How-to for beginner gardeners with Shannon Hunt.
Germinate Your Seeds, Inside
Now is the time to give your spring vegetables a head start by propagating seeds on a heated mat indoors, or somewhere warm where they are protected from frost and other adverse outdoor conditions. Here are a few ideas to help you get started.
In this, the last month of winter, the most effective way to sprout your seeds is in a tray, on a heated mat, under cover. Propagation on a heat mat requires no light, but once the foliage pops through the soil, seedlings need full light to grow.
Different-sized electric heat mats are available both online and at good garden supply centres.
Hot Water Cupboard
While some modern homes do not have a hot water cupboard, those that do have a great place for seed germination. That said, you need to ensure the growing medium in your seed-raising trays/punnets remains moist (not wet) and the cupboard temperature is not so high that it dries out too quickly.
Always place your seed-propagating containers on a waterproof tray in your hot water cupboard to prevent your growing medium from finding its way onto your towels, tea towels and sheets.
Seed-raising Mix is Best
While you may be tempted to use soil from your garden, potting mix or compost as your seed-raising mix, commercial seed-raising mix will likely give you a greater success rate. Seed-raising mix is exceptionally fine in texture and, in my experience, seeds propagate better in it than those planted in a coarse growing medium or soil. That said, I am sure there will be someone out there who has had good luck propagating seeds in the most unlikely of mixes, but if you are new to seed-raising, I suggest you take the road more travelled on this one.
Seeds Need Water
A spray bottle is a handy tool for watering your seeds. Water is integral to germination success – letting the growing medium dry out completely or overwatering will likely put an end to them sprouting. And, because artificial heat is involved in indoor propagation, you need to check the moisture level of the seed-raising medium every morning and evening.
Always empty the tray of any wastewater that accumulates so your seed containers are not ‘sitting’ in water.
In the dark
Most seeds do not need light to sprout, except those few that do sprout just under the soil surface. These seeds are usually tiny, like carrot and celery seed. Generally, seeds that are tiny will sprout with a little light under a sprinkle of soil and the bigger, fatter seeds, like bean and pea seeds, are best planted around 5cm below the surface, where it is darker. If you are unsure, follow the planting instructions on the seed packet or ask your favourite gardening relative or friend.
Let there be light
As soon as tiny leaves pop through the growing medium, it is time to remove the tray(s) from your hot water cupboard so the leaves can begin the process of photosynthesis in light and sunshine. To make sure the new, tender foliage survives, place your tray in a warm space where there is light and shelter from the weather, like a glasshouse or plastic house, or under a lean-to where frosts and wind cannot burn them. Continue to water as required and, when the frosty weather stops and they are big enough to transplant into the ground, do it!
You can leave seedlings on a heat mat for a week or so after they have popped through the growing medium, as long as they are exposed to sunlight. To acclimatise them before transplanting outside, move them into a glasshouse or similar at least a week before you pop them into your garden, and transplant them once the frosts have passed.