Growing seedlings

Make your own organic veggie garden with this series of step-by-step articles from Abalimi Bezekhaya...

Gardening steps
1. Planning your garden
2. Preparing the soil
3. Sowing Seeds
4. Growing seedlings
5. Caring for your crops
6. Controlling insects and disease
7. Harvesting vegetables

In this article we will discuss:
- How to make a seedbed
- Transplanting or moving seedlings from a seedbed into a trench garden
- Looking after seedlings

How to make a seedbed
Choose a sunny place in your garden to make a seedbed. Make sure that it is protected from wind.

  • Make your seedbed 1m wide and 50cm long. If you have lots of seeds to sow, you may want to make it longer (for example 1m x 1m).
  • Make the soil level with a rake.
  • Dig 30cm deep to loosen soil.
  • Dig one bucket of compost or old manure lightly into the soil and make the soil level with a rake.
  • Make furrows 10cm apart and 2cm deep.
  • Sow the seeds in furrows very thinly and cover them with soil.
  • Many people make the mistake of sewing the seeds too thickly.
  • Water gently every day to keep the soil moist. Do not let the seedbed dry out or the seeds will die.
  • Cover the soil with a net or thin layer of mulch to keep it wet.
  • Remove the net or mulch when the seedlings appear, 15 to 18 days after sowing. The seeds will come up more quickly after summer.
  • Birds like to eat small seedlings, so protect them with a net until they are bigger.

    You can also grow seedlings in an old basin filled with good soil. The basin must have holes in the bottom to let water drain out. Follow the same steps as the seedbed.

    Transplanting your seedlings from a seedbed into your trench garden


    When to transplant
    Transplant your seedlings when they are between 8 to 10 cm high. This is about six to eight weeks after planting. In summer it is best to transplant seedlings in the early evening when the sun is not so hot.

    How to transplant

  • Make a hole for each seedling in the trench bed. Water the seed bed well before you transplant your seedlings so that you keep the roots wet.
  • Gently take the seedlings out of the seedbed, keeping some soil around the roots.
  • Hold the seedlings carefully by the leaves. Be careful not to damage or touch the roots.
  • Wrap the seedlings in damp newspaper before you carry them from the seedbed, and do not expose the roots to the sun or wind.
  • Plant the seedlings with the roots hanging freely into the hole. The hole must be deeper than the roots. Do not let the roots bend up the side of the hole.
  • Press the soil gently around the seedlings with your fingers.
  • Water the seedlings very gently immediately.

    Distance between the seedlings
    Plant your seedlings the correct distance apart otherwise they will not grow into strong, healthy plants.

    A good way to measure the distance between seedlings is to use sticks that you have cut into different lengths. Use these sticks to mark out the distances that will be best for your plants before you transplant your seedlings.

    Looking after the seedlings
    For the first two weeks after transplanting, water the seedlings every day with a sprinkler or watering can. After two weeks the seedlings need to be watered two or three times a week. Do not let them dry out. Spread mulch around each plant to keep the soil wet for longer.

    In summer, protect the seedlings from the sun and the wind. Place a small branch with leaves behind each seedling to give it shade. You can also use a net made of orange bags sewn together to serve as a shade-roof. Remove the net after seven to 10 days.

    Crop Rotation


    Crop rotation is when you grow different kinds of vegetables in each bed every season.

    Why we rotate crops
    There are two reasons to change the kinds of crops you plant in your beds each season:
    1. To keep the soil healthy, and
    2. To prevent disease

    Crop rotation keeps the soil healthy
    Don't plant the same kind of vegetables in the same bed every season. Each kind of vegetable crop needs a different amount of food from the soil. If the same kind of vegetable is planted every season, the soil can become very poor and then nothing will grow well. It is best to rotate your crops to keep your soil healthy.

    Crop rotation prevents disease
    Your vegetables may have a disease. If you plant the same kind of vegetables in the same place again, then they will also get sick. But a different kind of vegetable will not easily catch the disease. So crop rotation keeps your vegetables healthy.

    Which crops to rotate?
    There are three groups of vegetables: root vegetables; the bean family; and leaf and fruit vegetables. Each season you should grow from a different group in the same bed.

    Root vegetables
    Root vegetables include carrots, turnips and beetroot. Root crops grow well even with a small amount of compost or old manure. This is why they are called light feeders.

    Bean Family
    The bean family includes peas, beans and lucerne. To grow well these vegetables need more food than root crops. This is why they are called medium feeders. But when these vegetables are fully grown there roots make the soil rich. They then give back to the soil more food than they have taken away.

    Leaf and fruit vegetables
    Leaf and fruit vegetables include tomatoes, potatoes, mealies, green peppers, spinach, cabbage and lettuce. They need a lot of compost and manure to grow well. They are heavy feeders.

    Grow a different type of vegetable in every trench bed each season. The first season, grow root vegetables in one bed, the next season plant a vegetable from the bean family there, and the following season plant a leaf and fruit vegetable in the same bed. Then you can begin the cycle again. This will help to keep your vegetables healthy and free of disease.

    *Extract taken from How to start a garden with only a few cents , Abalimi Bezekhaya's DIY guide to growing and harvesting your own vegetables. For your copy, place an order at info@abalimi.org.za. Payment up front and payment details on order. The book costs R24, plus handling and postage of R10.00 anywhere in SA.

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