We've been slowed down by the rain but it's not stopped us, nothing can. We're now in our planting season, getting our new season garden going for the year ahead, and seeds need to be planted. Hanno started this season off by enriching the soil with cow manure, worm castings and compost. He does it every year and often between crops as well by digging out a hole and replacing the soil with a rich mix of compost and aged manure. In the world of the vegetable seedling, nothing helps them more than good soil. If you're gardening for the first time this year, or the hundredth, that is your starting point.
There are many seeds you can plant straight into the soil, but others benefit from being grown in a container in sheltered conditions, and then being planted as a seedling. The main one of these is the tomato. You will get more tomatoes if you plant them as seedlings and I'll show you how to do that later. Root vegetables like carrots, radishes, parsnips, turnips and legumes - peas and beans, are best planted directed into the soil. For the rest of your seeds, be guided by the instructions on the seed packet and if you're an experienced gardener, by your own experience. We prefer to raise lettuce, capsicum, cabbage, leek, cucumber and celery seeds in trays and plant them out when they're ready. We over-plant seeds so we can choose the strongest looking seedling and discard the weak ones. If you want a very orderly garden, you'll benefit from planting seedlings rather than seeds in the garden because with seeds you either over or under plant, and some seeds don't germinate and you're left with an empty space. Planting from a seedling tray will allow you to plant out the garden exactly to your liking.
When planting seeds in trays, use a good quality potting mix, not potting or garden soil. You need a mix that is open and drains perfectly, with no lumps of bark or charcoal that will stop a tiny seedling from emerging. It's quite easy to make your own seed raising mix, but I prefer to buy mine already made. Fill the trays, poke your finger into each cell to flatten the soil slightly, then top up the cell with the mix again. Plant according to the instructions on the packet. Generally, the rule of thumb is the larger the seed the deeper it's planted. So for a seed that is tiny, you'd only have to place them on the top of the soil and scatter seed rasing mix over the top to cover them and pat down. For a larger seed, plant it at twice its size - so a seed that is ½ mm would be planted 1 mm deep and a 1 mm seed would be planted 2mm deep. Pat the soil down over the top so the seed stays where it is planted, then gently water in. Don't do that with the hose, it's too forceful, get yourself a plastic spray bottle and use that. It will take a while to completely wet the soil, but that's what it takes - gardening will help you slow down. The seed and all the soil in the cell needs to be saturated, and then the water should freely drain away, leaving a moist seed and cell. The water is what causes the seed to germinate.
Once the tray has been planted up, you must keep it moist. Seedlings don't cope well if you let them dry out. Give them a good spray of water every day. Seeds contain everything, except water, to make them grow, they don't need fertiliser. Once the true leaves appear, you can gently fertilise them, but not before.
If you're using new seeds, you should be fine as long as you checked the use by date on them. If you're using older seeds that you've had for a while, or those given to you by a friend or seed swapper. you can test them for viability before you plant them to make sure they'll germinate. I wrote about how to do that two years ago, here.
If you plant by the moon, and that really does work and make sense, there are moon phase calendars to be guided by, just google "moon phases London" or wherever you are and you'll find a moon calendar to help with your planting. In Australia, the planting time for March will start next week with the new moon on Monday 15 March. Here is a moon planting guide.
When planting seeds directly into the garden, most seeds can be planted, in dry soil, watered in and then left to be watered again each day until the seedling emerges. The seeds of legumes need to be treated a bit differently. When planting peas or beans, water the ground well before you plant the seeds. Then, planting according to the spacing on the seed packet, place the seeds into the moist soil. Don't water again until you see the new shoot emerge.
When you plant as many seeds as you need and have some left over, most seeds can be kept for another time. Wrap them up again in the packaging they came in, making sure they can't fall from their packets, and put them in a glass jar - recycled of course - and put the jar in the fridge. Seeds stored in the way will last a few years.
This post is getting too long so I'll write about tomato seeds and seedlings tomorrow. We all still have a week before we need to plant according to the moon. I have a very good Australian gardening book by Lyn Bagnell what speaks of moon planting. If you can get a copy, it's worth the read. I believe Lyn's book to be the best Australian vegetable gardening book. Lyn has her own informative blog as well, you can find her here.
This week will be an excellent time to plan, collect and prepare your seeds. If you're a new gardener, it would be a good idea for you to draw a garden plan. Don't be too ambitious in your first year - there is hard work ahead. We mindful of the time you have and don't make the task to difficult for yourself. Gardening can be a wonderful and creative use of your time, but overdoing it will make you resent the first time you picked up a spade.