The most economic method of growing annual vegetables is to raise them from seed — you will also be able to try less usual varieties.
The best seeds for sowing outdoors are those of hardy crops like peas and beans, those which germinate easily and those which dislike being transplanted, such as endive. Check under each specific vegetable for sowing time. Using cloches allows you to sow seeds up to a month earlier. Position the cloches two weeks before sowing so that the soil can warm up.
Preparing the bed
A bed dug over in autumn, then left rough over winter, will need levelling with a rake before it is prepared. If it has been dug in spring leave it to settle before preparation. Don’t work the soil if it is so damp it sticks to your boots. When it is dry, tread it firm and rake to a fine tilth.
Tips for successful germination
– Don’t use old seed, especially if it has been stored at high temperatures or in damp conditions.
– Sow at the time recommended, bearing in mind the weather conditions. Seed sown too early may not germinate unless given protection.
– Place seeds at the recommended depth, no more. If necessary water the drill before sowing, not afterwards, then cover with dry soil. If conditions are very wet, line and cover the drill with dry seed compost.
– Thinly sown seeds, which do not have to compete for light, are less likely to be spindly. They are more resistant to diseases and will need less thinning.
Thinning and transplanting seedlings
Before thinning or transplanting seedlings grown outdoors, water the plants well. To thin, pull up weak seedlings so that those left are spaced at the required distance. Discard spindly seedlings. If you have to pull up some healthy seedlings, to achieve the right spacings, and wish to transplant them, take them out with care.
Use fine lump-free seed compost for sowing in trays indoors and sieve if necessary. Fill seed trays almost to the top with compost, pushing it well into the corners. Firm with a flat piece of wood. Stand trays in water until the compost is thoroughly wet. Sow the seeds thinly on top. The easiest method is to pick them up individually on a wet knife blade or place the seeds on a sheet of paper and push one off at a time. Lightly cover with a little dry compost, then gently press down the surface. Cover with a sheet of glass or put in a polythene bag. Remove the cover for a short time each day to prevent damping off and check to see if the seeds have germinated. As soon as the first true leaves have appeared, bring the tray into full light.
Tips for successful sowing indoors
– If you keep your trays on a windowsill, rather than in a greenhouse, place them in a box on its side lined with aluminium foil. This helps light to be reflected back on the seedlings ensuring more even growth.
– Don’t leave trays by a window at night when there is danger of frost nor in scorching sunlight.
– Seed trays can be placed in the airing cupboard as long as the temperature is that required by the seeds for germination. Remove as soon as the first seedlings appear.