by Wally Richards
There are two basic places to germinate seeds, one is where they will ultimately grow and mature the other is in suitable containers to germinate and then to transplant out into open ground or larger containers latter on.
Firstly it is always best to plant any seed in the spot where it will grow and mature.
The reason for this is because when a seed germinates it will send down a tap root and if in open ground in a friable soil that root can be very long.
If on the other hand we germinate in a container or seedling tray that root will be limited in the depth of the tray and growing medium.
It is not practical to grow every thing at the maturity site, especially when we are getting an early start or growing out of season.
There are some seed types which should only be grown in their maturity site and only planted when conditions are favorable.
I often see seedlings for sale in punnets of plants which should never be offered this way because novice gardeners, that know no better, may purchase and have poor results..
The worst example of this is root crops such as carrots and parsnips which should only be direct sown as in any other form they will not produce a normal root.
An exception to this is a carrot that is round in shape and does not produce a long edible root.
Beetroot and onions are seedlings that will transplant but are better to direct sow. (Direct sow means planting seed where they will mature) Spring onion is an exception.
Corn, beans and peas should all be direct sown and you will get far better crops if you do so.
Larger seeds are easy to handle and can be placed where you want them to grow without having to thin out later on. Silverbeet is another one that would be best direct sown.
If you want to start off seeds early in open ground try this method.
Make a trench about 100mm deep and the same wide, mow your lawn and collect the clippings which you then pack fresh into the bottom of your trench.
(Note if the grasses are in seed in the lawn it maybe best not to use the clippings to prevent moving grass weeds to your garden)
Pack firmly to about 80mm then sprinkle a little compost over the clippings to cover.
Next sprinkle Wallys Calcium and Health or garden lime and Wallys Unlocking Your Soil along the trench along with foods such as chook manure, sheep manure pellets, blood & bone, Bio Boost and Neem Tree Powder.
Once again cover lightly with weed free compost (Purchased)
Next sow your seeds such as peas, beans, sweet corn etc. (Peas are hardy but others will depend where you are in NZ to when you start)
Once the seeds are spaced out along the row then spray them with Magic Botanic Liquid (MBL) at 20 mls per litre. This really speeds up germination.
Then cover the seeds with more compost and water down using a fine rose watering can with MBL added.
For those that have problems with either cats, birds or late frosts then make some hoops out of No8 wire and place them along the row with a clearance of about 200mm in the middle of the row.
Place crop cover over the hoops and on one side cover with soil and on the other side with lengths of old timber or similar.
That allows you to easily take off to tend to the plants if needed. The heat from the grass clippings will warm the soil which greatly helps germination.
Once well developed then you can remove the hoops and cover and store for future use.
Now lets look at doing similar but in seedling trays or by using cell packs or punnets.
If you keep the punnets and cell packs that you have purchased in the past then these are good value to use.
Wash them out in hot water so they are nice and clean.
To fill I use only purchased compost of high quality such as from Daltons or Oderings.
I have found that seed raising mixes are a gimmick and most of the ones I have looked at are too expensive and do not work as well as a good quality compost for most seed germination projects.
Think about this; outside in Nature we find all sorts of soils types even straight gravel or sand where seeds do not appear to have much trouble germinating, without any special mixes from mankind.
One important aspect to consider when germinating in seedling trays is to have heat from a heat pad.
Some garden shops, pet supplies and brew shops have heat pads which can be used for germination.
I place a sheet of polystyrene block on a bench to direct the heat upwards then sit the seed trays on the heat pad.
If you go to wholesale fish outlets or fish departments of supermarkets you will likely find used polystyrene trays free or for a few dollars.
You can sit your heat pad in the tray and being white it will provide lots of good reflected light.
If the pad you buy is a higher temperature than you require then cover the pad with sand and keep the sand moist. Sit your seedling trays on the sand.
Fill your seedling tray or cell packs to about two thirds full with purchased compost as above.
Carefully sprinkle a few seeds over the compost keeping them apart so they each have their own space.
Spray then seeds with MBL and Mycorrcin mixed together in a trigger sprayer with non chlorinated water.
Once the compost and seeds are wet then cover seeds with more compost (You can sieve it if you like) and wet down with your spray.
Now you spray the tray at least twice a day to keep the compost moist using the same trigger mix.
Once a few seeds have germinated and before they start stretching for light get them out into natural light from overhead such as on a bench in a glasshouse.
If you do not have a suitable place then place your polystyrene box outside with a sheet of glass over it.
The seedlings will need spraying still but off the heat pad a lot less. Make sure the seedlings are in good light but not strong sun light to burn them.
If you are worried about them at night you can bring the polystyrene box inside or onto a porch.
When the seedling are big enough to handle prick them out and pot them into small pots once again using the compost or plant out in your garden.
If you spray the seedlings a couple of days before planting out then you do not need to harden them off.