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Growing summer seedlings and saving the seeds – a quick guide

Have you just got home with some springy spring seedlings, looking all full of life and promise of great crops to come and calling for you to get out into the garden and plant… but you’re not sure where to start? Read on for some tips and info.

If you haven’t grown seedlings before, it can seem daunting. All growers have disasters and losing plants and crops is just part of growing food. Don’t despair if you don’t succeed on your first or even second go! Each season, each garden and each plant is different and that’s a lot of variability! Every failure means great lessons for what to do next time and gives you better understanding of your local climate and growing conditions and how to help plants thrive.

Follow these pointers to maximise your chance of getting a great crop from your seedlings, but don’t worry if plants fail. It happens. You can always get in touch with Canberra SeedSavers for advice and support: canberraseedsavers@gmail.com

When planting out seedlings, place seedling in the soil or growing medium to same position it was in seedling pot – don’t bury any deeper or more shallow. Be gentle with roots, try not to touch too much and gently fill soil around roots when planting.

Lettuce: best grown in cool Autumn weather or early Spring. Start seeds in August /September or March//April, plant in garden when 5 cm tall. Loose leaf varieties are best for spring planting. Needs fertilising (try diluted foliar spray available from a nursery or hardware shop) or lots of compost in soil. Dries out very easily in heat so keep consistently watered and protect from harsh summer sun. One lettuce in a 20cm diameter pot will be very happy on a balcony with daily watering. Harvest outside leaves of loose leaf lettuce and plant will keep growing.

Save Lettuce Seeds: harvest leaves from your lettuce as needed and let it keep growing. When the weather warms up or the conditions are not favourable, the lettuce will ‘bolt’, growing a strong, tall central stem that will burst into flowers and, after a while, white fluff and seeds. Let the plant get dry and brown, then before the fluff browns and falls off, pull out of pot or ground, put upside down in paper bag and let dry for a few weeks. Crush flower heads and shake seeds loose. Store in cool, dark, dry conditions until next season.

Beans: popular beans include climbing beans, bush beans and snake beans. Climbing breaks grow tall, need staking our mesh support to grow up, and produce beans throughout the season; bush beans grow on a small bush, produce all beans at once and don’t need staking or support; snake beans can be either climbing or bush but have longer, stringier pods. Snake beans grow better in hot summer weather. All beans need water and protection from scorching summer sun. Bean flowers and leaves are edible as well as pods.

Save Bean Seeds: saving bean seeds is the easiest thing. Just let the plant grow until it gets dried and browned. Before the pods get too brittle and split, pull off the plant and pop in a paper bag to dry, cracking open to release dried seeds a couple of weeks later.

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Seed Savers Growing Community

Join us in growing lots of spring seedlings to give away to our fellow Canberrans who are having a hard time at the moment. Whether you can grow 20 extra beans or 100 extra tomatoes and a tray full of lettuce, you’re very welcome to join in on the Seed Savers Growing Community project.

How it works:

  • Fill out the registration form to nominate how many (roughly, we won’t hold you to it!) seedlings you’d like to grow and which varieties. Here’s the form, it only takes 5 minutes.
  • We’ll provide you with seeds, growing materials and support – if you’re a newer grower, we can pair you up with a more experienced buddy.
  • Start sowing anytime after seed distribution starts on 8 August (different plants have different optimum conditions for sowing – we can give you that info if you want) and stay in touch.
  • When your lovingly grown seedlings are ready, we’ll organise distribution of the seedlings through the Canberra Relief Network, Woden Community Services, Communities @ Work and other organisations doing fantastic work supporting Canberrans who are doing it tough.
  • If you’re on Facebook, join the Seed Savers Growing Community group and stay in touch with other growers in the community.
  • Come along to the Spring & Summer Seed Swap on Saturday 8th August to meet other seed savers and growers or let us know if you’d like to pick up seeds and materials on a later day.
  • Take some photos as you grow!

For more info, email us at canberraseedsavers@gmail.com.

Thinking about planting? Think about soil temperature…

Spring is coming (despite the forecast of snow for this weekend!) and it’s time to plan for planting.

When getting ready for spring planting, bear in mind that soil temperature is crucial for germination of seeds. Warm weather seeds are much more interested in whether the soil is warm than if the air is balmy.

In Canberra, most seeds need to be started in trays or pots inside where the raising mix can be kept warm – maybe on a window sill in the sun (as long as it’s protected from overnight extreme cold). If you use a glasshouse for germination, make sure the glasshouse retains enough heat and the seeds don’t freeze overnight. Many seeds can be started in a cupboard or next to a heater.

This is a rough guide to soil (or raising mix) temperature required for optimum germination. In early spring, it takes a while for the soil to warm up.

Often seeds that are planted (or tossed onto the soil) early will just sit and wait until the soil warms up and, as long as they aren’t eaten or washed away or frozen part-way through germination, a strong seedling will come up when the time is right. This happens every year for many gardeners with self-sown tomatoes and lettuces and pumpkins. Often, even though these seeds might germinate later than those started early inside, they will be stronger, grow faster and be more productive if they can set fruit outside of the peak heat times.

In Canberra, it’s tricky to rely entirely on garden-based germination for tomatoes, capsicum and zuchinis/cucumbers/pumpkins which need to reach the flowering stage before the weather becomes too hot in mid-summer so starting a few seeds indoors early can be a good way to insure against extreme heat in spring which will prevent flowers from setting fruit.

Why not try an experiment this season? Toss some tomato and pumpkin seeds into a corner of the garden and then compare with seeds started indoors. Which plants grow best? Do the plants which start later in the garden eventually catch up to those that start earlier inside or are they too vulnerable to the late spring frosts which it’s easy to protect seedlings inside from?

For seedlings in the garden, home-made cloches are easy to set up using plastic soft-drink bottles. Stay tuned for the next post to find out more – and check out some action photos.

Spring & Summer Seed Swap

It’s still freezing cold out there – but not to early to start planning for spring planting! We’re swapping and selling spring and summer seeds and you’re invited!

  • When: Saturday 8 August from 1.30pm-4pm
  • Where: Canberra Environment Centre, Lennox Crossing, Acton (around the corner from the National Museum of Australia)

Drop-in, stay for a little while or a bit longer. Lots of space for physical distancing for coronavirus-safety. Please stay home if you are unwell or have any symptoms. Please wash your hands when you arrive on the day and provide your contact details if you stay for longer than a quick visit.

Bring your homegrown or bought seeds from your stash to swap or share or buy some from us. 2020 Members can pick up 3 free packets of seeds. If you’re a volunteer grower for the Spring Community Seedlings Program, you can pick up seeds and growing materials.

You can
* buy packets of seed including locally grown and rare,
* swap your home grown seeds with seeds from the community seed bank and seeds brought in by other swappers
* donate seeds to the community seed bank and get credit for future seeds
* swapping and donating both work on a ‘spoon in, spoon out basis’
* If you are a member of CSS Coop, collect 3 free packets of seed (you can join CSS Coop on the day)
* if you are a seedling grower contributing to the Spring Community Seedlings program, you can pick up seeds, pots, raising mix and growing guides and meet other growers
* help out with the working bee anytime between 1.30 and 4. We’ll be making seed packets, packing and labeling seeds.

Everyone is welcome. Want to know more? Email canberraseedsavers@gmail.com

Seed Libraries for Community Gardens

In late 2019, Canberra Seed Savers embarked on an exciting new project: Mobile Seed Libraries for Canberra community gardens. Our aim: to promote growing from seed and seed saving and to build our growing community of seed growers, swappers and sharers. Mobile seed libraries are a great way to share skills and knowledge about seed saving – and to share seeds too!   

We distributed specially hand made boxes (big thanks to the Mens’ Shed), packed with seasonal seed and presented with seed growing and saving information to participating community gardens. In Autumn 2020, participating gardens included Canberra Organic Growers Society gardens at Kambah, Erindale, Charnwood and Mitchell; the Acton Community Garden and the Canberra City Farm.

As well as lending out seed libraries, packed with free heirloom, open pollinated seeds, we ran workshops at participating community gardens about growing from seed and saving and sharing seeds. Hopefully we’ll be able to find a coronavirus-safe way to run the next round after harvest of autumn and winter grown seeds.

To find out more, get in touch with us: canberraseedsavers@gmail.com

The Mobile Seed Libraries Program has been developed with assistance from the ACT Government under the ACT Community Gardens Grants Program.

What to sow now in Canberra? Growing in climate change conditions

The weather has been terrible – between drought, fire, smoke and hail, many local growers big and small have had a hard start to 2020. Our climate is changing and we need to adapt. This year, Seed Savers will be trialing growing herbs and vegetables from seed at different times and in non-traditional seasons. Follow our blog and experiment and learn with us! If you would like to be part of the experimental growing team, get in touch!

Our first experiments will be tomatoes and climbing beans. Can we get crops before the winter gets too cold and frosty? Which varieties will work best? Stay tuned!