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close this bookBio-Intensive Approach to Small-Scale Household Food Production (IIRR, 1993, 180 p.)
close this folderSeed and seedling management
View the documentSaving seeds through gardener curators
View the documentWhy producing your own vegetable seeds is important?
View the documentTraditional or indigenous seeds
View the documentSeed production
View the documentSite selection and timing of seed production
View the documentSeed harvesting and seed extraction
View the documentSeed drying
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View the documentTesting seed quality
View the documentNursery techniques for seedlings

Nursery techniques for seedlings

Direct seeding is the most common method of sowing vegetable seeds. However, some vegetable seeds perform better if they are sown in containers or seedbeds initially and are later transplanted. Here are some basic steps in starting plants by this method:

1. Select suitable container. Planting in a seedbed is cheaper than using a container. However, using a container allows the gardener to choose the right medium for growing the seedlings. Any container deep enough to allow seedlings to root and wide enough to prevent their becoming cramped will do. Containers may be:

Seed flats

Clay seed-pans

Plant bands/paper box

Rag doll

2. Prepare container for planting. Containers should be cleaned properly to ensure they harbor no fungus spores or insect pests. Adequate drainage should also be provided to avoid damping-off (soil-borne disease that destroys seedlings).

Cleaning containers

Providing drainage

3. Prepare the soil medium. The soil medium should be free of weed seeds, fungus spores and garden pests. It should be sufficiently porous to allow the delicate rootless to penetrate and to admit air and moisture. Usually, a mixture of equal parts of sand, soil and compost is recommended, though a modified mixture can be made to produce a soil mixture that is more favorable for the growth of seedlings.

Sterilizing soil

Filling flat or pan


4. Sow the seeds. The manner in which seeds are placed in the soil depends largely on their size.

Fine seeds are usually broadcast together with sand.

Medium-sized seeds are often sown in drills.

Large seeds can be poked in slightly with a finger.

5. Cover the seeds. Cover the seeds by sifting soil medium through a fine sieve held above the seed bed. Large seeds are covered to a depth equal to twice their width.

Cover the seeds

Fine seeds are not covered but are merely pressed gently into the soil with a flat, level piece of wood.

Fine seeds are not covered

6. Care for Germinating Seeds. Seedlings should be protected from temperature fluctuations. Enough moisture and air circulation must be provided.

Dry soil can stop germination, but overwatering can encourage damping off. When watering is necessary, soak by immersion if possible.

It is advisable to set the seedbox in the open. If it is covered or is indoors, the seedlings may suffer from lack of moving air.

The seedlings should continue to get some protection until the first true leaves emerge. When one or two sets of true leaves become visible, the seedlings are ready for transplanting.

The seedlings should continue to get some protection

7. Pricking/thinning is the process of transplanting seedlings from the seedbox to another seedbox. This step gives the seedlings a chance to start development of root and leaf systems before the plants are left to fend for themselves in the garden. Seedlings should be pricked out as soon as they have two sets of leaves

Pricking/thinning is the process of transplanting seedlings

Use a sharp tool to help remove the plants so as not to injure them.

If seedlings come up with their roots entangled, they can be separated by soaking the root ball in water.

If seedlings come up with their roots entangled

Transplant the Seedlings. Punch holes in the seedbed with a dibble at two inches apart. Working quickly, insert the roots of the individual seedlings in the holes and firm them in with either the dibble or with forefinger and middle finger.

Transplant the Seedlings

If roots of a seedling are lengthy, they should be cut with shears or sharp knife.

They should be cut

When the seedbox is filled, it should be watered with a fine spray from a hand syringe to settle the soil around the roots and to freshen wilted stems and leaves.

Should be watered with a fine spray

If plants are particularly soft and subject to wilting, cover the box with a sheet of newspaper or another box fumed upside down.

Cover the box with a sheet of newspaper

In about four or five weeks, the young plants will be ready to go out into the open ground. A week before transplanting, the plants should be hardened by gradually increasing exposure to sun and air. Before finally setting in the garden, the plants should be given several days of full sunlight; and if they are going into a sunny position, watering is also held back gradually before transplanting..


Sunset Western Garden Book. 1959. Lane Publishing Co., Menlo Park, California, USA. 384 pp.