Growing from seed is very rewarding and easy to do. Not only can it save you money, it also gives you the satisfaction of watching your seedlings grow into mature, healthy plants which can hopefully bear you fruit or flowers.
We’ve recruited gardener Jude to talk you through how you can grow your own “windowsill garden” using items you have at home already.
What seeds should I be sowing at the moment?
Tomatoes, aubergines, chilli peppers and herbs such as basil are good seeds to consider sowing early on in the season (February) as are salad leaves, lettuce or spinach.
Why not try a tomato such as ‘Gardener’s Delight’ which is a cherry variety with small fruits and a very sweet flavour. ‘Tumbler’ is really great for hanging baskets or large containers and can produce in excess of 2kg of fruit! ‘Alicante’ is also a popular variety which has large fruits and is a good cropper, as is ‘Money Maker’ which I have actually recently grown myself. It was very prolific and I ended up with a lot of seedlings which in turn produced a good crop later on in the season. If you want to germinate tomatoes under cover then the ideal temperature is between 18 – 21oC.
What about trying aubergines? A variety you could try is ‘Black Beauty’ which has large black fruits that mature early, and is shaped like a pear. There are also patio varieties with smaller fruits and compact plants such as F1 Amethyst and F1 Ivory. Aubergines can be sown under glass between 15 – 20oC. It is sensible to limit number of fruits per plant to 3 or 4 per plant as you are more likely to get stronger and larger fruits.
You could also try growing chilli peppers such as ‘Scotch Bonnet’ (a popular, rather hot variety used in Caribbean cooking) or ‘Hungarian Wax’ which has yellow fruits turning to red and has an Award of Garden Merit from the RHS. It has a really fiery flavour!
Do I need a green-house and loads of expensive equipment or can anyone have a go at home on a windowsill?
I would encourage anyone to have a go at growing these crops in containers on the windowsill. You could use old margarine tubs, fruit punnets or seed trays, with or without modules. Seed trays with propagator lids (heated or unheated) can be used but aren’t essential to having success with your crops. The most important thing is to have good, bright light and drainage holes in the bottom of the container so the seedlings don’t get waterlogged, and nice, light compost.
I’ve never sown seeds before. What do I need to know?
The basic rules of thumb for seed sowing would be to use well sieved compost to get any lumps out of it and help the seeds to emerge without damaging them (we use multipurpose compost which is peat free). Use a board to press down the compost and help you make it level. You should also ensure that the seed isn’t sown too thickly (which will make pricking out easier later on) and check whether the seed needs to be covered or left uncovered and exposed to light (this information is usually on the seed packet). If the seeds need to be covered then some sieved compost could be used, or some Vermiculite, which you can sprinkle thinly over the seeds. Next, water the seed trays from underneath by placing them in a large tray without any holes and water in the bottom. Finally, label clearly with the name of the seeds, and sowing date, and then place in a greenhouse, propagator, or a sunny windowsill.
What should I do after my seeds have germinated?
After the seeds have germinated, the young seedlings can then be moved on into a bigger container in a process which is called pricking out. You’ll need to ease each individual seedling out of its original seed tray (try using a dibber or a pencil), and plant it alone in a new, slightly larger container. Always handle your seedling by its seed leaves and take care not to damage the stem or roots. The pricked out seedlings will now need fresh compost and a bit more room to grow and develop.
I hope that you will enjoy the whole process of growing new plants as much as I do and grow some beautiful (and tasty!) things.