Sowing Seeds Indoors in Preparation for the Allotment

As a keen grower you will be eager to get going with this season's crops and you can make a head start for your young plants by sowing them indoors. 

Seeds need a light location that is frost-free, so this could be a sunny windowsill, a conservatory, porch, greenhouse or anywhere offering sufficient daylight and is frost-free.  

To sow your seeds, you will need some peat-free compost, break down any lumps or use finer textured compost for small seeds.  

You will need seed trays or modular (sectioned) trays. Maybe use recycled small pots, if they have been thoroughly cleaned. Trays with clear lids or propagators will offer more warmth and humidity for your seeds' growth.  Tomatoes and chillies, for example particularly like a good start in a propagator. If you don't have clear lids, you could make do with cling film. 

Shop for the seeds that you would like to grow, use saved seeds that are dried or unused seed packets you already have - be sure to check the best before dates on those. 

Always check the individual seed instructions and keep the packet for reference. Sowing times may vary dependent on your variety too. Some seeds may only require direct sowing outside. Also, when you come to re-potting or planting out you will have the information to hand for the next stages. 

When you sow your seeds, fill your trays or pots with compost leaving a small gap to the rim and if you have small seeds, you can sprinkle them over the area thinly and then give them a light covering of compost. 

Some larger seeds may be better in individual modular trays and can be gently pushed under the compost with your finger.  

Use a watering can with a rose or sprinkler head to water lightly or fill a flat tray with water for your seed tray to sit on and soak up the water until the compost is moist. 

Label everything! Include what it is and the date. If you can fit any other information on your label, all the better! A tip would be to keep the seed packet in a waterproof clear bag and wedge it down one of the sides. 

Germination will vary dependent on your seed type, but you will usually see some change in 2-3 weeks. When the seedlings start to grow, you can ventilate them, remove the lids or use the vents at the top and push to open them. Or you can pierce holes or remove the cling film. 

Water your seedlings regularly, being careful not to over-water them. Ensure they have sufficient light all around them. 

Once the seedlings have two pairs of leaves, you should prick them out. This means to gently lift them out and re-pot them into their own pot to give them more space to grow and, also to prevent any fungal diseases that are caused by damp.  This is called damping off. It is important not to delay pricking out, the roots can become too long and entangled making it too difficult to separate then without causing damage. 

To prick them out, you can use your hands delicately or use a dibber, pen, or something similar you have handy, to work into the compost around the seedling and hold the roots while you lift the seedling by a strong leaf and not the thin and fragile stem.  You can then transfer it to its own pot filled with compost and add water. 

Sometimes seedlings can 'become leggy', long and bendy, often growing at an angle and this is caused by insufficient light. They are fighting to find it. If your seedlings are ‘leggy’ you will notice they are bending towards the source of light, they have.  By pricking out, this helps reduce leggy seedlings as they are all competing for the nutrients of the soil and water with their roots as well as searching out the light they require.  This is a common issue when seedlings are sown too early in the year. 

If they have already become leggy, try and pot them a bit deeper, up to their first leaf and offer them an improved and even light source that surrounds them, 360 degrees. 

When seedlings have grown sufficiently to be re-potted into their own larger pots they can be hardened off before being planted out. This means that you can place them outdoors once the temperatures are warm enough to get them used to the climate, bringing them back inside overnight before planting them out permanently.  

If, on the other hand, you have not had much germination, you can always start again or add seeds, checking your environment is suitable and there are no other factors preventing a successful germination.  Many growers often sow 'too late' but it does not tend to make a huge difference in the overall growth and harvesting, even if a little later than usual.  

When planting out, the weather can sometimes inhibit this during Spring if it's a particularly wet or cold one and there is still the threat of frosts.  If in doubt, don't plant out! 

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