Seeds and seedlings

24 March 2009
This post continues on from yesterday's. Today's topic is seeds, seedlings and planting them.

Deciding on what you will grow is one of the exciting parts of gardening. Pouring through catalogues and seed packets at the plant nursery always make me over-estimate how much ground we have and under-estimate our time. You need to be prudent, especially in the first few years of gardening. My advice is to write down a list of what vegetables you're buying and make up your garden list from that. If you're new to gardening, plant the easy things first, then work your way into the more difficult vegetables. These vegetables are easy to grow: beans, peas, tomatoes, squash, pumpkin, cucumber, zucchini (courgettes), corn, lettuce, sugarloaf cabbages, chard, kale, spinach, most herbs, carrots and radishes. If you're in a hot area, luffas, peppers and sweet potato will grow well; if you're in a cooler zone, cauliflowers, onions, broccoli and all types of cabbages will do well. If you're still undecided about what to plant, work out what you're buying, then choose the most expensive vegetables, or the ones you eat the most of.

Seeds may be planted out into the garden when the soil is warm enough (you'll find that info on the seed packet), or in trays that can be transplanted when the plant is big enough. Beans and peas and root vegetables like carrots and radishes are best planted directly into the ground because they don't transplant well. You can plant carrots and radishes seeds mixed together. The radish tops will appear within a week, showing you where the carrots and radishes are. When the radishes are ready to harvest, you pull them out and that gives the carrots more room to grow.

Most fruiting vegetables - tomatoes, zucchinis, squash, peppers, capsicum, pumpkins etc and leaf vegetables - lettuce, cabbage, kale, chard etc are easily transplanted so those seeds can be planted in trays or pots and raised in a warm place. As soon as the soil is warm enough you can transplant an already growing plant, saving the three or four weeks it would take the seed to reach that stage if you planted it straight in the ground.

A seed is a self contained unit of nutrients that only needs warmth, moisture and soil to germinate and grow. When you plant your seeds they do not need light or fertiliser to grow. Placing them into soil and watering them gently is enough to make that seed burst into life. When the seed has germinated and has grown the first couple of leaves, it then needs adequate light, moisture and light fertilising to keep it going. Compost tea, comfrey tea or organic liquid fertiliser are all ideal for this task. You make those teas by adding a quarter bucket of either compost or comfrey to a bucket of water. Stir and allow to sit for a day or two, then strain the compost or comfrey out and keep the liquid (the strainings go in the compost). This is then diluted one part tea to six parts water and used on the seedlings after they put on their first few leaves.

You plant the seeds according to their size - each seed is planted at double it's size. For instance - if your seed is 1 mm, plant it 2mm deep, or one eight of an inch, plant it one quarter inch deep - so the bigger the seed the deeper it is sown. The instructions for planting seeds are on their packets. Make sure you plant into clean containers using seed raising mix or your own light blend of garden soil, sand and old compost - is must be well draining and it must not have any lumps that might stop a seed from emerging.

When your plants are ready to plant out, plant them at the same level they were growing in the pot or tray. The only exception to this rule is when you plant tomatoes, you remove the bottom set of leaves and plant it deeper than it was growing in the pot. Tomatoes can send out roots from all along the stem, so planting them deeper allows them to grow more roots. More roots = more tomatoes.

Plant out into well prepared soil that contains a lot of organic matter. The exception to that rule are carrots - they like a bed that has little compost and no lumps. When you transplant your seedlings, water them in with a weak solution of seaweed concentrate that has been diluted according to the instructions on the pack. This eases transplant shock and will help your plants grow well from the first day. After a week, when you know the plants have settled in well, start your fertilising regime. For leaf vegetables (cabbages, lettuce, chard etc) fertilise with a weak liquid organic fertiliser. Dilute it to half the recommendation on the pack, but fertilise every week. For fruiting vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, squash etc) fertilise with the same weak fertiliser you used on your leaves, but do it every two weeks. Fruiting vegetables also need potash - so apply that in the planting hole when you plant, and apply again every four weeks. Potash encourages flowers and fruit so you will get many more tomatoes /squash/pumpkins etc if you use potash. Be careful when you fertilise and know what each one does. Nitrogen encourages green growth at the expense of fruit. If you apply too much nitrogen to a fruiting plant, like a tomato or squash, you will get a beautiful green bush with very few tomatoes or squash.

I am a bit pressed for time today, so I'll come back to this tomorrow and answer some of your questions then too. If you know of a good planting guide for north America, please let me know.

Planting guide for Australia, NZ and UK - choose from the drop down menu at top.
Vegetable planting guide Australia - Eden Seeds.
Articles on various common vegetables.


  1. Do you start any seedlings indoors under lights and then harden them off? That's what I'm doing and I'm hating the electricity usage required to keep them growing until they can go out. :(

    I started some indoors in newspaper pots and tried placing them outside to soak up some sun but they were in a covered tray which burned the cotylons (sp?). I'm trying to find ways to start them outdoors but our topsoil dries out very quickly in our intense heat and sun. We've started some things outdoors this weekend - things that can be planted a bit deeper, like beans. I'm wishing I had space for a greenhouse and I'm looking into cold frames. I'd be interested in your thoughts on this.

    organicsis at yahoo

  2. I just love all your posts Rhonday. You are so helpful and I love how you live your life. I live alot in the same ways you do ... just starting out with a new hubby at age 44 but we live on 20 acres and plan on getting chickens and pigs this year. I have begun to home bake and make all meals from scratch and my hubby has gained 20 pounds so far! He needs it though as he fought cancer a few years ago and was done to a twig. Thank you for all your insight. I feel like you are a great aunt that I love to visit when I read your blog.

    Have a great day!

  3. we are having wonderful Spring weather & my seedlings are emerging on the kitchen table :)

  4. I can't wait to read more on this! I'm planning to start some seedlings this year (it will be my first time), and need all the help I can get!
    Great (and timely, as usual) info!
    -Melanie in Canada

  5. Here in North Idaho we have a short growing season but looking forward to having fresh veggies.

    Coffee is on.

  6. 00-00-00 ???
    Please speak on the equation.

  7. It is almost as if you have read my mind! I am about the attempt my first vegetable garden EVER, and will be growing it from seed. Your posts have been incredibly useful, and I know that over the next few weeks I will refer back to these posts often. :)

  8. Rhonda , Thanks for a wonderful post.
    I didn't know about taking the bottom leaves off the tomatoes , will try that this season.
    I'm glad you mentioned how often you use your organic liquid fertilizer also , very helpful tip.

    Loved your post about the 50's housewife , making a comeback with today's challenges.

    ~ Green Blessings ~

  9. Thank you! I'll be starting my first garden this year and it's reassuring to hear that the veggies I picked are all relatively easy to deal with. Oh! And your tip on the tomato seedlings is terrific! I had no idea! But now I will pluck the bottom leaves and plant them a little deeper. See, it's tips like these that you don't always find but that are always welcomed to newbies. :)

  10. regarding beans, peas and the like - where you said that they don't like transplanting. Absolutely right, but there is a way to get around it. You can either invest in a system like rootrainers, or use loo roll inner tubes - stand on end in a tray, fill with compost, plant the seed, let them grow, harden off, then plant the whole thing out in the garden. the loo roll decomposes, seed grows, everybody's happy. The only thing that happens is that sometimes some sickly looking mushrooms sprout up over night from the loo rolls, but i don't eat them. They only ever last the one night though.This method works extremely well if, like me, you have a major slug problem... I've also used it to grow certain flowers like sweet peas, very successfully.

  11. Just thought I'd pop by and leave a comment here for the first time to say thank you for doing such wonderfully inspiring posts that are a pleasure to read.

    Looking at your veg beds, have you ever thought of filling the holes in your concrete block edgings and growing things in there? A UK magazine called Home Farmer published an article recently that suggested garlic would do well? But maybe in Oz they would dry out too quickly?

  12. good reminder, kethry. you can make seedling containers from newspaper too.

    Steelkitten, thank you. We do plant in some of our bricks - mainly oregano and marjorum and they do very well. Some of them have attracted ants nests though so I've been a bit reluctant to add more.

  13. I love your blog--thank-you for all your great advice. Karli


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