In this post, I’m going to cover problems with getting seeds to germinate. In short, you don’t always reap what you sow. Seeds fail to germinate for a number of reasons.
· The seeds may not be fresh. The germination rate of seeds decreases every year after the expiry date, but it’s still worth giving it a go if you have some expired seeds in your collection, especially if they’re unopened. Even if you use seeds before the expiry date, Gerard Martin (the owner of Kings Seeds) did warn me that their viability will be shorter once the packet is opened
· Some seeds, such as NZ Spinach, have inherently low germination rates
· Some seeds might require stratification in order to germinate. Parsnips and echinacea benefit from a cold spell in the fridge prior to sowing. Some seeds, such as beans, corn and peas which have a hard coating, benefit from soaking overnight to aid germination
· There might be something wrong with the actual seeds. They may have been improperly harvested (generally, they have to be ripe and mature when they are collected). They may not have been stored properly (keep them in a cool, dry place). Sometimes, the whole batch is bad. A couple of years ago, I tried to grow the pumpkin “Winter Luxury Pie” from Kings Seeds (which Collette put me on to when she added some of her seeds to the travelling seed box) but not one single seed germinated. I got in touch with Kings Seeds and Gerard informed me that there was a germination issue with the whole batch that year
· You might not be using the right growing medium. Use seed raising mix when sowing seeds in punnets, not soil or potting mix. For optimum germination rates, use a high quality mix like Yates Black Magic Seed Raising Mix or Nature’s Way Organic Seed Raising Mix
· Research the ideal temperature for germination, as it can vary. Some veggies need warmth, such as eggplants, peppers, capsicums and chillies so a heat pad can be helpful, as it is cool in July and August, when these veggies are typically started from seed. Others like lettuce, spring onions and leeks are fine to leave outside to germinate, but I tend not to start them during the winter months, waiting until the temperatures increase in September. Don’t forget that as it gets warmer, heat loving veggies such as cucumbers and zucchini can be raised outdoors, either in punnets or even sown directly where you want to grow them. Using a heat pad in summer can cook your seeds and they won’t germinate!
· Ensure that you’re sowing seeds at the right time of the year for your region. If it’s too hot or cold, they might germinate at first but will fail soon after or they may just not germinate at all
· Dampening off is a problem that sometimes occurs after germination, especially when it gets cold in the mornings. This occurred one year when I sowed my winter seedlings in late March/early April. To prevent this from happening, start them earlier, in February so they’re nice and established when autumn sets in
· Sow seeds at a sufficient depth outdoors to prevent them from being scratched up by birds, cats and rodents
· Be patient. Sometimes it takes awhile for seeds to germinate, depending on what you’re sowing and the temperature. It took just over a fortnight for my beans to start poking their heads above the surface. They were sown on 27th October and I only noticed one appear on 7th November. A few years ago, I tried growing capers and they took a long time to germinate
· Ensure you’re sowing seed the right way. Some things prefer to be sowed direct, while others are better transplanted into the garden. People have different experiences. I’ve never had a good strike rate with sunflowers sown in punnets, but Carol didn’t seem to have any trouble getting her Ginormous Zilla sunflowers from Yates to germinate in peat pots made of toilet rolls
Don’t forget that while you may not always reap what you sow, you sometimes reap what you haven’t. It balances out in the end. Plants which self-seed freely in our garden include poppies, calendula, borage, sunflowers, lettuce and malabar spinach. Yesterday, mum and I noticed that some passionfruit seedlings popped up by themselves in the place where we had a huge vine last year.
The photo is of my Zucchini Zephyr seedling which has already developed tiny fruit. It’s strange as it didn’t have flowers on it beforehand and the other seedling in the garden is the same. Has anyone else who is growing this variety noticed this as well?