Farmer 101: A step-by-step guide to growing seedlings

Growing seedlings is no straightforward task, but it does not have to be difficult either. An expert panel gave tips during a recent Twitter Spaces discussion on growing seedlings.

On a recent episode of our weekly Gather To Grow interactive discussion on Twitter, Food For Mzansi’s editor for audience and engagement, Dawn Noemdoe and head of news, Duncan Masiwa unpacked the topic of growing seedlings. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

On a recent episode of our weekly Gather To Grow interactive discussion on Twitter, Food For Mzansi’s editor for audience and engagement, Dawn Noemdoe, and head of news, Duncan Masiwa, unpacked the topic of growing seedlings. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

There are many questions when it comes to seedlings and how to grow them. Which one of the two, seeds or seedlings, is better to plant? Is growing seedlings an expensive practice?

On a recent episode of Food For Mzansi’s weekly Gather To Grow interactive discussion on Twitter, the publication’s editor for audience and engagement, Dawn Noemdoe, and head of news, Duncan Masiwa, unpacked the topic of growing seedlings.

Joining them as expert panellists were:

Missed the live session? Ska Wara man (Don’t worry man) you can listen to the recording here.

In the meantime, here are some of the highlights from the lively discussion:

Factors to consider when growing seedlings

According to customer experience consultant at Seeds For Africa Kelly Dini, growing seedlings is no straightforward task. In fact, there’s quite a bit to consider, she admits.

“But it does not have to be difficult,” she assures listeners.

Dini explains that it is important to take the temperature into consideration and to make sure that you plant your seedlings four to six weeks before frosting starts.

It is also important to plant the right seedlings for the right time of the year. For example, cool season vegetables such as lettuce, spinach and peas would be planted in autumn.

“The process for hardening off is also important. You want to make sure your seeds survive when you plant them outside into their permanent spots”, says Dini.

Dini suggests that first time farmers do research on their area as well as research on what is popular on the market. A good seedling mix is also important and ensuring that you do not sow out of season seeds.

Is planting seeds or seedlings easier?

Annalize Steenkamp from Breaking Ground Organics says that whether planting seeds or seedlings is easier often depends on the variety the farmer is choosing.

“Root crops often perform a lot better when they’re done from seed, purely because if you start root crops in seedlings trays, they are more vulnerable for disruption,” says Steenkamp.

Root crops such as carrots, beetroots and radishes will perform much better if you use seed and direct sow rather than seedlings. Whereas crops such as spinach, lettuce and chard will perform well in a seedling tray.

“When you get to things like aubergines, peppers and your chillies, you will almost have no luck if you had to direct sow them. They can be very challenging simply just placing the seed into the ground, you will have a very low germination rate,” Steenkamp explains.

Other benefits of using seedlings and placing them in trays in a controlled environment, is that you are able to have more control over things like temperature and the pH of the soil. This means your success rate will be higher.

How many seeds should be planted in each hole?

There are many factors to consider when deciding how much seed should be planted in a hole or tray.

The first factor to consider would be how big your seedling tray is. Different trays have different sized holes so planting three or more seeds in one cell would not be an option. The cost of seed is also another factor to take into consideration as seed is not always cheap.

Lastly, germination rate is also a factor. Every seed pack has a germination rate and different varieties of seeds germinates faster than others, Steenkamp adds.

The importance of colour and medium

Eugene Simmons from Algina Wholesale Plant Nursery in Firgrove says that the root colour should always be white.

“As soon as your colour starts to go yellow to brown, then you have a problem.”

Simmons adds that the medium farmers use will change from season to season. “You cannot use the same medium in summer that you have used in winter. Being that in summer your plants take up a lot more moist. In winter you don’t want that moist because then they rot,” he explains.

In order to produce a quality seedling, the first thing a farmer would have to look at is the roots, Simmons advises. “The roots are the most important part of the seedling, not the top growth.”

Costs involved in growing seedlings

Dini says that at Seeds For Africa they sell a packet of 100 butter crunch lettuce seeds, also known as heirloom seeds, for R13. Whereas pelleted seeds are more expensive and at Seeds For Africa they sell five seeds for R29. She adds that trays are inexpensive and can be reused.

Simmons explains that because they are a wholesale nursey, their germination is done in a tunnel and it gets normal sunlight, five to six hours a day. Once they have germinated, they are transferred to a green house where they are hardened off. The hardening process is two weeks.

Don’t forget to join Gather To Grow live sessions, hosted @foodformzansi on Twitter every Wednesday at 18:00.

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