new issue on salenow!
Seeds sown in coir pots

Sowing organic seeds

Story by

It's life affirming, says Penny Woodward, to plant seed and watch it grow.

I really enjoy this time of year because it’s time to start planting seeds. It’s life affirming to plant seed and then watch it grow, as the green shoots push through the soil I think of all the potential encapsulated in each tiny plant. I love the fact that more and more now it is possible to buy organic seed. This means that not only are my plants grown organically, but they are organic right from the beginning. I would urge everyone to support the seed suppliers who sell organic seed. There are many small suppliers and bigger suppliers who are now sourcing and selling organic seeds (see the list at the end of the article).

Over the years I’ve grown organic seed from a number of different suppliers and I find they are all good and all seem to sprout reliably. At this time of year you may need to protect them from cold, you can do this by putting the seed trays and pots into a polystyrene box and placing a sheet of plastic or glass over the top. Or take them inside and keep in a warm spot with dappled light.

I grow smaller seeds in punnets in seed-raising mixture, and bigger ones such as zucchini and pumpkins in potting mix, in individual small pots, often peat or coir (coconut husk). I like these pots because the seedlings go straight into the ground, pot and all, and this minimises root disturbance. The trick when planting these into the ground, is to make sure the whole pot and seedling is very wet before planting, and that the pot is completely buried under the soil. This stops the pot from drying out, which would kill the roots trying to grow through it.

If you are concerned about die back (caused by a fungal disease) then water seedlings with dilute, cooled chamomile tea. If seedlings start to get leggy and floppy, then brush your finger over the top every time you are nearby. This stops them from growing too quickly. If they are still leggy when you plant them, then just plant deeper into the ground.

Any plastic pots or punnets that are being reused need to be carefully cleaned. I wash them with a eucalyptus-based wool wash, mainly because I always have some and because the eucalyptus oil is a strong antiseptic and fungicide that will kill any bacteria or fungi on the pots. I also carefully inspect the surfaces of my potting area to make sure that there are no slugs or snails hidden in any crevices, and then put copper bands or rings of petroleum jelly around the legs of the tables to stop slugs or snails making their way up to my tender seedlings and snacking on them for lunch. Finally each pot or punnet is carefully labelled.

I’ve have a great strike rate most years and often end up with way too many seedlings for the spaces in the garden, but I’ll give some away (tomatoes, capsicum, cucumber, pumpkin and zucchini), plant some more thickly and then harvest every second or third when still small, leaving room for the others to reach full size (lettuce, mizuna, Chinese greens) and put the flowers into every corner I can find. For everything else I’ll find a grow bag or pot, fill it with soil, plant and hope for the best. It really is a lovely time of year, full of renewal and hope.