfully he made me see sense and now I try to find the right balance by sowing the number I need plus a few extra as a backup! There are some seed packets in which you are only given a small quantity, in which case, I sow all of these. These are usually the more expensive and not as common types of seed.
A few seed tips which I have found useful over the years
- Be aware that some seeds can be poisonous so keep out of reach of children and pets. Always wash your hands after handling any seed.
- Store seeds in a cool, dark, dry area.
- Some seeds are very tiny and they generally only need a ‘dusting’ of soil on top of them. Larger seeds will need a couple of centimetres of soil to cover them. Some seeds, alpines in particular, require direct sunlight to encourage germination and therefore need no soil covering them!
- Larger seeds, such as pumpkin and courgettes, have a large surface area. Make sure you place them in the soil on their sides and not with the flat part of the seed lying directly on the soil bed. Putting them on their sides, allows water to run off and not sit on top of the seed. If water sits on the seed, it will rot and not germinate!
- To save money, you can collect seeds from flowers in Autumn that are not F1 varieties. Check out my post on seed collecting here.
Other seed ideas to try:
- For those of you that like art, be sure to check out old seed packets. There truly are some amazing pieces of art to be discovered.
- For those of you with children, encourage them to design front covers for packets of seeds you collect in your garden.
- Have a sunflower growing competition within the family. The aim is to get children involved and wanting to learn more about gardening. Sunflowers are fun and easy to grow. Always a crowd pleaser.
- For those of you getting married, a nice idea I came across was to give seeds away as wedding favours. Perfect for remembering the happy day and spreading the love.
- For those of you who like a challenge, how about growing a lemon tree from a lemon pip you find at home in your fruit bowl. Sometimes it can take years for plants to come to fruition and in some cases, they do not always produce fruit but it is certainly something different to grow as a gardener.