How to grow vegetables from seed
Spring is the perfect time for starting growing vegetables from seed
The first of September is officially the start of Spring in New Zealand. This time of year is all about planning what vegetable and flower seeds I’m going to sow. If you sow seeds now, they will be ready for planting out in the garden in a couple of months time, after the last frosts after over. Growing vegetables from seed is a satisfying and budget friendly process.
Disclaimer: In this article, I mention various products and suppliers that I use. This isn’t a paid promotion or sponsored article.
I am not a trained horticulturalist. This information is from my own experiences with growing vegetables, some basic research, and figuring things out as I go.
What to plant? Grow the food you like to eat!
I’ve been growing vegetables and fruit in my garden for a while now (over 12 years on our lifestyle block, 5 years in our previous house, and a few years back in the UK before we moved to NZ). The most important thing I’ve learnt about growing food is:
Grow what you like to eat!
In the past I have grown veges that we just don’t really eat much, such as Brussel Sprouts. Apparently, they are great roasted or with cheese and bacon. But, I don’t usually buy Brussel Sprouts, so it probably isn’t worth my time growing vegetables that we won’t eat.
I now like to grow our favourite vegetables, the ones we eat all the time. As well as family favourites, I also grow veges that produce a lot of crop, so there is enough to eat some, and have excess vegetables to preserve or freeze for using over winter.
My favourite summer vegetables, the ones that often grow well, and grow a lot of food are:
- Courgettes / zucchini
- Capsicums / bell peppers
Also important to me – I want to grow veges that my children enjoy! My children prefer raw veges to cooked veges (which I can’t complain about, as at least I know they will eat salad with a meal, even if they don’t like the cooked vegetables as much). Both kids particularly love tomatoes and cucumber, and my daughter loves broccoli and peas eaten straight from the plant!
Buying seeds or using saved seeds
Every year, I check out the box of seeds that I have saved from the previous year. I usually have some half used packets of seeds, as well as seeds I have saved from tomato, cucumber and capsicum. I have found these grow well from saved seeds. There is a useful guide to saving seeds here.
I also like to grow flowers to plant around the vegetables, as they attract helpful insects. This idea, of grouping together different plants to help each other out, is ‘Companion planting’ – see a brief introduction to companion planting here.
I usually grow marigolds and sunflowers, and experiment with a few other flowering annuals (plants that only grow for a year, and then need to be replaced). Flowers also look beautiful in the vegetable patch, as well as being useful for attracting bees and butterflies to help pollinate the vegetable plants.
After checking which seeds I have in stock, I order some more seed packets online through Kings Seeds, as they are my favourite seed supplier. They also delivery really quickly after an order is placed.
I also sometimes buy seeds from DIY stores or Garden Centres such as Bunnings or Mitre 10.
It’s important to label your seedlings, as can look similar at an early stage of growing, and it’s easy to forget what seeds you have sown. I also tend to grow a few varieties of each plant type. This year I planted six varieties of tomato seeds!
For plant labels, I use wooden ice lolly sticks to write the names of the plant on. I stick them on the ground when I transplant the seedling to the vegetable beds later on. Because they are small and made from wood, they usually rot away by the end of the growing season, but if they haven’t fully decomposed, you can pop them in a compost bin.
I usually write around 10 labels for each type of seed I am going to plant, and also have some spare lolly sticks and a pen ready for when I actually do the planting. This is in case I decide to plant a few more of the seeds – if they grow well, I can always give away or maybe sell the extra plants.
I grow more seedlings than I can fit in my vegetable patches, even though we add more patches each year. We are now up to seven vegetable beds, and I’m always thinking of where we could pop a few more into the garden.
Growing vegetable seedlings in a potting seed or greenhouse
I plant most of my seeds in a potting shed – it has a big window at the front, but it isn’t as warm as a fully glassed greenhouse.
I would love a greenhouse or poly tunnel one day, but right now, I am lucky to have a potting shed to keep my seedlings protected from the cold overnight temperatures.
This year I have also planted capsicums and eggplants in a seed tray and put it in the hot water cupboard in the house, as they need the soil to be warmer before they will start to grow.
How to sow the seeds
As well as the new and saved seeds, I make sure I have enough Seed Raising mix to fill enough pots for all my seedlings. You can make seed raising mix, but I usually buy a bag from Bunnings or Mitre 10. This year I used about 15 Litres of Daltons Premium Seed Mix.
Over the years, I have ended up with a lot of seedling pots! More than enough for all the seeds I want to grow. However, if you don’t have a stash of plant pots, you may need to ask around for some, or buy some from a DIY store / Garden centre.
To plant seedlings, this is the method I use:
- Fill the plant pots almost to the top with the seed raising mix.
- Pop a written label in each pot (or planting section if its a larger seed tray, like in the photo below).
- Push your fingertip into the centre of each pot or section, just to about the depth of your nail, for the seed to go into.
- Put a seed in each dip in the soil.
- Cover with a little sprinkling of soil.
- Water carefully, trying not to flood the little pots.
Taking care of seeds as they become seedlings
Seedlings need to be kept damp but not too wet, during the time that the seeds germinate and start to sprout up from the soil. Try not to let the soil dry out.
I water the seedlings every couple of days, with a little watering can, so that I don’t wash away the top of the soil.
Over the past few years, I have keep a bucket of water in the shed too, so that the water evaporates and keeps moisture in the air. It seems to be helping, so I will continue doing it.
Over the next few weeks, the seeds will start to germinate, and seedlings will pop up. In fact,we already have seedlings of sunflower and marigolds, from seeds I only planted a week ago! It is a magical process, and always amazes me.
Gardening information – my favourite websites and Facebook Groups
I hope this information is useful to you when growing vegetables and flowers from seeds. Its very satisfying, and also very cost effective!
Check out these gardening resources:
From my website
- NZ Gardening on a Budget
- Homesteading New Zealand
- Self Sufficient Lifestyle New Zealand
- Frugal and Living cheap in New Zealand
- NZ Vege Gardeners
Please get in touch if you have comments or questions.