Long time supporters of children gardening, Kings Seeds are the go-to gurus when it comes to growing a great garden from seed and after 17 years in the business they know their stuff.
Below they share their top seed-sowing tips and how the simple process of growing from seed provides many learning opportunities both in and out of the classroom.
To enter the giveaway, to win one of 20 School Start Kits go here.
Gardening is a life skill that used to be passed down through generations, but these days that is not always the case. Many schools and education providers are doing a fantastic job of enabling children to experience gardening through the care of their own school gardens.
The simple process of combining seed, water, soil and sun can provide wonderful teaching opportunities. Not only can students learn the hands-on practical skills of gardening, but they also learn responsibility, planning, routine and teamwork.
Gardening can also align with the curriculum such as maths, science and literacy. For instance planning the garden – what goes where, spacing the seeds/seedlings, measuring growth, documenting experiences etc.
Students also discover how the changing seasons impact what grows in the garden and the importance of protecting the environment for future generations. When it comes to growing vegetables at school, not everyone can afford to regularly purchase punnets of seedlings from local garden centres.
Growing from seed is an incredibly cost effective way to grow your own, plus students can watch the fascinating process of germination through to harvest.
When and how to sow seeds
Sowing seeds at the right time of year and the right way is very important.
Some seeds need to be sown indoors then planted out into the garden. For students, this brings the opportunity to closely watch germination in the classroom and learn the different stages of growth.
Other seeds can be sown directly into the garden, where students can work together to plan the garden and prepare the soil for planting.
METHOD A: SOWING IN TRAYS TO TRANSPLANT LATER
- Seeds can be sown in trays or shallow pots using a good quality seed raising mix. Fill the container to within 2cm from the rim, then moisten by standing the container in a tray of water until the surface of the mix becomes slightly damp, or by watering from above using at all times a very fine spray. Then sow the seed. A rule of thumb is to cover seeds to a depth of no more than twice their diameter but in the case of very fine seed, no covering is needed as the seeds when pressed firmly into the surface of the mix naturally work their way into the soil. If covering is preferred, sieve mix finely over the surface.
- A piece of glass with a few thicknesses of paper on top may be placed over the container to prevent the mix surface from drying out. Turn glass daily so that the dry side is downwards.
- If soil shows signs of drying out, repeat either watering process, taking care not to wash any surface soil away. Maintain even moisture levels during germination.
- Check daily for signs of germination and remove covering as soon as seedlings appear, exposing the tender plants gradually to the full sunlight.
- If growing on a window sill, turn the container every day to maintain an even growth and to keep the seedlings from leaning towards the light. When large enough to handle, transplant seedlings into a suitable container approximately 4cm apart. Harden off plants gradually exposing them to outdoor conditions.
- DO NOT OVER WATER SEEDLINGS!
METHOD B: DIRECT SOWING INTO YOUR GARDEN
- Turn over garden soil with a spade or fork. A loose soil enriched with moderate amounts of organic matter or fertilizer to supply nutrients is best.
- Add any other conditioners such as peat moss, compost or sand etc if not added the previous autumn.
- Break up the clods of earth and rake to produce a fine surface. Sow seeds thinly in rows or in beds if required then cover with twice the thickness of the seed using fine soil. Finally tamp firmly down and moisten bed well.
- When seedlings are about 6cm high or have developed their first true leaves (recognisable as those of the sown species) the row should be thinned out to the plant’s required spacing.
It can be hard to figure out when to sow seeds. To make life easy When to Sow numbers are displayed on each Kings Seeds seed packet (1.2.3) and are aligned with the best method below.
- Early spring – Use Method A indoors a month or two before planting time in your locality.
- Late spring & early summer – Use Method B when all danger of frost has passed and the soil can be easily worked.
- Late summer & early autumn – Either sowing method may be used although it is always preferable to sow small or fine seeds in pots or trays and when the seedlings become strong enough, transplant to the garden in autumn. For larger seeds or for those not recommended for transplanting, Method B is preferable.
Kings Seeds top tips for successfully growing from seed
Here are some tips that are helpful in achieving success and return from your seed.
- Always use a good quality seed raising mix – This helps the germination process so it is important to use a fresh batch of seed raising mix for successful seed strike. We recommend Daltons Premium Seed Raising Mix.
- Never sow seeds too deeply – A general rule is to leave very fine seed uncovered, pressing firmly into the surface only; fine seed should be just covered and larger seed should be sown no deeper than twice its diameter. This is a fantastic opportunity for students to visually compare seed sizes for different types of plants.
- Maintain even moisture levels during germination – Keep a good moisture balance with your seed as this will maximise the chances of successful germination and avoid disease problems such as damping off. Create a weekly watering schedule for students to take turns watering and monitoring the seeds – this may also discourage over watering.
- Watch out for low light levels and low night temperatures – Sow seeds in a covered tray and place in an area in the class room where they will get a decent amount of sunlight and also protection from cold night temperatures. If this is an issue, get students to make their own cloche (cover for seedlings) to cover seed trays during colder nights.
- Most seeds need warmth to germinate – Many seeds need regular warmth to help them germinate – without it they won’t! The best way to do this is to plant at the right time of the year. By planting in season when the seed is happy to germinate you are increasing your chances of success. If a constant high temperature is required this can best be achieved by using an electrical heat pad. Be aware also that some seed requires a cold period of stratification to break dormancy – which is a similar principal for some varieties of bulbs. They need the cold to trigger growth.
- Continuous supply – Keep sowing seeds every few weeks to make sure there is a continuous supply of crops throughout the season. Any spare crops can be shared out and sent home with children to encourage healthy eating.
At Kings Seeds we understand that teachers and educators are under time pressure, and to help we have recently released a School Starter Kit with a seed selection of vegetables especially chosen for schools. Some of the names alone are quirky and will generate a few giggles in the classroom.
The kit contains 10 packets of seed of veggie varieties that are easy to grow, fast to harvest and interesting to eat straight out of the garden — plus a catalogue, seed sowing instructions and one seed tray. The range includes:
- Bean Colour Combo Dwarf – Three colour blend of tasty green, purple and yellow dwarf beans.
- Carrot Rainbow Blend – A colourful mixture of five varieties of baby carrot – Atomic Red, Bambino, Cosmic Purple, Lunar White and Solar Yellow. Great fun in the school garden.
- Mesclun Lettuce Mix – A colourful blend of our best-selling red and green lettuces including Oak Leaf, Butterhead, Heading and Leafy types. Ideal for mass sowing in rows for baby leaf or spacing out to allow them to grow to full size.
- Radish Halloween Mix – Festive blend of white, yellow, purple and black radishes. They are mildly spicy flavoured, round and 5cm in diameter. You’ll love the colourful salads they can create.
- Snow Pea Golden Sweet – A prolific climbing yellow podded Snow Pea. Best eaten as a flat podded mange tout (French for eat all).
- Sugar Snap Dwarf – A yummy dwarf sugar snap pea with excellent eating quality. Sow in trays then transplant:
- Broccoli Tender Stems – Tasty and nutritious Broccoli with multiple side shoots. A vigorous grower, Tender Stems will produce a main central flower head then numerous side shoots that can be snapped or cut off when ready.
- Cucumber Diva – Delicious Seedless Cucumber. Looks like a regular salad cucumber but has a much smoother, thin, no peel skin. Easy to eat!
- Pepper Jingle Belles – Lunch box size, crisp and sweet mini bell peppers in a blend of healthy bright colours, from green to yellow, orange, red and chocolate.
- Tomato Yellow Pear – Large open vines bearing clusters of yellow pear-shaped fruits with a mild sweet flavour and a firm texture. Ideal for eating whole, summer salads, preserves and pickles.