Direct sowing in the garden
Many vegetables, herbs and perennials and most hardy annual and biennial flowers can be sown directly in the garden. Some, such as certain root crops and some of the annual flowers, only do well if direct sown in their final positions. Others are best sown in a seedbed and transplanted to their permanent positions when large enough. As a general rule of thumb, don’t start sowing until annual weeds are growing vigorously and the soil has dried sufficiently so as not to stick to your boots.
Few seeds will perform well if the soil is heavy and wet or very compacted. Very light soils can also give poor results as they tend to dry out too quickly. Garden soil, in fact, needs to be moist but well-drained and aerated just as much as seed compost. Few soils are naturally perfect for germination and subsequent growth and for all of these reasons good soil preparation is important if you want your seeds to germinate well and the resulting plants to give of their best.
The best plan is to dig well in advance and at the same time incorporate generous amounts of compost or other well-rotted organic matter. Organic matter improves the structure of heavy soils, and the water-holding ability of lighter ones and in both cases enables them to hold more plant foods. Heavy soils are commonly dug in the autumn prior to spring sowing so that the action of frost can help to break them down. They can also be improved by adding sharp sand or grit at this time. Most seeds germinate best in soil that is neither strongly acid nor strongly alkaline and, if your soil is very acid, lime should be applied to bring its reaction closer to neutral. A dressing of a general purpose fertiliser, applied about a week before sowing, is also usually beneficial.
Just before sowing, when the soil is moist but not wet, fork over lightly, removing any weeds and larger stones. Break down the clods and rake the area level. When all this has been done the surface layer should have a fine crumbly consistency or ‘tilth’. Only when this kind of surface can be achieved should the seeds be sown.
A seedbed is a small area of the garden, usually about 1.2-1.5m (4-5ft) square, specifically set aside for the raising of seedlings. It is best constructed in a sheltered, though not shaded, spot and should be easily accessible. In such a bed it is much easier to give slower growing and more delicate plants the extra attention they need. While in the seedbed they also occupy little space and other plants can be grown in the areas of the garden they will eventually occupy. Raising seedlings in this way is particularly valuable for hardy perennials and biennials, such as wallflowers, and easily transplanted vegetables such as the brassicas, particularly those with expensive seeds.
Construction of a seedbed is essentially the same as the preparation of any other area of the garden for seed sowing. On soils which are inclined to be poorly drained a raised bed can be made within an edging of timber. If you have a soil which is extremely unfavourable for seed raising, a raised bed can even be made of imported topsoil. As seedlings don’t grow to full size there, the rows in a seedbed can be quite close together; about 15cm (6in) apart is about right.Next page