Sowing, Germination, and Hardening
Sowing means planting a seed or putting the seed in the soil.
Sow seeds early in the morning so the water has enough time to permeate the soil and get warm throughout the day. You can do it in the evening but make sure the seed flats stay warm overnight. Keep sown seeds away from direct sunlight and keep at a temperature of 75F-90F degrees—double check for specific seeds. Most seeds germinate well in a mixture of half perlite and half soil or peat.
Poke a small shallow hole with your pinky/stick into the soil (depth depends on seed), drop the seed in and cover lightly with soil. Place each seed appropriate space apart. Water generously around the soil until it is soaked but not puddling - let the seed sit overnight. Check daily to ensure the seed doesn’t dry out completely. Remember to label the seeds.
Some plants require surface sowing - the seeds need to be lightly sprinkled on top of the soil and not covered. With surface sowing, be careful when watering so the seeds don’t wash away.
If using a pellet to sow seeds sprinkle 2-3 seeds into each peat pellet and lightly cover. They can be put in the soil or in a pot with more soil. Water until the pellets have expanded. Keep the seeds in a warm area over 70F but below 90F and leave on top of your fridge or a warm place overnight. The pellet can stay in the pot soil or ground as the plant roots grow through the pellets.
Germination is the process of a seed coming out of its dormancy to grow into a plant. After being sown, seeds get starter leaves called cotyledons which are the first pair of leaves to emerge from the soil. The time it takes for starter leaves to appear differ from plant to plant. If you see starter leaves, you have successfully germinated the seed!
Prepare the proper environment for seedlings to thrive. Seeds are more fragile than plants and will need extra care and attention in the first few weeks. Ideal conditions for seeds to germinate:
- Water- Never let seeds dry out completely but don’t let them sit in water. Moist soil is the goal.
- Air- Moist but not soggy soil ensures air spaces remain for the seeds to oxidize and start the germination process.
- Temperature- Seeds need warmer temperatures than when they’re fully grown. The most favorable temperature range for germinating most seeds is between 75F –90F. See the plant guides for optimal temperatures for each seed.
- Light- Only some plants need light to germinate. Most seeds will be sown 1/4—1 inch in the soil and will not be getting light during germination. After a successful germination, it’s time to transplant (unless you sowed directly in the ground).
Once it is time for your seedling to go outside, you can make the transition easier on your plant by hardening it. Start by putting your plant out for half a day in the morning and bringing it back in for the rest of the day. Lengthen the time set outside each day for a week. At the end of that week your plant should be a little more familiar in the outside world with wind and harsher conditions than inside your home.
Direct Sow or Transplant Seeds?
You have the option of direct sowing or transplanting seeds. You can direct sow into the ground by waiting for the right time to plant outside when the soil is warm enough.
Or start early indoors then transplant when the soil is warm enough. This ensures you achieve an earlier harvest, can grow crops with long maturity times and can harvest crops with short maturity time several times in a season. Plants with taproots should be direct sown or if you must transplant, then use biodegradable peat pods or other biodegradable containers so you will not disturb the fragile roots and they can grow through without being handled.
You can always start the seeds indoors in a container and move the whole container outside when it is warm enough.
Annual, Biennial, and Perennial
Annual plants will grow, flower, seed and die all within the same year. They usually require replanting each year unless they are a self-seeding (self-pollinate) variety.
Biennials grow leaves, stems, and roots the first year, go dormant in the winter and in the second year will flower and produce seeds before dying.
Perennial plants regrow every year by themselves, some lasting years if you propagate or divide the original plant.