Planting our first seedlings


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We decided to first ‘sprout’ our seeds in small containers of vermiculite and then transplant them into normal seedling trays filled with Mel’s Mix once sprouted. When they are a decent size and a bit stronger, we’ll transplant them one final time into bigger pots and 25lt plastic drums. The indoor sprouting in vermiculite was easy to do, cheap and worked like a charm – simply cut the bottoms off a few 2lt coke and milk bottles, poke holes in the bottom for water to seep through, fill the containers with vermiculite and then let them stand in a tray filled with water for a few minutes. You may have to refill the tray a few times as the vermiculite sucks up a surprising amount of water.

Once the vermiculite has soaked up it’s fill of water (it will turn a darker colour all the way through), poke about five or six holes in the vermiculite with the tip of your little finger about 5mm deep and, depending on the size of the seeds, drop 1-3 seeds into each hole. Lightly cover the seeds with a thin layer of vermiculite and leave in a nice warm place for a few days. Top up the trays with water once or twice a day.

Our First Seeds Planted (click on an image to enlarge)

Before we built our seedling rack we had simply kept a small fan heater blowing warm air around the containers during the cold nights. By the way, if you do something similar, don’t place the heater too close or aim it directly at the containers – you don’t want to wake up in the morning to find the seeds completely dried out or even worse, cooked 😉

Seeds sprouted in this manner should be transplanted into seedling trays as soon as they have sprouted their first two leaves – called the seed leaves. The seed leaves are usually fairly large and flat and look nothing like the plant’s regular leaves (the onions and spring onions were the exception to this rule) and the first set of ‘true’ leaves will come out soon after as the stem grows a little higher.

Because we waited until we could transplant most of the sprouts at the same time, the radishes and peas were a little bigger than mentioned above, but it didn’t seem to harm them since they are still growing ‘like weeds’ as we speak. They came up really fast – 3 days for the radishes to sprout and the peas a day later.

We planted the seeds on the 3rd May and transplanted most of them 7 days later on the 10th May. We had excellent results with most of the seeds with a good percentage of them sprouting. Here are the results:
First Seed ResultsThe carrots and radish we sowed in 2lt ice-cream containers and the rest in the coke and milk bottle  bottoms. The tomato seeds were really small, light and difficult to handle accurately and I think I may also have accidentally dropped a few more of the ‘Great Lakes’ lettuce seeds in a hole than I counted because we got 15 sprouts out of (a measured) 8-12 seeds? 😉 We also didn’t transplant all of the sprouts since we don’t have enough pots to transplant them all into later.

At the time we transplanted, the carrots, onions, spring onions and the ‘Moneymaker’ tomatoes (a vine variety) still hadn’t sprouted so we left them in for a few more days.

I really was surprised by the speed at which the bulk of the seeds sprouted as well as the high percentage of them that did so successfully. My sowing and planting experiences with previous gardens have been nowhere nearly as successful as this. Even when I have started seeds in seedling trays, only about half of the compartments in the tray would yield anything (and that was with a sizable pinch of seeds in each compartment). Admittedly, my previous attempts were all left outdoors, I’ve always used normal potting soil in them and sometimes they would dry out completely when I forgot about them for a day or two.

The next test I want to do is to compare the sprouting times and success rates between the same plant seeds sprouted in vermiculite to those sown directly into seedling trays with the Mel’s Mix but that’s next weeks task. I will also only be able to run further tests, with the seeds sown outdoors directly into the SFG boxes, in August when the weather is warmer.

Happy gardening

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6 Comments on “Planting our first seedlings”

  1. Tony says:

    Amazing stuff Vermiculite, heat resistant and good for organics and hydropontics

  2. Shingi says:

    Where can I find horticultural vermiculite in johannesburg? Can anyone help?

  3. Ilona says:

    Hi there Mark – doing some research for a column and came across your stuff…. wow … amazing — BTW How does your garden grow — now a year on ….?
    I see that you a bit of a ‘virgo’ — and wondering if you have considered using lunar gardening ????

    happy gardening to you !

  4. Pat Hemphill says:

    Hi Mark…..have you gone into worm bins yet? My daughter and hubby have two enamel bathes of them…..and their ‘wee’ is magic for the garden! Any more helpful comments on the subject? Thanks Pat

    • Mark says:

      Hi Pat
      Yes, we have had a small worm bin going for about two and a half years now. We committed ‘mass wormicide’ a few times in the beginning but once we got the hang of it (and the worms settled down to a regular feeding pattern) it was/is quite an easy and painless process.

      When we started the worm bin I did a lot of research on how best to use the end products and I came across a lot of info online about the difference between worm ‘tea’ and worm ‘leachate’. Basically, the worm tea is made by steeping the finished vermicompost in water (just like making normal tea) while the leachate is the liquid that naturally drains from the bin during the normal operation of the bin. The overwhelming consensus of the info I found was that the worm tea is one of the best natural fertilizers known to man while the leachate can be really, really bad for your plants – something about the leachate being the liquid from half rotted vegetable matter and containing all sorts of bad pathogens.

      I decided right in the beginning not to test this info on my own plants and to rather go with just using the plain vermicompost. I would like to make worm tea but I don’t presently harvest enough vermicompost to be able to do this. I have only harvested a couple of 20lt buckets of vermicompost in the 2+ years of having the bin and this I keep for my seedlings. The worm leachate I throw onto my normal compost heap just to give it a kick and, hopefully, where the leachate will continue to break down normally.

      I would be very interested to hear of your experience using the either the leachate or the tea (if you make it).

      • Derek says:

        Hi Mark,

        Just a tip for handling small seeds. Take a normal cheap lead pencil, lick the bottom and you can pick up one seed at a time and push into the seedling mix….works like a charm. The vermiculture compost I put into an old pillowcase and hang it in a 200litre drum of water. I use an aerator pump fro a fish tank to pump air into the tea…this multiplies the good bugs by millions. Hope this is helpful to someone.

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