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Growing healthy seedlings

A healthy plant begins with a healthy seedling. Over the past few weeks, I have been observing the wonderful trend of pop-up vegetable stalls now providing vegetable seedlings for sale throughout the country.

In addition to this, growing your own food or ‘planting your plate’ has now become a norm which makes me believe that we are in the midst of a new agricultural era.

It is indeed wonderful. There is no greater feeling than harvesting your crop that you grew from a seedling.

In this article, I want to encourage you to go one step further, setting seeds to grow your own seedlings. The benefits to this are numerous.

Firstly, seeds are available and all around you. They are cost effective at the agro-shops and even free if you save them from the vegetables that you bought. You also have lots of options with your seeds because you can look for hybrid varieties of your favourite fruits and vegetables.

Growing your own seedlings enables you to manage the quality of the seedlings. This can allow you to produce full organic crops if you start with seeds that have not been treated with chemical residue.

I believe every home should also have its own seed bank with a variety of seeds that are kept on standby for planting. As you collect your seeds over the years, you can choose the best crops and update your seed bank and eventually you will have a seed bank with excellent quality of seeds.

Setting seeds is easy. When selecting the seeds you want to germinate, ensure that they are wholesome and not damaged, well developed, mature and free from pests, diseases and weed seeds.

Seeds can be sown in a mixture of sand, soil and manure, or combinations of these and other materials. The best mix for setting your seeds should have a fine texture and allow for good drainage. A general-purpose seedling mix can be made by thoroughly mixing equal parts of soil, sand, and cured manure.

Ideally, the mix should be sifted through 0.6 cm (¼ in) mesh wire before filling seedling trays, grow bags or Styrofoam cups. You can also go to your agro-shop and purchase Promix, a perfect blend of growth media ideal for seedlings. It is advised that you sow two to three seeds for every seedling to be transplanted and thin out the selection and careful removal of individual seedlings from where they were sown.

Each seedling which is removed is planted into another container to further develop. Thinning should only be carried out when seedlings get to a stage where they have two leaves.

When the seeds are germinating ensure that they do not have too much sunlight, some shade is required. Shade can be reduced as the plants get older. Water the seedlings twice daily and the afternoon watering should be done in the early afternoon (2–4 p.m.) to allow plants to dry out before nightfall.

The practice will help to reduce disease problems at the seedling stage. You can use an NPK fertiliser as a foliar spray once per week and monitor for any pest and disease daily. The best time to transplant your seedlings is when they are about two to three weeks old with four to six leaves foliage.

It is important to remember that every crop is different. Some crops grow best when the seeds are sown directly into the soil where they will grow and mature. Examples of these are corn, peas, beans, cucumbers, and pumpkins but keep an eye out for birds that may feed on them.

Also pay attention to the grower’s guide if you purchase seeds from your agro-shop as the guide is sometimes specifically suited to the seed type.


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