Avoiding seed starting Mistakes

Taking my eye off the ball

In a recent post, I mentioned that I had started seeds for various Capsicum annuum varieties to prove that I could get a harvest from them in one season. I started two batches of seeds (with a rough interval of about a week between each batch) at the beginning of March. The varieties I planted are Hungarian waxes, Bulgarian carrots, Cayenne Long slims, Jalapeno Earlies and Cubanelles. When I planted them, I didn’t realise I was about to make a critical seed starting mistake.

I started these seeds using Hydrogen Peroxide and Camomile tea as scarification agents. I used these mediums, as I liked the idea that both have anti fungal properties. So, in addition to simply starting the seeds, I was also providing the seeds with a means to fight off any pathogens lurking in the background. I thought  had covered all the bases

Not so at all. Even though I thought I was on top of my game, I can’t say this is the best seed starting I have ever done. In fact, it is probably the worst results I have ever had. Out of a total of twenty seeds, I have only had germination of about eight.  That’s less than a fifty percent success rate. Normally, I achieve a germination rate of at least ninety percent. However, in this case, I dropped balls badly. Not intentionally so, but dropped balls they were nevertheless

The main reason for the abysmal germination rate is that I managed to allow one tray of seeds to dry out completely. That’s a big no- no when it comes to starting seeds.  To start seeds successfully, it is essential to keep their seed starting mix moist. It’s not that you want the seeds to be swimming in water. That’s also definitely not going to work either.  You need to achieve a delicate balance between the two extremes.  The mix should feel only slightly moist to the touch. Nothing more

Turning up the heat

A stupid mistake

It was a stupid seed starting mistake to make. I have known how important the moistness element of seed starting is for a long time, but somehow, I still managed to get it wrong.

In my defence, I have to say that this situation was created by my focus being somewhere else. In solving one problem, I created another. My main focus for these seeds was to keep the starting temperature in their propagator at between twenty-six and thirty-two degrees Celsius. This is the ideal temperature for seed starting.  I wanted to find out whether I could improve germination rates by keeping a close eye on this aspect. In doing so, I probably set myself up to come a cropper.

I recall noticing that I wasn’t achieving the heat range I wanted, so I turned up the temperature in the heated propagator. By doing so, I managed to get the temperature of the seed starting mix to about twenty-eight degrees Celsius. I was happy with that.  It was ideal. However, what I hadn’t considered is how turning up the temperature would impact on the moisture levels in the propagator. Higher temperatures meant quicker moisture loss. All it took was one night, and that was it. I had checked moisture levels in the propagator the day before. Everything seemed fine. However, the next day when I checked, the seed starting mix was as dry as a bone. I had made one of the most fundamental seed starting mistakes you can make,

While I haven’t quite given up on these seeds yet, I am reasonably convinced that probably won’t germinate now. Particularly if the seedlings had already started germinating when they were subjected to the dry spell. If this had been the case, it is written in stone that they wouldn’t have made it. If not, there is still a chance (although remote) that they might yet germinate

Okay, that covered the seeds that I managed to destroy by not keeping my eye on the ball. However, as previously mentioned, I did get some germination from the other batch of seeds. These were the seeds that I had scarified in the Hydrogen Peroxide.  With the first batch, the Cayenne Long slims, Jalapeno Earlies and Cubanelles all germinated. In some cases, more than one seedling sprouted.  Why the Hungarian waxes and Bulgarian carrots didn’t germinate, I have absolutely no idea

The seed starting challenge

A silver lining

Anyway, this has meant that even though I thought I wouldn’t be starting any more seeds this season (ha ha), here I am again getting ready to start seeds for a new round of  Hungarian Hot Wax and Bulgarian carrot Chillies. They are after all part of the one season harvest experiment.

With these mishaps, there is always a silver lining. While I was annoyed that I had allowed the one seedling tray to dry out, it does mean it gives me the opportunity to do some experimenting. This time, I will compare the merits of using seaweed extract, saltpetre and water with a few drops of detergent as seed scarification agents. At the moment, my favourite soak to prepare seeds for germination is made with a weak brew of camomile tea. Camomile tea has always worked well for me in the past, but that won’t prevent me from trying something new.

Using seaweed extract is something I am quite keen on using, as it has anti-fungal properties. This is a property it shares with Camomile tea. This means if the seeds I am sowing are infected with any nasties, the seaweed extract will sort that out for me.Over and above this, it helps the seed imbibe moisture. Imbibing water causes the seed to swell, its outer shell will then rupture, and the seedling will then burst into life.


This unexpected round of seed starting also means I can push the harvesting in one season exercise to the edge of the envelope. Theoretically, it is possible to start these seeds for Hot waxes and Bulgarian carrots as late as April, and then get a harvest in July or August. Somehow, I doubt that, unless the weather conditions are going to be perfect this summer.  I am reasonably confident that I will still get a one season harvest from these Chillies, I just think it will be a little later. Only time will tell. Let’s wait and see what happens!





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