I'm so frustrated I could just dig a new hole in my garden and crawl in it! For the life of me I cannot get a full bed of supposedly "easy" annual vegetables to take off and grow by direct seeding in the garden, to maturity and abundance. I've also tried starting seeds in pots outdoors - same problem.
I've followed the basic instructions numerous times over years and failed anyway. I look at the full beds of greens that other people grow and I cry with envy.
I think it's watering. I either don't water enough or too much. I water by hand with a sprinkling can twice a day when the sun is shining, maybe once if cloudy but not raining, not at all on rainy days. With tiny seeds, that top inch or two of soil dries out within an hour when it's sunny. I've dabbled with putting a screen over them while germinating, watering more often, putting a light straw mulch over them - that still dries out quickly, laying plastic over it....occasionally get a scrawny sprout that grows but never get a large, tight head of Romaine like I get in stores and so far I've had two small beets mature in my garden in 3 years of trying.
Perennials love me. I transplant a seedling, it grows like crazy in my woodchip and leaves composted garden. I propagate and multiply and grow great perennials. My volunteers from previous season (tomatoes and squashes) do well too so the soil seems to be good.
This fall I really want a huge bed of greens to take me thru winter. It's 85 degrees today but then should be in the 70's for a month or two. Does anyone have any special tricks? How do I monitor for the correct moisture level before the seeds germinate and show a sprout? Do most people use drip irrigation? Or misters? If so then I have to plant in rows rather than patches? Do you mulch around the seed row? (as an aside - I can grow potatoes and squashes from seed successfully, but not lettuce and kale)
If I try to start greens from seed when it's hot I put a little shade cloth roof over them. This season I got lucky and we had a long rainy spell during germination so I didn't have to protect the bed.
Joseph - only once a week for fresh dry seeds? Do you mulch right after setting the seeds? And how do you "irrigate"? In channels between planting rows or drip lines or spray? I know you have a large farm so it can't be by hand :)
I don't see any evidence of anything poking around in my seed beds - I have 2" aviary netting over the whole garden so the only birds that get in are chickadees. Before the netting, crows dive bombed for the larger seeds like squashes and cardinals were eating the tomatoes.
Tyler you're in a hot climate so I'm going to try the shade cloth again. I made some large "hoods" out of window screening last year for the young plants to protect from cabbage moths and chicken scratching. I think I'll do the same now but long and narrow with shorter height just for seeding - maybe add a lightweight plastic "showercap" for the first 2 weeks to maintain humidity. That will also prevent chickadees just in case they're the culprits :)
Tim you may be right about the seeds and I haven't been disciplined in recording germination from different brands and ages of my seed packets. I need to do that - I just always get overwhelmed with trying too many things every spring and the time/labor involved. And I too, have had cheap seeds do better than the high quality - that's what GMO is for! And volunteers from previous year are always the best so hopefully I can get to the point of orchestrating where seeds fall or place them at the end of each season.
I would really like to know more about watering methods and frequencies. Starting seeds indoors guidelines recommend frequent misting several times a day, or covering with a plastic bag to maintain humidity. Drip lines seem to be popular but the one time I tried that the water wouldn't travel the length of the garden because it was not perfectly level - inadequate pressure for the distance ? It seems to be so easy for most people - when I figure this out I'm going to write a little book titled "Gardening Challenged in the Southeast" with everything spelled out in excruciating detail and start a Youtube therapy group!
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
I irrigate by sprinkler, typically no more than once per week. I don't apply mulches or composts to my garden. I plant seeds much deeper than recommended on seed packets. I stomp the row thoroughly after planting. I want to make sure that the seeds are firmly connected to the soil. In my climate, loose/fluffy soil dries out very quickly. Compacted soil holds onto moisture longer.
In my garden, the most damaging predator to seedlings are flea beetles. The damage looks like lots of tiny holes eaten from the leaves.
Another strategy that I use for planting, is to put seeds in the ground the day before rainy weather is expected. By the time it clears up, many species will already be germinated.
I also use the "right before a rainstorm or snowstorm technique". Almost all my garden vegetables are direct seeded, except for tomatoes and maybe squash. Even my watermelons are direct seeded. I don't pre-soak my seeds either. I just find the appropriate planting date combined with upcoming weather information and plant them. Usually hand watering with a garden hose gets them to sprout in about 3 weeks time.
The only exception to this are carrots. Ive given up on planting carrot seeds as they never germinate. Instead i sprinkle them on top of the soil in late fall or early spring/late winter. They seem to sprout and grow great that way!
Late March for peas. April 1st for most everything else. Watermelons / squash about may 1st or may 10th because that's usually when we get a rainstorm and out last frost date is supposed to be may 20th. Since They don't grow for another 2-3 weeks anyway they are fine under ground.
I don't generally water when the sun is high in the sky, it all evaporates quickly and may even cause the plant to get sunburned by droplets acting like little magnifying glasses on the leaves. I usually water just before dark, or else early in the morning before the heat of the day, so that the water can soak into the soil. Seeds need to stay moist 24/7 while germinating. They may need to be covered with mulch or something to keep them from drying out and dying. Another thing you can try, is Fukuoka's clay ball technique. Basically coat the seeds in clay, it helps protect them from bird-pillaging and dying out. Otherwise as others mentioned, soak the seeds first.
You can see with only one eye open, but you'll probably run into things and stub your toe. The big picture matters.
My climate is different from yours, and very variable. Some summers can be hot and dry (like this one was) but mostly it rains somewhat regularly, however, it is not uncommon that there's a short dry spell of a few weeks when nothing seems to germinate. I've struggled with germination, too. My current understanding is that there are two watering strategies that work: either a) do nothing at all and let nature handle it - the seeds will germinate eventually and hopefully in time to mature before the winter, or b) water them every single day when it doesn't rain, until they germinate, and water very thoroughly.
I've found that the worse thing I can do in my climate is to water them just a little bit every now and then. I think what happens then is that the seeds start germinating but then the tiny emerging seedlings die because there's not enough water. Evaporation can dry the surface very quickly in sunny and windy conditions so shade clothing definitely helps in reducing the amount of water that is necessary to keep the bed moist until the seeds germinate.
Carrot seedlings are tiny and one little nip from slugs is all it takes to kill them. In my climate, if carrots do not germinate it is mostly because they did germinate but were eaten at night by slugs. This tip from the great no-dig gardening guru, Charles Dowding, has finanally enabled me to grow carrots consistently, every year: Water well the rows where you're going to sow the seedlings, but just the rows, not the surrounding bed. Sow the seeds and cover them with DRY earth/ compost (about as much earth as the diameter of the seeds, not much that is, but do make sure it stays in place by tapping it down with your hand/ hoe / rake). Do not water again for two weeks at least. Carrot seeds are slow to germinate and being tiny, they do not need much water to germinate and grow. The extra water only invites slugs to the scene. Keep the bed weed-free and bare, no mulch, until the seedlings are big enough not to be easily eaten by slugs. Or if you must mulch, then use compost as mulch, but make sure it's not lumpy so it doesn't give the slugs a home.
"But if it's true that the only person over whom I have control of actions is myself, then it does matter what I do. It may not matter a jot to the world at large, but it matters to me." - John Seymour
Here's what usually works with me, including with lettuce seeds:
1. Take a styrofoam box without any holes in the bottom (I use broccoli boxes).
2. Fill with soil (I use my excess clay soil; any other soil would be better).
3. Water it.
It goes against all conventional wisdom, because there are no drainage holes and I use clay soil. But this keeps the soil continually moist, so the seeds usually sprout and keep growing. I then transplant them when it's gotten too crowded.