Growing from Seed

If you are growing organic produce in your backyard, balcony, school or community garden, then growing ‘from seed’, has many advantages.

Sowing seed direct is easy, and whilst it does take a little more time and work to raise your own seedlings, the rewards are worth it!

Why grow from seed?

  • It can save you money, as a packet of seed, some pots and seed raising mix can cost less than buying seedlings (saving your own seed, reusing pots and making your own seed raising mix can save you even more)
  • An exciting wide range of unique varieties to choose from that you may not be able to source as seedlings, and this way you can help protect biodiversity
  • Reduce negative impact that can be associated with packaging, distribution and production of conventional seedlings
  • Be prepared for possible food shortages or price rises, or food distribution issues, by knowing how to grow from seed
  • It is satisfying and enjoyable hobby
  • You can connect with other seed savers

What types of seed are there?

  • Open Pollinated seeds are from plants where pollination occurs naturally (plants self-pollinate or cross pollinate) not manipulated, they are more genetically diverse, may be adapted to local conditions, and produce a dependable crop
  • Heirloom, or Heritage, are pollinated by nature, genetically strong (the ‘best’ are saved each season) handed down from generation to generation, or a variety that has been around for a long time
  • Organic are collected from chemical free plants, some may be certified organic
  • Hybrid seeds (i.e. F1, F2) are from a cross between 2 plants, to get the ‘best’ from both, such as higher yield, or disease resistance. Whilst you cannot save the seed from these plants, you may be able to grow bigger, more flavourful, pest resistant produce. Note: Genetically Modified (GM) is different from hybrid seed, and is not available to home gardeners anyway.

Do I need to prepare my seed?

Some seeds need special handling before planting, to induce germination. This information should be available on the packet, or do some research if you have saved your own seed. For example, some seeds may need soaking, to remove a chemical coating, or scarification, which is ‘roughing up’ or breaking the coating.

Do I plant the seeds into pots to be transplanted, or direct into the soil?

Many seeds can be done either way, though some seeds prefer to be sown directly into the garden bed or large container they are to grow in, as once they are seedlings, they cannot handle being transplanted. These include root vegetables, peas and beans, and corn. (However, if you still want to start these early, you can try jiffy pots or soil blocks, which can be planted into the ground with the seedling, avoiding transplant shock). Before planting seed direct, check the growing information for soil temperature or the correct season for planting, as well as the different requirements for how deep, how far apart, if they get planted in hills or mounds, if they need to be kept drier (to avoid rotting) or to be kept moist (carrots) etc.

The method of raising seedlings in punnets, pots or trays, to then be transplanted into garden beds once they are growing, can mean the initial growing phase can occur in a controlled setting, with less risk of pests or poor weather conditions ruining them. There are many types of pots, trays, soil blocks, jiffy pots, newspaper ‘pots’, and seed trays that you can use to raise the seeds, for transplanting. Use seed raising mix, label them, place them in a greenhouse or a warm, sunny place inside, and keep them moist. Thin or ‘prick them out’, as they grow. They may need a ‘hardening off’ period to acclimatise the seedling, before then planting out when the weather reaches the right conditions for the seedling to thrive. This is good for produce that takes a longer time to grow.

Look for further individual information on your seed packet, in gardening books or websites.

Why didn’t my seeds germinate and grow?

There are various reasons why seed may not germinate, including incorrect planting time, eaten by pests, poor quality seed, not enough moisture or light, or too much.

Where do I get seed from?

•     Save your own, and look for seed swap groups in your area, or start one with your neighbours. This is a great way to build community resilience.

•     Seed companies that specialise in heirloom and organic seeds in your region.

References & Further Reading

The Plant Propagators Bible, Miranda Smith, 2007, Quarto Inc.

The Vegetable Gardeners Guide to Permaculture, Christopher Shein, 2013, Timber Press

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