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How to: sow seeds

Start planning in winter to sow seed for summer. 


There are two ways to raise vegetables from seed: sow them directly into the soil in which they are to grow; or raise them under cover in your house or greenhouse. 


Sowing direct is the easiest and least time-consuming: just prepare the soil then whack in your seeds. All you need is a rake, a packet of seeds and a watering can.


Photo - Mark Winwood/

Why seed?

Growing from seed means you can choose from a wonderful range of old heirloom varieties that are not available by seedling.

Here's what to do:  

- Get the timing right. You’ll need to wait until the threat of frost has passed. Germination will be more successful if you wait until spring has well and truly sprung: weeds germinating in your garden are a useful clue!

- Till the soil and work in some compost or soil conditioner. In an ideal world the soil should be dug over in the winter and the weeds removed as you dig. Thump lumpy clods of soil with the back of the rake to break them up: seed will fail to germinate through lumpy soil; fine soil will pave the way to straight and strong seedlings.

- Work out where you are going to sow your lines, then mark them with a piece of bamboo laid on the soil. Drag a rake handle along the line and make a drill 1cm deep.

- Water the soil before sowing. This speeds up germination and means you don’t have to water afterwards and risk dislodging the seeds. Seeds love it warm, dark and moist. 

- Sow seed at a depth related to size: tiny seeds should be just under the surface of the soil but larger seeds can be pushed down to your first knuckle. Sow as thinly as you can. Large seeds, such as cucumbers and beans, are easy to place individually, but fine seeds should be broadcast quickly and finely into a line. Don’t go back and sow more – this will increase the competition between seeds.

- With your hand replace the displaced soil and firm it down along the line. This removes air pockets and speeds up germination. Don’t water again.

- Seedlings will start to appear after a week or two. If rain doesn’t fall, water twice a week until germination. Once the seed has germinated thin the weaker seedlings out. Be brave! Removing half the seedlings feels brutal but is essential to give the remaining seedlings access to the space and nutrients they need.

- Remove any weeds that germinate as these will compete with the seedlings for light, water and nutrients. Be vigilant. Check your seeds every morning for health and vigour; water if necessary. Mulch the seedlings when they get to about 10cm high. Water with a diluted solution of seaweed.


Seeds to sow direct where they are to grow



Beans (dwarf, runner and climbing)







Text: Linda Ross 



About this article

Author: Linda Ross