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Growing vegetables from seed

Article by: Ted Rosen  |  Picture by: Ted Rosen
Growing vegetables from seed
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Some crops are suitable only for direct seeding in your garden, other crops you can start indoors. Here you find information about how to start seeds indoors and outdoors, how to time your seeding and calculate planting depths.

Different seed types
Seeds are classified by how they are pollinated. Gardeners usually use hybrid seeds because they offer disease resistance, predictability and uniformity, since they are pollinated in carefully controlled settings. You cannot save seeds from hybrids to grow plants the next year because you get poor results.
Plants pollinated by birds, insects and the wind are open-pollinated. Their seeds can be collected and used the following year. Seeds from those plants are mostly true to the parents, but can vary.
Heirloom seeds are old varieties of open pollinated seeds and not uniform in germination, growth or production.
Starting seeds indoors
Crops with long maturity times, such as tomatoes and squash, should be started indoors to give them a jump start on the growing season. Starting seeds indoors requires a suitable sunny window where you can put your seedling trays. Also, because not all seeds will germinate, starting with seedlings sown indoors assures you that all your planting places, especially for larger mature plants, will be filled.
Seed needs
To get a seed started indoors you must provide the correct amounts of light (or darkness), moisture, oxygen and heat. Most seeds need to be sown at a depth twice their diameter, in a moist, lightly compressed but not compacted sterile potting soil. The temperature of the growing medium (not the surrounding air) must be 18 to 23 degrees C for most seeds. See the seed packet for germination details.
Don't stockpile seeds
Buy seeds for only one year at a time, as each seed has a limited life. Store your seeds packets at 4 to 5 degrees C, low humidity, in laminated seed packets.
Time your seeds
Sowing your seeds indoors at the proper date is critical. Counting backwards from the last possible time of frost in your area, calculate your seed starting time. Once plants reach a certain size, they need to move outside, and the climate needs to be right. If you start your seeds too soon, and your plants need to be transplanted but cannot go outside yet because the weather is too cold, they will be weak and spindly. The seed packet tells you how many days it takes for a seed to germinate, and to harvest.

You need to make a timing calculation plan for each vegetable you plan to grow.
We have picked the cucumber as an example to show you how a typical calculation plan works:
The days to germination according to the seed packet are 5 to 7 days.
The days to maturity are 58 days.
Therefore 7 days + 58 days = 65 days needed from seeding to harvest.
Your average last frost date is 1st May (check and adjust for your location).
The seed packet indicates at what stages the seedlings are ready to transplant.
With a calendar at hand you can conclude that you need to start seeding indoors around 15th April, so your seedlings can be transplanted outside around 7th May (leaving an extra week as a safety window against frost) and harvested around 20th June.
Read the seed packet!
All the information you need is printed on the back of the seed packet: how deep to sow, if a seed must be pre-soaked, spacing, light requirements, days to germination, days to maturity. Be sure to pick a variety where the number of days to maturity does not exceed the length of your growing season, as determined by the last frost date in the spring to first frost date in autumn.
Indoor seed-starting steps
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1. Use a sterile, commercial potting mix. Garden soil is too heavy and not sterile. Fill the pots with potting soil and lightly press it down. You can use either reusable plastic pots or biodegradable peat pots. Plastic pots are immune to over-watering, unlike peat pots.
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2. Place the pot trays in enclosed trays to keep water draining on the floor.
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3. Moisten the soil from above and below before you seed. If you water the dry potting soil before getting the soil wet, your seeds will float to the top! If you use an enclosed tray, pour water in the tray. The potting soil will absorb water soil slowly.
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4. Use a skewer to poke a hole to the required depth in the firmed soil and put a seed in the hole. For smaller seeds, place them on the surface and press into the soil. Plant only 2-3 seeds per pot, later you can thin them out.
Planting depth
Rule of thumb: Twice the diameter of the seed. Each seed has limited energy and will not emerge if it is planted too deeply.
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5. Mark your pots! Be sure you know what pots hold which seeds.
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6. Seeds germinate quicker in warmer temperatures. To increase the temperature, you can cover the seedling pots with plastic. Remove the plastic as soon as the seedlings emerge.
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7. Keep the pots constantly moist - but not soggy - with regular water (no fertiliser). It is best to use a sprayer, so the tiny seedlings will not get washed out. Once germination starts, lack of water will kill the emerging seedling.
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8. Once the seeds have germinated, make sure the seedlings get plenty of sunlight or artificial light. They will bend towards the light. Turn them daily so they grow straight.
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9. Several days before you plan to plant the seedlings you will need to acclimate them to the outdoors, a process called hardening off. See planting for more information.
Direct seeding outdoors
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1. Time your direct seeding according to the number of days is takes a crop to mature. If you are sowing too late, the first frost might kill the plant before harvest. Remember the rules of crop rotation. Prepare the soil by raking it smooth. Make sure the soil is not too wet. When you squeeze a handful of soil, it should crumble, not stick together. Wait for it to dry before seeding.
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2. Plan your planting rows according to the information on the seed packets. Figure in access spaces, poles or trellises.
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3. Space the seeds thinly as directed on the seed packet. This can be tricky with small seeds. You can thin out the rows even more later.
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4. Water regularly. Wind and sun will dry the soil quickly. Just as with indoor seeds, keep the soil moist during germination.
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5. If too many seedlings grow too close together, thin them out until they are at the recommended density provided on the seed packet.
No walking
Avoid walking or kneeling directly on the soil before seeding. Use a small board to distribute your weight if you must step or kneel right on the soil in order to seed.
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