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Sowing Small Seeds


So many vegetables and herbs, including arugula, broccoli rabe, pak choy, bok choy, mustard greens, basil, and lettuces, have the teeniest, tiniest seeds. I’m always surprised that they germinate. It just seems impossible that something so small could grow into a plant. I find sowing these seeds kind of nerve wracking because burying them too deeply is easy to do and results in spotty germination. So, over the past couple of summers I’ve developed a system that makes direct sowing tiny seeds easier. Here’s what I do:

1. Thoroughly weed the soil. Weeds compete for nutrients and can quickly crowd out small seedlings. If you’ve really had a big weed problem in the past try this before sowing: weed, rake the soil smooth, water the soil, wait two weeks, pull any new weeds that have come up—it’s a simple strategy, but it works wonders for reducing weeds.

2. After weeding, use a four-pronged cultivator or a rake to gently work the soil. Remove any rocks, clumps of soil, roots, or other debris and smooth out the soil until it is flat, smooth, and crumbly.

3. Water the soil. Seeds germinate best when they have good soil-to-seed contact and I’ve found that the seeds stick to the soil and stay in place better when it is damp.

4. Sow the seed. In order to evenly distribute small seed, it is often recommended to mix the seed with a bit of sand or potting mix. I’ve experimented with this technique and always come up with mixed results. So I have gone back to just trying to space the seeds as evenly as possible and then thinning out the plants after the seed germinates (the thinnings taste good, so don’t toss them!).

5. Water the seed in with a gentle stream of water from a watering can. This helps settle the seed into the soil. Don’t use a hose! The force of water from the hose can pick up the seed and you’ll end up with a big blob of seedlings in one end of the bed.

6. Finally, sift a light layer of potting soil over the seeds. Just barely cover them up. I use potting soil instead of garden soil because it is lightweight, weed free, and easy to evenly distribute over the seeds. I usually scoop up a handful of soil and then rub it between my hands so it falls in a fine layer over the seeds. Gently pat the top of the potting soil. Finish up by watering the seeds in again with the watering can.


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6 Responses to “Sowing Small Seeds”

  1. 1
    gardenmentor Says:

    …and in this past week or two, if you’re like me, you hope and pray that a torrential downpour of mixed rain and hail doesn’t come and undo all your careful work. ;)
    .-= gardenmentor´s last blog ..Grounding The Garden Mentor =-.

  2. 2
    Jen S. Says:

    Thank you so much for this post. Man! I have the worst weed problem. I try to be so meticulous about pulling, but they come back so fast, and if I just put seeds in, I never know who to pull. Eensy-weensy seed tips, too – thanks! Incidentally, I swear up and down to my husband that we have way more weeds than anyone else and that I think all the weeds in Seattle come from our house. He thinks I’m exaggerating.
    .-= Jen S.´s last blog ..Josh Ruins Easter =-.

  3. 3
    Deborah Says:

    I think that’s what happened with my green onions this year; I planted them too deeply. Only a few have managed to surface! I’ll try again with your method. Thx!

  4. 4
    Ewa in the Garden Says:

    Hello Willi, I discovered your garden last weekend and I absolutely love it!
    Thanks for tips about tiny seeds – the are always so so so difficult to find…
    .-= Ewa in the Garden´s last blog ..Comfrey darling, comfrey… =-.

  5. 5
    Debbie Says:

    This lady has a seed mat tutorial on her site, which makes it very easy to space tiny seeds. It is real easy to do this mid winter when nothing is going on in the garden, and there is virtually no thinning. Also the seeds stay put if there is a torrential downpour.
    I have tried it and it works great, if there is spotty germination, I just go back and plop a few seeds where needed.

  6. 6
    Willi Says:

    GardenMentor–I hear you, our drain pipe fell off the side of our house during all the wind and drowned one corner of a raised bed. Luckily it was the one Domino dug up!

    Jen–The method I described is called “stale bed cultivation” by farmers and I can tell you from experience, it works very well!

    Deborah–Onions can take a really (and I mean really!) long time to germinate. I planted some last year in March and by the end of May I gave up and planted basil and cilantro in the space. Then the onions germinated and I had them all growing together in a bunch! Good luck!

    Ewa–Welcome to DigginFood! I’m so glad that you found me. I’ve been reading your blog for sometime now! I love to take a peek into your part of the world.

    Debbie–Thanks so much for that link! I’m totally going to try her method. It looks like really works!

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