Sowing Vegetable Seeds Directly Into the Ground

Raising strong and healthy plants is a crucial part of successful vegetable gardening. Most vegetables can be easily grown from seed but there are a few that are not usually grown in this way. Potatoes are grown from 'seed potatoes' and alliums, with the exception of leeks, are grown from what is known as 'sets'. When growing vegetables from seed you can choose to do it one of two ways. The first is 'direct sowing' which is putting the seed directly in the ground, or sowing seed in trays or individual pots to be planted out later. There are some advantages to direct sowing - it is quicker than sowing into trays or pots, but you do run the risk of losing a certain amount to birds, slugs or disease. Some seeds are easier to sow directly than others, legumes such as runner beans and peas for example are easy to grow successfully when sown directly into the ground. As a general rule, the smaller the seed then it is normally best to sow in containers as the seedlings tend to be small and tender. Carrot is a good example.

Direct sowing

Before sowing you will need to make sure you prepare the soil correctly in order to achieve the highest rate of germination. If you are sowing early it might be advantageous to cover the soil in an old carpet or some plastic sheeting in order to warm up the ground beforehand. You now need to create a seed bed. Use a rake to go over the soil, removing any stones and weeds. You are aiming to create a smooth layer of finely divided soil. Spreading a thin layer of general purpose fertiliser over the area will ensure that your seedlings have access to all the nutrients they need when they emerge.

The traditional image of vegetable plots made up of neat rows of plants not only has a decorative purpose. Keeping beds free from weeds that will compete with your vegetables for nutrients and moisture is very important, so if you sow your vegetable seeds in neat rows, anything that appears that isn't in a row is likely to be a weed and can be easily spotted and removed. To achieve straight rows, lay a length of string taut on the line you want to sow along. You will then need to make a shallow trench or drill in which to sow your seed. As a general rule the trench should be twice the diameter of the seed and in the case of very small seed such as lettuce, just shallow enough so that the seed can be covered. Use the length of a broom handle or the handle of your trowel to do this.

Before you are ready to sow gently water the trench well and allow the water time to seep into the ground. Place the seeds into the drill, spacing them out carefully so that they don't grow too close together. Check the back of your seed packet for spacing instructions, but don't worry if you sow too many, you will be thinning out the seedlings once they emerge to achieve the final correct spacing. Once you have placed the seed in the drill draw back the soil with a rake or hoe to cover the seed. Now firm the soil with the back of a trowel or your hand. Don't for get to mark your row clearly with a label stating the variety you have sown and the date in went into the ground.

Thinning out seedlings

Once your seedlings have emerged above ground you will need to assess the spacing of the plants. It is more than likely you will need to thin them out to achieve the correct spacing. You will normally have to do this whether you have sown them directly into the ground or sown them in garden planters. Check the seed packet if you are unsure. Seedlings that are pack too tightly together will not grow well or to their full potential. If you don't want to waste those you remove you can always transplant them elsewhere in your vegetable garden or give them away

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