Growing vegetables from seeds

9 March 2010
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.


  1. What a lovely post this morning. Growing up, my mother is a brilliant gardner. As a child, my father made a greenhouse in our unfinished basement and we would spend our mornings planting 100 flats of flowers and vegetables by seed, rotating them under the lights to the outdoors. I love the smell of wet dirt, I love watching the little green plants popping out from the soil. And I loved the afternoons spent transplanting them from their flat to the earth. It was just the thing I needed today. With spring coming on here in Utah in the United States, I think I'll go dig out my gloves now and get a little prep in the garden. thanks you ! Your blog is the first thing I look at in the morning before my kids wake up. You are a breath of fresh air.


  2. Thank you, Rhonda Jean, for an informative and useful post. I particularly appreciate the advice re seed viability testing.
    Happy gardening!
    Tracy (Brisbane)

  3. I have the seeds lined up and ready to go for next week. It's still far too cold to sow anything outside, around about 5c during the day but I'm going to start off the toms, peppers and chillies for the greenhouse.


  4. Patricia in DenverMarch 09, 2010 7:30 am

    We here in the U.S. are also getting ready for the planting season. Each year I put in a little more and each year I enjoy it more. I have learned so much from your blog, Rhonda, thank you for gerously imparting your knowledge to those of us who need it, use it and love it.

  5. Thanks for your answer yesterday about tadpoles. After reading your info I went and looked, seems they were only toads so I tipped them out. Thank goodness for your information. That's why i love blogging - so much to share.
    Many Thanks Caroline

  6. Thanks for this post today. We purchased heirloom seeds this year - we have purchased plants already growing before, and then planted them. So this is new for us.

  7. Hi Rhonda, we are preparing to plant too so I'll look at the moon calendar, thank you.

  8. Great post once again Rhonda,
    I do enjoy your online lessons!

    Wishing you a lovely day.


  9. Wishing you happy seedlings! I started mine a week ago in my greenhouse and am anxiously awaiting the sprouts. I love your raised beds and have decided that's the way to go in my backyard outside of the garden fencing. Headed to my sister's this week to shovel horse and cow poo for the beds! Isn't it fantastic that poo can make us so excited?

  10. My husband and I just ordered our seeds! I'm so glad I have your blog to answer my gardening questions! Great post!

  11. What a timely post. We have just done up our compost bins yesterday. Our neighbours have given us some bricks that we will use to make built up beds. Hopefully today, weather permitting. We are not at the point we would have liked to have been, we have had alot of rain. But, I am feeling so positive that we have made a start, and are taking baby steps to where we want to be. Hope you are having a lovely day. Cheers, Deb

  12. I learn something new from your blog each day. Today I found out that in Australia you are planting in your fall as we are planting seeds (indoors) in the spring.

  13. This is very useful and informative for me. Thank-you, I will refer back to this.

  14. We are spring planting now. Mostly the brassicas and onions, since they go into the garden early, almost as soon as the ground thaws.

    I also have tomato and pepper seedlings about 6" tall, growing under lights. They won't go into the garden until June 1, but can go out into the cold frame or greenhouse in another month or so.

    Spring is such a busy and fun time!

  15. We have now started a few seeds indoors and it feels great saving a little money.

    I was wondering what you have been reading?



  16. I always learn something from your blog! Thank you for the seed-storing tip!

  17. Dear Rhoda,

    hello from the Czech Republic!

    Today this sentence is important for me:
    "gardening will help you slow down"


  18. When I was growing up, my parents kept a large vegetable gardening and a small orchard. There was always plenty of healthy food on the table...lots of wonderful fresh vegetables. She cooked entirely "from scratch". I'd love to have that kind of vegetable garden here, but all our 58 acres are in's an Oregon tree farm. I do try to have flowers in pots, but have found the large wildlife on my front porch browsing them! I can only imagine what they would do with tender vegetables...

    Lovely post, Rhonda!


  19. Out of all the gardening tasks I have found raising seedlings one of the most challenging. So I thought it time I conduct a series of experiments to learn first hand the artful ways of raising seedlings. I am currently trialing 3 different propagation methods, 13 soil mixes, 2 pot sizes, 2 watering methods, across 4 plant varieties. My goal - to find a method that is reliable, simple, cheap and efficient. You are welcome to check it out.


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