Getting Ready for Summer Veg
Its just before Spring. Daffodils and Jonquils are out, fruit tree buds are swelling, the birds are fighting for their rights to mate and the temperature has gone up a tad in the southern states of Australia. It sure feels like a change of season is almost upon us!!
For those of you that have heat mats and grow lights or heated space to start growing summer veg, I would guess you have already got a start on. For those of you that haven’t started yet, do not dis pare, time is still on your side.
So the key to an early crop of summer veg is warmth.
Seeds germinate at certain temperature, which is a trigger for them to grow (along with water)…..when it is safe and conditions are right for them to grow, reproduce and continue their evolution.
*In cool soils, soil temperature is when sowing at 10 C to 20 C and air temperature between 5 C and 25 C. Cool soil crops that will thrive in such temperatures as spinach, lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, kale, leeks, peas, garlic and onion.
Many veg that is grown during winter, can grow over the winter providing it has a head start before the cool weather set in over autumn. Plants such as broad beans, brussel sprouts and carrots will do much better when germinated in March – May and grown slowly to maturity over winter.
Now that the air temperature is changing, soil temperature will slowly start to creep up also….but not for some time, so we need to artificially create the right conditions so that when the environmental conditions are right, we are ready with mature plants to power away and produce those early crops such as sweet tomatoes straight off the vine!
This will not happen until soil temperatures are consistently 15 C to 24 C and air temperature is 15 C to 30 C and the threat of frosts have well and truly gone.
This is a process that needs planning. Questions to ask yourself are: what crops will you eat? Do you have the room to plant out the seedlings you will produce? Are the plants compatible to be planted together? Do you have a rotational plan for your crops so they are not planted in the same garden bed as last year? Did you keep a diary from last year to know what grew well and what did not grow so well?
Making a Start
Once you are sure what you want to grow, where it is going and how much you will need to start off, then you are ready to start.
You will need clean seed punnets. A variety of punnets or plug trays are available in shops or online. A ‘plug’ is a small amount of soil that is used to grow an individual plant.
a. Standard seed punnet
b. 6 cell plug tray
c. 108 commercial small plug tray
d. 30 plug tray
e. Small seedling pots
Think about the size of the plant / seed. Growing large plants such as pumpkin or corn in small punnets or plug trays will mean the plant probably won’t have enough space to send out roots before you need to transplant into a larger container. If the roots are damaged in the process, this will slow down growth and may weaken the plant opening it up to disease or predator attack.
Always strive to grow strong, healthy plants with lots of vigor.
These will produce good crops and less likely to be subject to disease or insect attack.
A home propagation growing kit can be purchased for a small price and can be re-used year after year.
The example (right) is a 24 cell plug which will get many people started with their early vegetable crops.
For consistent heat, a heat mat can be purchased to compliment your grow kit with or without a thermostat. Without the thermostat will heat is automatically set between 180 C and 200 C.
If you can’t afford a heat mat, find a sunny spot facing north, just leave your seeds in the sun and out of draught to prevent temperature loss.
Fill your seed plugs or punnets
You will need to fill your seedling containers with a seed raising mix. You can buy a commercial brand made up for you or you can mix your own.
Seed Raising Mix
2 parts compost
2 parts coir
1 part perlite / propagation sand (course)
Essentially, seed raising mix is a soil medium for retaining moisture to germinate the seed and allow it to begin to grow. It also needs good drainage of excessive moisture so the seed doesn’t rot before germination occurs.
To soak or not to soak seeds prior to planting?
Seeds need the right conditions to germinate. One basic need is water to trigger the germination process. As discussed earlier, soil temperature, air temperature are also basic needs of the seed.
A seed contains all the energy and information needed to create a new season plant.
By soaking the seed it allows the seed coating to absorb moisture to potentially ‘wake up’ the DNA to commence growth (providing other conditions are also met). The water the seeds are soaked in can also contain a dilute amount of seaweed mixture to ‘give them an extra boost’. This is not scientifically proven as being beneficial, but as an experienced gardener, my observations are it does not appear to harm or reduce germination rate and plant grow up strong.
Seeds that I would soak are usually large and hard coated such as broad beans, beans, peas, pumpkin and corn.
Small seed such as lettuce, onion, carrot, broccoli / cabbage / kale / cauliflower I would not soak, but make sure the seed mix is moist before planting.
Other people argue that once soaked, do not water the seed again until a shoot can be seen.
This is ok, if conditions are right for the seed. If the soil mix dries out before it gets to grow a shoot it may grow in a weakened state. Always check the seeds’ conditions as optimal to give it the best chance of survival and strong growth.
Try to collect your own seed from last year. This way it is fresh and acclimatized to local conditions.
Planting and Label!
When placing soil mix into plugs or punnets, make sure you firm the soil up to around ¾ from the top. Of course this depends on the seed you are growing. Place the seed in the container and fill with loose seed mix. Firm down SLIGHTLY.
When planting seeds a general rule would be to place the seed 1 ½ to 2 times the size of the seed into the soil.
This is good advice for large seeds such as pumpkin or broad beans but not lettuce and carrot seed which is small and can be planted on top of the soil with a light covering over the top and a LIGHT firming of soil to prevent water from dispersing the seeds in all directions of the water flow!
Seed packets will have invaluable information to share and it is wise to follow the direction on the packet.
It has season to grow, plant size, when the seed is ‘best before’ and even germination rate.
In the above example this Heirloom Carrot Mix has a 75% success rate, so out of 12 seeds, 9 will most likely germinate. A higher percentage is also quiet possible, but the rate should not drop below 75%.
An important piece of information on this packet is how to sow these seed. Carrot do not take kindly to being grown in a punnet then transplanted into the permanent bed. Transplant rates are usually very dismal. Always sow these seed DIRECT into the bed they will grow in. Same goes for peas, beans, parsnip and beetroot.
Label your seedlings with used ice-cream container cut up into slips of plastic, ice-cream sticks, cut up aluminum cans and tied on from copper wiring from used electrical cord. Whatever you have on hand – PLANT NAME, DATE PLANTED
Eg: CARROT, HEIRLOOM MIX 18/09/21
If plant name and variety won’t fit on one side, write variety on opposite side.
Watering should be done straight after the seeds have been sown. This takes out any air pockets in the soil and help to settle the soil to a firm consistency.
In the picture (left) is a 1.25 re-used water bottle with a dilute mix of seaweed solution and a 500ml spray bottle.
Before seeds germinate you can use plain water as the seed does not require any feeding at this stage. It has all it needs in its seed package to get started. Once a shoot (and roots) are present you could water with a dilute seaweed solution if you wanted.
For delicate seeds like lettuce they are planted just below the surface, a spray bottle is ideal to moisten the soil without washing out or displacing seeds.
Continue to check soil daily for moisture. Placing your finger on the soil is amazing how receptive our senses are to touch!
Water if needed.
**”Cotyledon, seed leaf within the embryo of a seed. Cotyledons help supply the nutrition a plant embryo needs to germinate and become established as a photosynthetic organism and may themselves be a source of nutritional reserves or may aid the embryo in metabolizing nutrition stored elsewhere in the seed.”
In other words, a cotyledon is a plant with its first leaves that do not resemble its true leaves. They serve the purpose of receiving energy from the sun for photosynthesis, which produces energy for growth.
Do not transplant your seedlings until they have at least one to four sets of true leaves.
Transplanting and potting up seedlings
After the seedling has one to four sets / pairs of true leaves you can transplant your seedling direct into its new bed (if environmental conditions are right), or you can pot it up into a new slightly larger pot.
The problem of leaving the seedlings in their original pot/plug is that the roots have limited space and can become root bound. Twisting themselves around and around inside the pot. Another telltale clue your plant needs re potting is if you can see roots protruding from the bottom of the pot or if you squeeze it the pot feels hard. Which usually means the roots have taken up all available space inside the pot.
Choose a pot at least twice the size it comes out of to allow the plant’s roots to grow naturally into space in the soil.
When transplanting your seedlings, you will need to use a quality potting mix or make your own with compost, coir, organic fertilizer pellets and / or worm castings. Water them in well with a seaweed solution to counter transplant shock (plant can become limp and dehydrate from loss of water)
Continue re potting your veg plant into larger containers until conditions are right for planting out into the garden.
Harden up or die!
Before your final transplant into the garden, make sure your plants are left outside for longer and longer periods to help them acclimatize to their new conditions in the garden. Having wind blow over the leaves helps to strengthen the stems of plants. This way they will not be shocked to go from a warm snug bed to a large cold bed!
Don’t forget to thoroughly water in with seaweed / fish solution to help prevent plant shock.
Try to transplant in the cool of the morning rather in the heat of the day to further reduce plant shock.
Following these simple tips can help you with the most successful, healthy and vibrant disease resistant plants that produce you some awesome fresh food!
My summer seeds on the go! Pumpkin, zucchinis, corn, tomatoes, capsicum, cucumber
Grow lights emit blue and red LED light which the plants love! It stops them growing long and thin searching for light.