Sowing

At the beginning of the new gardening year, many of you face the question again: buy young plants or grow them yourself? I personally can never get enough of that magical moment when, after days or weeks of waiting, the seedling finally pokes its little head out of the ground. 

Why should I sow myself?

  • It is rewarding to see how a plant develops from a seed
  • Seeds are cheaper than young plants
  • Old, robust varieties can often only be bought as seeds

Do I sow directly into the bed or do I pre-grow indoors?

Whereas for some cultivars one of the two sowing methods is already ruled out, most crops can either be directly sown or pre-grown indoors. So the choice is entirely up to you.

Advantages and disadvantages of direct sowing and pre-grow indoors are:

Direct sowing

Pre-grow indoors

Plants have different germination conditions, depending on...

1. Germination time

  • Fast germinators (e.g. radishes): Germinate within 2-5 days
  • Slow germinators (e.g. carrots, dill): Need more than 14 days to germinate

2. Germination depth

  • Light germinators: (e.g. lettuce, many herbs): Fine seeds that lack the strength to fight their way up from deeper layers of soil; are placed on top of the soil and slightly pressed on
  • Dark germinators (e.g. tomato, chili, cucumber): Need darkness to germinate; are covered with soil about 2 to 3 times the seed size

3. Germination temperature

  • Cold germinators (only a few vegetables, e.g. chives, dill, winter purslane): Require for germination a temperature below 5 °C for at least 4 weeks
  • Warm germinators (e.g. tomato, bell pepper, eggplant): germinate optimally at a temperature around 20° C

The cold stimulus needed by cold germinators is a protective mechanism of nature that prevents the seeds from germinating already in autumn and then freezing in winter. You can simulate the cold stimulus by placing the seeds in a plastic bag wrapped in a damp kitchen paper and placing it in the refrigerator for 4 weeks before sowing.

How does the direct seeding work?

If you are a fan of Easy Gardening, direct seeding is definitely the way to go. Direct seeding also goes well with the permaculture principles of gardening within the natural cycle and reducing your own workload. Only heat-loving plants whose long growing period requires early planting are better pre-grown indoors. Cultivars with long taproots (e.g. dill, carrots, beet) should be better sown directly, and also legumes (e.g. beans, peas) thrive better outdoors. Sow in loosened, weed-free soil. Push mulch aside, since it prevents the seeds from germinating. Sow the seeds in the predefined depth and cover them with soil (dark germinators) or press them well (light germinators). Moisten the soil with a fine spray, which you repeat regularly, especially during the germination phase. Before the month of May, you should cover your plants with a fleece to protect them from night frosts. Using a fleece also keeps the soil temperature constant and improves germination. Depending on the sowing method, you may need to thin out the seedlings. If you plant the seeds individually, it is best to put 1-2 seeds extra in the seed hole in order to have „spare“ in case something goes wrong. You can simply remove them later.

According to these methods, you can sow: 

Broad seeding

  • Oldest sowing method
  • Seeds are scattered over a wide area
  • Less suitable for vegetable plants (rather grass and green manure) since plants are too close together, are not sown at their optimum depth and must be thinned out

Row seeding

  • Classic among vegetable beds
  • Seeds are distributed evenly in rows with a defined depth
  • For spatial reasons, it is often necessary to thin out the seeds
  • A special form is pit sowing

Precision seeding

  • Seeds are sown at specific intervals
  • Plants have enough space and do not need to be thinned out, which requires less seeds
  • Variation is sowing within a square instead of a row (Square foot gardening)

If you use horst sowing (for example, for beans), sow 4-6 seeds with a distance of about 40-50 cm to the next group.

How does the cultivation indoors work?

Heat-loving crops such as tomatoes, eggplants, or peppers require a high germination temperature, which in our climate is only given after the Ice Saints (mid to late May). Due to their long growth period of several months, sowing is therefore done indoors in early to mid-March. After the Ice Saints, the heat-loving plants are then transplanted outside. For the cultivation indoors you need nutrient-poor growing substrate, e.g. coir, which promotes the root growth of the seedlings. Fill the substrate in growing pots and put 1 seed in each growing pot. Plan preferably

Heat-loving crops such as tomatoes, eggplants or peppers require a high germination temperature, which in our climate is only given after the Ice Saints (mid to late May). Due to their long growth period of several months, sowing is therefore done indoors in early to mid-March. After the Ice Saints, the heat-loving plants are then transplanted outside. For

 the cultivation indoors you need nutrient-poor growing substrate, e.g. coir, which promotes the root growth of the seedlings. Fill the substrate in growing pots and put 1 seed in each growing pot. Plan preferably an extra 1-2 seeds. You can add a layer of vermiculite on top of the soil to prevent evaporation. Vegetables with sensitive roots that do not like to be transplanted (e.g. cucumber, zucchini, pumpkin) should be sown in the wider pricking pots. Gently water the soil with a ball spray and keep the soil moist at all times, especially during the germination phase. For warm germinators, a plastic film or greenhouse cover is a necessity, otherwise the desired germination temperature will not be reached. Generally, a cover helps prevent dehydration and is therefore recommended for the germination phase. Air daily to prevent mold from forming and the damping off disease from spreading. After germination, it is important to place the plants somewhere cooler, otherwise they will etiolate.

Heat-loving crops such as tomatoes, eggplants or peppers require a high germination temperature, which in our climate is only given after the Ice Saints (mid to late May). Due to their long growth period of several months, sowing is therefore done indoors in early to mid-March. After the Ice Saints, the heat-loving plants are then transplanted outside. For the cultivation indoors you need nutrient-poor growing substrate, e.g. coir, which promotes the root growth of the seedlings. Fill the substrate in growing pots and put 1 seed in each growing pot. Plan preferably an extra 1-2 seeds. You can add a layer of vermiculite on top of the soil to prevent evaporation. Vegetables with sensitive roots that do not like to be transplanted (e.g. cucumber, zucchini, pumpkin) should be sown in the wider pricking pots. Gently water the soil with a ball spray and keep the soil moist at all times, especially during the germination phase. For warm germinators, a plastic film or greenhouse cover is a necessity, otherwise the desired germination temperature will not be reached. Generally, a cover helps prevent dehydration and is therefore recommended for the germination phase. Air daily to prevent mold from forming and the damping off disease from spreading. After germination, it is important to place the plants somewhere cooler, otherwise they will etiolate.

an extra 1-2 seeds. You can add a layer of vermiculite on top of the soil to prevent evaporation. Vegetables with sensitive roots that do not like to be transplanted (e.g. cucumber, zucchini, pumpkin) should be sown in the wider pricking pots. Gently water the soil with a ball spray and keep the soil moist at all times, especially during the germination phase. For warm germinators, a plastic film or greenhouse cover is a necessity, otherwise the desired germination temperature will not be reached. Generally, a cover helps prevent dehydration and is therefore recommended for the germination phase. Air daily to prevent mold from forming and the damping off disease from spreading. After germination, it is important to place the plants somewhere cooler, otherwise they will etiolate.

„Substrate“: Usually industrially produced mixture of various mineral and organic starting materials used for growing and cultivating plants.

„Damping off disease“: Fungal infection in which seedlings hang their heads and fall over from one day to the next. Often they have a constricted and brown discolored root neck. The fungi develop especially in a humid and warm environment.

„Etiolating“: In search of light seedlings form long, weak shoots. As a result, they are vulnerable and quickly bend. Etiolating is favored by lack of light and overly high temperatures during the growing period of the seedlings.

Do I need to prick? How do I do this?

When the first pair of leaves has formed next to the two cotyledons, the seedling is now 5-8 cm high, transplant your seedling into a wider pot. Since the roots of the seedlings have already been well established, add mature compost, bokashi or worm humus to the meager growing soil. Pricking out is important to prevent the plants from having to compete for light, nutrients and space and to grow into strong seedlings. Using a pricking rod (or a skewer), lever the seedling out of the growing soil with as many hair roots as possible and without damaging the main root. Carefully place the seedling up to the cotyledons in the prepared hole in the pricking substrate. Lightly press the soil around the seedling to ensure good contact with the root and water the soil with a fine spray.

Help, why...

Is my seed not germinating?

  • Wrong germination depth
  • Wrong germination temperature
  • Seeds are too old or were stored incorrectly
  • Substrate is too dense
  • Seed has dried out
  • Check the opened seed bag for the minimum shelf life
  • Germination test
  • Do not expose the growing pot to direct sunlight
  • Put newspaper or polystyrene between the window sill (cold bridge) and the growing pot as an insulating layer

Is my seedling dying?

  • Seed has dried out
  • Damping off disease
  • Do not expose the growing pot to direct sunlight
  • Avoid waterlogging
  • Sterilize the substrate in the oven at 150° for 30 minutes
  • Rinse the (plastic) growing pot with hot water before usage
  • Stain the seed 
  • In case of infestation, discard the seedling together with the growing pot

Is my seedling etiolating?

  • Too little light
  • Too high temperature
  • Preferably grow the plants by the south window
  • Place the plants in the bedroom or hallway (15 to 17° C)

Are there fungus gnats everywhere?

  • Waterlogging
  • Substrate has not been sterilized
  • Avoid waterlogging
  • Sterilize the substrate in the oven at 150° for 30 minutes
  • Use yellow panels in case of infestation

Is mold on substrate or growing pot?

  • Waterlogging
    Substrate has not been sterilized
    Too high humidity
  • Avoid waterlogging
  • Sterilize the substrate in the oven at 150° for 30 minutes
  • Take off the greenhouse cover daily and air
  • Let the soil dry (not dry out) in case of infestation and add a little fresh growing soil on top of it

„Germination test“: Method to check germination of seeds. Seeds (e.g. 10) are spread on a damp kitchen paper and placed in a zip bag (as for pre-germination). The bag must be aired regularly and the kitchen paper must be re-moistened every few days. The germination sample is placed in a warm, bright place by the window (for dark germinators covered with paper). If more than half of the seeds have germinated, the seed can still be used.

When do I pre-germinate?

Pre-germination is particularly worthwhile for slow germinators, but also for other cultivars, as the germination period is shortened. Plants with very small seeds (e.g. light germinators) should not be pre-germinated, as the seeds may start to mold and thus lose their ability to germinate.

Nature has covered each seed with a protective layer that defends it from environmental influences. This layer is designed differently in the cultivars, which is why the time it takes for the seeds to germinate varies.

You can pre-germinate in these ways: 

On a kitchen paper

  • Suitable for any seeds
  • Pre-germinate seeds on damp kitchen paper in a
  • bright, warm place (light germinators) or covered (dark germinators)
  • You can increase the humidity with the aid of a plastic bag or a plastic container
  • Usually the seeds start to germinate after a few days to 1 week and should be planted immediately.

In water or chamomile tea

  • Suitable for large seeds that need a lot of time to swell (eg, beans, peas, zucchini, cucumbers) 
  • Chamomile tea has a fungicidal effect
  • Soak the seeds in warm water or chamomile tea for 12-24 h and plant them immediately afterwards

The Ice Saints are over, can my plant go out?

Now you are almost there. Before you place your plants in the bed, you should first toughen them up. In other words, you accustom your plants to the harsher climate, the wind and the sun. This is best done 1 week before transplanting. First, leave the plants in a protected place for 1-2 hours and increase the number of hours each day.

And after 1 week your young plants can finally move into their new home!

Want specific information and step-by-step instructions on direct seeding and cultivating indoors? 

Hi, I’m Lisa from Permapot. I’ve been growing my own vegetables in my small urban garden and on my terrace for 4 years now. With Permapot I would like to make it easier for you to get started with urban gardening!

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