SPRING: Under Cover

This is the most exciting time for seed sowing, we start cautiously in August sowing a few tender seeds, then a more thorough sowing in September, this is in the greenhouse, or lacking that you might be able to find a warm sunny spot indoors, or create a temporary place by covering a frame with plastic, or an old window. (They are very cheap at the recycling station) Make sure the cover is on a lean so water can run off, & you can fill the bottom with untreated sawdust to help keep things moist & deter slugs & snails. (Coffee grounds help to keep the slimy sneaks away too.) Seeds to sow now include Tomatoes, Capsicums, Eggplants, Curcubits-Cucumbers & melons, Zucchini & pumpkins, & Basils. These will all need to be protected until danger of frosts has passed. You can buy light frost cloth in the garden centres, to cover young plants at night, once they are in the garden, or good old sheets of newspaper draped over them will do the trick. Remember to take off the covers in the morning.



It is simplest & easier for the young plants if you get a sterile seed raising mix, this saves confusion & also is less competition for them. You can use recycled, very clean, plastic pots,just remember to put in a good number of drainage holes in the bottom. Punnets can be re-used over & over until they get too brittle. For seeds to grow they have some basic requirements,

  • A certain temperature, especially at night, in this case, warm,
  • Free drainage so air can get into the soil
  • Moisture, but not water logged conditions!
  • Clean conditions, no dead leaves etc in the soil.

The trick with seeds is to keep these conditions as steady as you can, your seeds only need to dry out once to be lost, or sit in water more than a few minutes to be prone to rot. It’s all about attention to detail.

1)Fill your container with about 6cm of seed raising mix & tamp it down firmly.

2)Make sure the pot has drainage holes.

3a)Write the variety, & date if you wish on a label. Wooden lollypop sticks or cut up Venetian blinds are good, & a pencil on these lasts ages, some of the pens wear out very quickly.

3b)For most seeds a fine sprinkle will do. For medium seeds you can place them at regular spacings, & this means you won’t need to prick them out. Large seeds like pumpkins you can put in individual pots, & they can go straight in the garden from here, or into larger pots if the weather is iffy.

4a)Very fine seeds do not need covering, they will work their way into the soil when soaked. Most other seeds need a covering of sieved mix on top, usually about 2x the seed width in depth. Check the growing instructions, there are some exceptions, for instance Aquilegias (Granny Bonnets) prefer to be left uncovered.)

4b)Tamp down the mix again. It seems to help keep the seeds in contact with the soil & the moisture.

5)Soak the container in a shallow tray of water, (not chlorinated) until the top of the pot is wet, then take it out & leave to drain. In most cases this will be enough moistureuntil the seeds sprout, but if you notice the pots drying out give them another soak.Watering the seeds from the top disrupts the seed spacing.

6)Put in a warm place, with good light.

7)Check your pots regularly, & before long you will see signs of movement. Some salad herbs will germinate in a couple of days. Keep an eye on your babies, don’t cook them in too hot a position, on the other hand if you see them leaning one way or getting spindly, the light is not good enough. If you see any signs of mould, pick it out, it may well be non-viable seeds rotting, & you don’t want it to spread.

8)Except for minute seedlings like Thyme or Marjoram, the seedlings can be pricked out when their first 2 leaves or cotyledons are established. It’s a good job to do on a cool day, or towards late afternoon, so the stressed plants have a chance to re-establish themselves.

You can decide whether to prick out into trays or punnets, small pots whatever. If you are keeping the plants out of the ground for a while, you will probably pot them on in a few weeks into slightly larger pots. The trick is to provide growing room, but not too much that the plant gets waterlogged, & it’s growth should be steady, if it’s too long in a small pot it will get stunted, may not thrive when you plant it out, & will be more prone to aphids etc.

Stratification: this is a way of fooling seeds into thinking they’ve been through a long Winter, faster than leaving them outside to over-winter. Put seeds into a small amount of moist potting mix, & leave for a few days to absorb moisture. Then you can either put the mix into a plastic bag in the fridge, or sow in a punnet, & put in a bag in the fridge. Leave for about 4-6 weeks then put in a warm place to germinate.

Scarification:this is a term for scratching, scraping or chipping a hard seed case, to speed up water absorption & germination.