Raising vegetables and flowers from seeds is a sure-fire way to grow strong, abundant, and healthy plants for your allotment garden.
There’s a time and a place for direct sowings such as for carrots and potatoes.
Even purchasing tubers for showy dahlias can really give your allotment garden a much-needed boost of colour and vibrancy.
But if you’re a seed addict like me you’ll want to successfully grow vegetables and flowers including dahlias from seed.
This guide is where it begins.
1. Choose the right time of year to start your seeds
As a gardener, you’re in tune with the climate in your location.
I’m in zone 8b which means the minimum average temperature through the year is 15° to 20°F and hard frosts occur from mid-Autumn to late Spring.
A good planting plan will include frost-tolerant plant seeds starting in late February such as spinach, lettuce, and onions to take advantage of increased daylight.
There’s no use starting runner beans or butternut squash in February in the UK as they like warmer temperatures.
For an early start to the season in late February sow spinach, calabrese, coriander, kohlrabi, and onions under cover.
For flowers try cosmos, sweetpeas and marigold.
2. Use the correct type of seed starting tray
60 cell type trays are good for smaller seeds like onions, beetroot, or spinach since the cells are small.
The advantage of the 60 cell trays is that you can raise more plants using less compost; a great way to start the season off.
Use the larger 40 cell trays for brassicas like kale, cabbage, and Brussels Sprouts to raise larger plants.
Brassicas are particularly susceptible to pest damage and growing larger starter plants from seed helps them to survive their attacks.
You can also use the larger cell trays to transplant from smaller cell trays instead of using pots which will save you on compost and time.
Larger seeds like runner beans also fair much better in the larger 40 cell trays as they’ve ample room to germinate and grow good strong roots.
3. Germinate your seeds indoors
If you don’t have a greenhouse or live some distance away from your allotment garden, use the ambient temperature of your home to get seeds started off.
Once you’ve sown your seeds into module trays and watered them, simply stack them on top of each other in a warm place.
Above or as near to a radiator is excellent as is a window sill if there’s space.
Seeds do not need sunlight to germinate they just need warmth.
Your home will have plenty of warmth for your seeds to germinate at any time of year whether you’re starting seeds in February or October.
There’s a great feeling of satisfaction that comes from carrying a 60 cell tray of bright, healthy, and flourishing starter plants to a prepared bed for easy transplanting.
4. Choose a good quality compost
Peat-free compost is all the rage and for good reason.
Environmental issues aside, I’ve found that peat-free compost is an excellent medium to start seeds off with.
From the most expensive to the cheapest on the market, there really has been no difference in the results of starting seeds off with different types of compost.
The most important consideration is that your compost is relatively free draining and not full of large chunks of material.
This can inhibit seedling growth.
Unfortunately, the only way to tell is to buy a bag of compost and start using it because manufacturers produce slightly different composts from one year to the next.
I’ve always used standard compost to start seeds off rather than the seed starting compost that usually has vermiculite mixed into it.
Most composts do the job well enough without any additions of vermiculite.
5. As soon as you see green shoots, move your seedlings into direct sunlight
Once your seeds have germinated and you see green poking out from each of the cells, move your trays outdoors into direct sunlight.
This is to prevent them from getting ‘leggy’.
Leggy refers to when a new plant develops a long stem in search of sunlight and may start to droop in one direction or another.
It doesn’t hurt the plant in any way it’s just that they may develop extended stems making it difficult for them to withstand gusts of wind.
If you do have plants with long stems, simply plant them deeper so that the stems are buried.
Ensure that overnight temperatures do not go below 5°C or 40°F when moving module trays outdoors and use the clear lids to cover them.
This helps them to retain moisture and protect seedlings from pests.
Let’s get seed starting
Following a no-dig allotment gardening strategy means feeding the soil by providing nutrients from the compost and organic materials.
This is the first principle of successful allotment gardening.
The second principle is raising plants from seed so they are better able to withstand pests and higher germination rates than direct sowing.
If you’ve never grown vegetables or flowers from seed before, check out the planting plan for guidance as to what seeds to sow and when.