Two Tips To Ensure Your Garden Vegetable Seeds Thrive

There are some two tips to understand how to succeed with planting garden vegetable seeds outdoors.

Photo by peng wang on Unsplash

The first is making sure the soil temperature is right

If soil temperatures are too cold, your seed is going to rot. That’s one of the major causes of poor germination — you’re trying to beat the season.

No matter how enthusiastic *you* are, if that soil is cold, your seed is going to either sit and wait for the warmth or rot/die.

Rule of thumb: You’re better off waiting a week with most seeds than you are trying to rush the season. This is particularly true of the warm weather crops such as melons, cucumbers, squash and beans.


Hint: try putting your wrist on the soil. If it’s comfortable, go ahead. But if it feels cold — hold off another week.

The story — probably a legend — is yee olde-timers would drop their pants and if their nether-regions were fine with sitting on the soil — it was time to plant.

The second is planting depth

The main determining factor for good seed germination (beside warm soil) is ensuring the seed is in contact with moisture. We normally bury our seeds to accomplish this.

I say “normally” because when I controlled soil moisture in the greenhouses, I rarely “buried’ seed — I might have “just covered it” but rarely at the depth recommended by many garden catalogs.

Your job is to ensure a supply of moisture around the seed and to cover it with the minimum amount of soil to accomplish this. Seeds don’t need dark to germinate, they need constant soil moisture

With the exception of big seeds such as beans and corn that want to have their roots in the soil and have large initial roots, I barely cover all seed. I do plant the larger seeds down to recommended depths or they’ll curl out of the ground.

I cover most seed so I just lose sight of it. And then I pat it down so the seeds are in contact with the soil.

I much prefer to spend a few extra minutes in the day watering and making sure that there’s moisture around the seeds. I keep the ground in the seedling area damp. This ensures the seeds get good soil moisture and are able to germinate in the heat of the top layers of soil (rather than the colder layers below).

The problem with this of course is that you have to water properly. And firm the soil with a pat of your hand to make sure the seed is in constant contact with soil particles. If you’re not prepared to water once a day then you need to look at a slightly deeper planting (at recommended rates in the vegetable section.)

My Experience:

Is that if I delay a week or so with the warm-weather crops, they’ll catch up to the earlier planted ones because they’re getting all the heat they need with less stress.

Cold weather crops can be put in when indicated; but I do watch the watering on them to make sure I’m using a lukewarm water (if possible) on the seedling areas.

How to Sow Seeds Outdoors

After the ground has been worked, I firm the soil by pushing it down with my hand or patting it down (firmly) with the back of a shovel. I want a smooth seedbed. I don’t want big cracks in the soil where the seeds can disappear and find themselves too deep to germinate.

With small seeds, they are laid down in as straight a row as I can make (if you’re more compulsive than I am, you can use string) and then barely covered over with soil. I pick up some loose soil and scatter it over the seeds with my hand. I do make sure all the seeds are covered or the birds are going to get more than I will.

With larger seeds, such as corn and beans, I carve a small trench in the firmed soil with my trowel or hoe and put the seeds in the trench. They are then covered.

Again, keep the seeds/soil damp.

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Use Netting for Frost and Insect Control

One of the things that many home gardeners use netting for is frost protection (but not insect control) but there is increasing use of fine netting in Europe that we can learn from here in our home gardens.

Organic fruit growers have been using fine mesh netting (white in color) for hail protection as well as codling moth protection. For the record, the mesh size on this product is .12″ by .29″ (very fine so insects can’t get through but air and light can)

Research in France shows this size mesh also reduces aphid damage (rosy apple aphid) and there are increasing moves to use it commercially as their pesticide regulations are much more restrictive than N.A. commercial orchards.

It is a great way to control a range of insects and it is applied in spring “after” flowering is finished (to allow bees to pollinate the fruit). Apparently, in France, the microclimate temperature increases under the cloth are minor and don’t bother fruit. I can’t say the same here in N.A. so you’d have to run some trial on small amounts of fruit.

I also suspect it could be used in the production of a wide range of vegetables that weren’t insect pollinated (like tomatoes that are also wind-pollinated) or that we don’t want or need pollinated (cole crops etc) Crops with bee pollination and insect damage that coincide (squash family) wouldn’t work too well with this system.

Bottom line

This is a perfect way to increase pest management in the home garden without having to resort to any kind of pesticide. One or two short trees (dwarf or semi-dwarf) could easily be covered.

The issue is going to be finding the netting and when/if I find that resource, I’ll pass it along here. If any of you do find tree-sized netting for consumers, post it here.

In the meantime, here’s a link to Frost Fabric which will do almost the same thing and provides a measure of frost control for northerly gardens. (Probably a better bet in the long run anyway.) While it’s not the same thing as the material the Europeans seem to be using, it is readily available and will act to prevent insect damage on vegetables.

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