30 September 2008

Sowing vegetable seeds

I spent a small amount of time sowing seeds yesterday. In the past, I used to have trays and trays of seeds but now that we have a continuous garden, I get by with a large planting in March and then just sowing small numbers of seeds to fill in spots that arise during the year. Yesterday I planted up four golden nugget pumpkin seeds, four lemon cucumber seeds and six Moneymaker tomato seeds. The pumpkins will be planted where the kipfler potatoes are now, in the front garden, the cucumber and tomatoes will go into the vegetable garden when the snow peas are removed. That should have happened by now but we're behind with some work because of the fence building and my writing. No matter, everything happens in its own time.

I thought it might help some of the new gardeners if I wrote a little about sowing seeds. It seems to be a mystery to some and I remember when I first started gardening, I was never sure of the right depth to place the seeds or if I was doing the right things when I sowed my seeds.

The best seeds to sow are open pollinated or heirloom seeds. If you plant them. not only will you get vegetables far superior to those you buy in the supermarkets, you get the old varieties that have better taste. And the bonus is you can save the seeds from one of your plants at the end of the season and use them for your next planting. Using seeds from your own garden will give you plants that are better suited to your own conditions and if you keep planting your own seeds, they will improve each year. In Australia you buy heirloom seeds at Green Harvest, Eden Seeds, Diggers, Phoenix and a number of other small places. For gardeners in other countries, do a Google search for "open pollinated seeds" or "heirloom seeds" and you should find something close to you. There are many heirloom seed companies and they have their entire seed catalogue online, so it's just a matter of selecting what you want, paying for it and waiting for the post to arrive.

The general rule for seed planting is to plant the seed twice as deep as its size. So if you have a seed that is 1mm, you plant it 2mm into the soil. If your seed measures ¼ inch, you plant it ½ inch deep. Some seeds (beans, peas,) benefit from soaking in warm water for 24 hours - this breaks the hard seed casing and speeds up germination. After you soak the seeds, plant them into moist soil or seed raising mix and then don't water until they germinate. Please note: it is only pea and bean seeds you have soaked that don't require watering - all other seeds you sow must be kept moist, not wet. Parsley seeds can be soaked in hot water for 24 hours, then sowed just like other seeds - into moist, not wet, soil.

Seed raising mix in a bag is quite expensive to buy. The potting soil you use doesn't need a lot of nutrients in it, so don't use your best mix. All the nutrients the seeds need are inside the seeds, you just need to supply moisture and a growing medium that will allow the tiny new shoots to emerge easily. I often use compost in the trays and just cover the seeds with seed raising mix or potting soil mixed with sharp sand. Whatever you cover the seeds with needs to be light to allow those little shoots through.

Above and below are Lazy Housewife Beans drying in the shade of the back verandah. We eat these beans green, they're as good as Blue Lake, but I also dry some of them to keep in the pantry. When they're dry, they're similar to haricot beans and can be used in soups and casseroles as well as a variety of Mexican and French dishes. I will save some of these seeds to be planted in the garden.

Once the seeds are in and covered, put a tag on them with the name and date then water them gently with a spray bottle. I use a mix of water with a little Epsom salts added to water in. The Epsom salts is magnesium and it helps germination. The ratio is one teaspoon to one litre (quart) of water. If you have any left over, water your vegetables or citrus trees with it.

So that's it! Then you just wait for the first little bits of green to poke through and plant them when they're ready to plant. Tomato seedlings need extra care before they're planted in the garden though and I've written about that here.

Before I go today I have a couple of extras I'd like to add. Yesterday when I was working on my book, I spent quite a bit of time going through the archives. I was really touched by so very many of the comments you've made over the months. I read every comment that's made each day but reading them in one block made me realise, yet again, how much you all add to this blog. A little green community has built up here that is knowledgeable, supportive and generous. I sincerely thank all of you who regularly comment.

I also want to thank Sharon who is a constant help to me both on the blog and behind the scenes in emails. Sharon organises all the swaps and also posts on weekends to give you wonderful links for projects and gifts. I have added Sharon's email to the side bar so if you have any questions about swaps or links, you can email her direct.

Now, some responses to yesterday's post. Thanks to simple quilter who gave me the information to identify those tiny blue flowers we have in our lawn as lobelia. :- )

Rose, what a wonderful man Paul Newman was. RIP Paul.

Cassie, good luck with your garden. Lucky you have such a great helper there.

Lindsay, it sounds like you're starting off on an incredible journey. I'm pleased I could help you on your way. Please stay in touch and let me know how it goes for you.

Amanda, congratulations on the new baby. I hope things have settled down for you now. (hugs)

Donna, our haystack sits there for a while so the seeds die off. You can definitely use your hay for mulch. Just take a handful of hay and put it in your garden, water it and see what happens. If it does grow weeds, often you can just pick them out when they're at the green shoot stage. Usually it will just be the seeds of the plant, be it lucerne, wheat, rye etc. In that case, again, you just weed it out. But if your little test of mulch doesn't grow anything after sitting in the garden for three weeks, you'll know there are no seeds in it.

Hi Quinne, I hope that little baby of yours is chubby and giggling. :- )

ADDITION: Many of you know that I'm a great fan of Path to Freedom, it is the one site I've continued to visit for many years. Here is a video of theirs, it's well worth the time it will take you to view it. Make sure you visit the blog Anais writes. It's really good.



  1. I'm really enjoying the photos on your side bar. Each one builds a nice feeling inside.

  2. I don't comment much, but I had to tell you that we made cordial out of leftover muscadine grapes. It was absolutely DIVINE! Notice I say "was" because it went fast.

    We used less sugar than you do in lemon cordial because grapes are so sweet to begin with. It was delicious when poured into the iced tea we love so much in the southern US.

    Fortunately there are still plenty of grapes on my in-laws' vines so we can make more.

  3. Thanks for the information on setting up seeds. At some point can you share a bit about rotating your crops? I suppose once you start the garden you have an idea when the plants are going to mature & you just plant ses i avance to fill the hole?

  4. Hi Rhonda Jean,
    Thanks very much for all the info on seed raising. You mentioned that you planted the pumpkin seed in the kipler potato bed. Can pumpkins grow over the potatoes. I've got the bed heavily mulched and expect to harvest at Christmas. Will that upset the pumpkins? Sorry if this sounds a bit odd but I'm on "L" plates with the veggie garden at present.

  5. Hi Rhonda. Thanks for the infro regarding the seeds. I have a smallish back yard and tried to grow pumpkins by planting the base of it in the soil and letting the runners/vine grow on the concrete. It was an experiment. I didn't do very well. Have you heard of this before. Last year i heard pumpkin season was bad? Also you can buy them for $1 each for a jap pumpkin at the moment so i don't know if its worth trying it again?? Im really enjoying your blog. Donna from wollongong.

  6. Hi Rhonda Jean,
    I think it's so nice of you to take time to explain to new Gardeners! So many thats garden for yrs. tend to forget the trail and error of their adventures.
    Seeing your gr.beans reminds me of what we do here ,we break and string gr.beans on thread by a sewing ,hang to dry, you soak them overnight when you are going to cook them, them cook as you would gr.beans. In my Family it was done to save on jars for other veggies.And we called them leather Britches (britches means Pants) not sure why they were called that.Theres other names but I can't remember it.Sometime I do this and serve at Thanksgiving with my Family only for the Memories. :o)
    Hope you have a great wk.,

  7. Hello! I'm a new reader and was wondering if you could explain further your process of saving seeds from your garden. i'm rather a novice gardener and would appreciate any advice you have. If you've posted about this elsewhere could you point me in the right direction? Thank you and this was a wonderful post!

  8. Hi Suzan, thank you. :- )

    Good to know about the grape coridal, gewensmom!

    Joanna, we don't rotate our crops any more. Mainly because we're growing all year and it restricts us too much. We make sure we plant tomatoes and potatoes in a bed that hasn't had them in there for the previous two years. That works for us. Otherwise, we just plant where ever we have the room to plant.

    Anita, we'll dig up the potatoes before we put the pumpkin in. However, it would be a good experiment to carry out. Just plant one pumpkin over a side side of the potato patch and see what happens. Pumpkin roots don't go too deep so I think it would be fine, and a great way to save space in the garden.

    Donna, I think the concrete would be too hot for the pumpkins in summer, I gather that's when you were growing them. Pumpkins need REALLY rich soil. I'd try them again - some people grow them in their compost heaps and get good crops. We can get cheap pumpkins here too but I always prefer to grow my own. I never know what has been put on something to make it grow, unless I grow it myself.

    That's a nice tradition, Lib. :- )

    Heather, here are some links for you:
    and my own link:
    http://down---to---earth.blogspot.com/2008/02/vegetable-seeds-how-to-test-viability.html - look at the link at the bottom of the post.

  9. Hi Rhonda.

    I noticed that you said that you plant your seeds into damp soil, then don't water again until the seed comes up? Is this the case if the soil drys out very quickly? I would have thought the seeds needed to stay moist to germinate? I'm trying to germinate some corn, but the soil is drying out very quickly in the heat we're having lately, so I've been re-dampening the soil each evening. I've tried covering them with a little mulch tonight, to see if that will keep the soil moist, but I don't want to put too much on in case they can't push their way up through it.

    Very interesting post though, I learnt a few new things. I'd never heard before about soaking pea and bean seeds, but am going to give it a try, since I often have trouble getting my beans to germinate lately. Thanks.

  10. Thank you for the tips on growing from seed they are really helpful - I love all the pictures you put on your blog, your home looks amazing.

  11. Thank you for this post about sowing vegetable seeds! You must have read my mind because I was looking for info on this very topic! I am currently waiting on the delivery of 2 packs of tomato seeds - Lycopersicum pimpinellifolium 'Red & Yellow Currant Blend' and
    Lycopersicum esculentum 'Brandywine' (copied and pasted the names form the website - lol.)

    I don't think I can plant them yet though can I? (Scotland, Autumn/Winter) I haven't managed to create a vegetable patch in my garden yet and was thinking of putting these tomatoes in containers, (actually have a old baby bath I was thinking of using - lol) Not sure how it will turn out though but these tomatoes will be my first step into vegetable gardening. Can't wait!

  12. Thanks Rhonda for your tips on tomato seedlings. I have joined The Diggers Club and have sowed seeds for tomatoes & lettuce 3 weeks ago. (being also on "L" plates, I was so excited when I saw the first speck of green popping up) We prepared our vegie garden last weekend in readiness and next week we should have our water tank connected up. A small start but at least a step in the right direction.

  13. rinelle, it is only the presoaked pea and bean seeds that remain unwatered, all others need to be kept moist. You can spray them three or four times a day if you need to.

    ivoryfrog, you plant tomatoes in the warmest part of your year so you'll have to wait a few months. Work out when your last frost is, then sow the seeds indoors about one month before that time. Then you'll be ready with your seedlings at the first possible moment. Tomatoes do need warmth though so make sure you give them a warm spot to grow.

    Jenny, great news on the new garden! Good luck.

  14. I have not had much luck gardening on my patio except for rosemary and basil. I would love to try more container gardening with vegetables. This summer my tomato plant withered away and zucchini never took off.

    I love reading about your gardening and looking at the photos.

  15. I use compost under and seed raising mix on top of my seeds too. It's much cheaper that way. And I plant in paper cups with bottoms ripped out, they can go straight into ground and the cups break down then.

  16. Enjoying reading your site, and love the Expect Less sampler! The photo you have with some preserves and what looks to be bottled home made soda-pop of some sort. Is it a naturally fermented drink? IF so, do you have a recipe/directions on how to make it?



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