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How to sow seeds–Part 2

First part of this series got tremendous response that I am writing the second part much sooner than I thought. Can’t keep you guys waiting!

Ok. Assuming all the required materials for starting or sowing seeds are available, we shall see how to do the seed starting it self. Call it what you want, seed starting, seed sowing, germinating, sprouting.. the procedure is simple, very simple. You take some medium/substrate, make it moist, bury the seeds, cover it, wait for few days and boom the seeds have germinated. end of part II! ? Technically it is this simple, but we all love some detail. The devil is in the detail.


Prepare the seed starting mix

Getting the seed starting mix ready is our first step. I will mention the easiest and the quickest way to do this. Take some cocopeat/peat moss which ever is available in your location. If the cocopeat is already a moist powder, you can use it directly. If it is a compressed block, please follow the instructions on the block and expand it. Now you have some moist media with you. It is time to start. Gently squeeze the media/substrate to drain out excess water. The media should not be soggy wet, little moisture is enough for the seeds to get started.

Cocopeat/peat has no nutrients in them, so for the plants to grow once they germinate, they need some fertilizer. If you prefer organic ways, you can add in equal ration of compost to the peat. If you don’t mind adding some fertilizer, you can directly use the peat/cocopeat and once the plant germinates we can add some weak fertilizer.

If you decided to use compost, add 1:1 with the peat and mix it thoroughly. If you are using chicken/horse/goat manure, then reduce it to 20% of the mix since they are very strong. I would make this mix in big quantities and keep them aside. As the mix ages, it gets better. You also need to keep it little moist to keep the microbe population alive.

By now you should have a mix ready to use. Head to the section choosing a container for planting.



Ready made seed starting mix

For those using Jiffy plugs/ similar rooting plugs. The media is ready to use already. Depending on the type of media you bought, it might already have some fertilizer in them or just the substrate, read the instructions. Moisten the plugs with water to expand them if they are in their compressed form. You can gently squeeze them to drain off excess water and then line them up like shown in the picture. Now the jiffies are ready for sowing.






Choosing and using a container:

There are so many choices we have for containers. If you are using a jiffy plug, you don’t need a container. move to the next section. For folks using prepared seed starting mix, you can choose from the following options.

Propagation Tray or seedling trays

Propagation trays are needed if you are planning to sow in large numbers say 50+ plants. The trays come in different cavity sizes depending on the size of the seedlings. Tomato seedlings are small, zucchini seedlings are huge, so the cavity size differ. A small cavity size and big cavity size are shown in the pic below.



Small pot or tray

If you need small number of seedlings, then sowing them on a smaller pot and tray/flat makes sense. It is easier to handle and you need less resources. Food take out containers can be used for making seedlings and they do a pretty good job. Easy to find, cheap and it works. Just punch few drainage holes and you are good to go.


Big Pot ( direct sowing)

There are some plants that are not comfortable with them being moved around. They prefer to stay in the same place where you sown them. Refer to the Sowing Chart page, under Ideal Germination Conditions. If the column reads “Direct” then the plant doesn’t like being transplanted or moved around. For such plants, it is better to sow them directly in their final container. For such cases, the sowing happens in their final pot. Here are some examples .




Sowing Procedure

We now have the seed starting mix and we now have the container as well. Lets dive right into the seed staring procedure.

  1. Fill the container with seed starting mix.
  2. Fill the mix right to the top of the container and then gently tap or press the mix so that it compacts. This step ensures there are no air pockets in the mix.
  3. Now start making small pits or depressions on the surface of the medium. Now two questions arise. .


How deep one should sow the seed ?

I have prepared a chart just for this and it should serve you as a guide line for sowing depths. Refer to Sowing Chart. I will tell you easiest way to remember the sowing depth if you don’t have a reference chart handy. The sowing depth should be not more than twice the size of the seed. I can immedialy hear you saying “Which side of the seed?” Longest side.. if the seed is spherical, use the diameter. Convinced?

How far apart the seeds be sown?

The distance between plants is only applicable when you are direct sowing them. For that purpose, there is a table in the Sowing Chart page that explains you that.



Now that you know how deep to sow and how far apart they must be sown.. what are you waiting for? Lets get started.

Seed Starting Explained. Spinach is being sown


Seeds Germinated in few days

100% germination

Cover it with Polythene sheet

Once the seeds are sown and it is watered. It is time for us to cover the seed starting tray / pot with a polythene sheet. While this step is not mandatory, doing so reduces the time it takes for seeds to germinate. This is because of the humidity the polythene creates. It also ensures the moisture is locked in. This is very good because we don’t have to water the tray till the plants germinate. That’s right. No watering is necessary until the plants germinate.

In the picture below, the seeds are sown in a tray and covered with poly sheet. The condensate on the sheet is also evident indicating a warm environment inside the sheet. Trust me, the seeds will love it.. they love it so much they surprise you by popping early.



Once the seeds germinate, remove the polythene and expose seedlings to good sunlight. This step is very crucial. If you delay exposing them to sunlight, the chances are very high that they will become tall and lanky. Such seedlings don’t become healthy plants. They also tend to break so quickly.


Feed the seedlings

Water them daily and don’t let them get dry. A dry spell during the seedling stage can have a huge impact on the crop’s health. If you raised the seedlings in just cocopeat or any other inert substrate, this is the time to water them with a dilute nutrient solution. You can use a hydroponic solution or 19-19-19. About a gram per liter is good enough for seedlings.


If you do the above, the seedlings from your garden will be at par with the commercially grown ones. The picture below is an example of how great the seedlings will come up if you do things the right way! Go ahead, get set sow.



Happy gardening


How to sow seeds – Part I

I am sure this happens many times in our lives. You go to a nursery or a garden center and see the beautifully grown plants and also colorful seed packets. You say it to your selves “I want a garden just like this”. The plants and the flowers are so pretty that you end up buying a lot of seeds or plants themselves.

You bring the seeds home and you are all set to start your own dream garden. Some of you succeed in that process and come out as “green-thumb” and the rest call themselves “not-a-green-thumb” and move on with their life.  Though there are lots of posts in this site that touch upon germination of seeds. I have received lot of requests to write a post exclusively on seed starting procedure.

This post is mainly to ensure everyone gets a green thumb. If you are having the similar issues with starting seeds, this post is for you. If you are already an expert in seed starting, you can also take a look and if possible share some of your best practices. Gardening is one field where the learning never stops.

This article is going to be in series. So hang in there!

Before we actually dive into the process, definition of some terms is in order.


A seed can be defined in many ways. Seed is a miniature plant, dormant and resting inside a seed coat waiting for a conducive environment to germinate. Once the seed finds the environment favorable, it breaks the seed coat and germinates. This process is germination. It is also called emergence of seed. The phase before germination is pre-emergence and the one that comes after is post-emergence.


Cotyledon is the first set of leaves that emerges post germination. They are also called the seed leaves. Those leaves don’t actually look like the actual leaves of the plant whose seed it is.

True leaves

True leaves are the set of leaves that emerge after the cotyledon. True leaves resemble the leaf of a particular plant or a variety.


Part I of this post we will discuss on the materials you need to do seed starting and in Part II we shall look at the procedure it self in detail.



For seed starting, we need the following items.

  • Seeds
  • Seed starting mix
  • Container
  • Watering can and a Polythene sheet
  • Plant labels.,
  • Good environment ( Sunlight, temperature, protection etc)



Seeds have to be the most important thing is seed sowing or seed starting procedure. It is very important that you select good quality seeds. Seeds must be from a good company. Each variety of seed has its own viability period beyond which their germination rate will come down. But the good thing is that many vegetable seeds stay viable for upto an year and some seeds stay good for almost 5+ years. I sowed a tomato from 5 years back and it came out just fine. lettuce-seeds-geekgardener

Selection of seed should also take into consideration the weather condition of the area in which the seeds are sown. If the weather is not suitable for the seed, then germination may not happen. It is better to check the sowing chart for finding out the right vegetable for the season and then get the seeds. Also check for expiry of the seeds. Some seeds lose viability too quickly.


Seed starting mix:

A seed starting mix is simply any substrate or medium that we use to germinate our seeds in. There are countless variety of mixes available for seed starting. My personal favorite is cocopeat. Cocopeat is also known as coir pith or coir peat. This is a byproduct of the coir fiber industry. Cocopeat can be purchased as compressed blocks or lose mix. I prefer compressed blocks since they are easier to handle. Buy cocopeat that is washed and sterilized.
Seeds can be sown in a mix that has just cocopeat. Cocopeat offers no nutrients to the plants. It is important that we pay attention to adding fertilizer after the seed germinates. This can be done using a water soluble fertilizer or by adding some compost to the cocopeat while making the mix. If you want an easier way, you can buy seed starting plugs. Plugs are of so much convenience and they make transplanting a no-brainer.

Care has to be taken that the seed starting mix doesn’t have any fungal infection. Using such a mix will lead to seedling mortality due to damp-off.

Pictured below is a shot of tomato seedlings growing in a mix of cocopeat and perlite.

seed starting mix geekgardener

The following substrates can be used for seed starting.

  • Coir Peat ( Washed and sterilized)
  • Peat moss (pH balanced)
  • Coir Peat and compost ( 50:50)
  • Peat + Compost ( 50:50)
  • Perlite
  • Vermiculite
  • Perlite+Vermiculite
  • Peat/Coir Peat + Vermiculite+ Perlite (1:1:1)

We will have a separate post just on substrates and their characteristics. For now,read on.


Almost any container can be used. Seedlings don’t have lot of roots. So a shallow container is enough and also is easier to handle. Drainage holes are a must to any container used for seedling production. Root rot, damp-off and other problems arise mainly due to improper drainage.

For small scale germination, one can use any pot/tray or even small cups. Seed starting plugs are a good choice and they make containers unnecessary.


Seed starting plugs geekgardenerlettuce-seedling-plugs

Germination - 1

For large scale, you are better of using nursery propagation trays. The trays are filled with cocopeat and the seeds are sown in them.


Polythene sheet.

This one is not mandatory but it has time and again proved that covering the seeds during germination increases the humidity and makes the germination happen little sooner. It also keeps the temperature a little higher than outside which the seeds love.



Watering Can

You need a watering can as well water the seedling. It is important that you use a can that has a sprinkler nozzle fit in otherwise you will be hosing the pot and the seeds.. well, trust me..they wont be even there in the pot to germinate.

I will end this part I here and we shall continue on Part II detailing the seed starting procedure. The goal is that after reading these articles you will never have to worry about seed starting.

Until then,

Happy gardening


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