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Sowing seeds when you have sight loss

Growing plants from seed can save you money and you often have spare plants to share. It is one of the most satisfying gardening activities, and one you can do either indoors, in the conservatory or greenhouse, outside on a table, or direct into your garden soil.

Making sowing seeds easier

  • Seeds can be sown straight in the ground, but the most common difficulty visually impaired gardeners have with this method is that it is not easy to distinguishing your new plants from weeds. A solution is to only sow seed in trays or pots, and then plant out the established young plants in blocks or rows in well-cleared ground. Any smaller plants that come through later than the seedlings, or that grow lower than the new plants, will almost certainly be weeds.

  • Cut out the need for pricking out seedlings by sowing in modular seed trays to create your own plug plants, or, for larger seeds, in individual pots. Modular trays are sectioned inserts that fit into ordinary seedtrays. Plastic ones are available from garden centres and come in various sizes, ranging from 12 to 60 cells or modules per tray.

  • Place the modular tray in a seedtray and overfill with compost that you have rubbed together to get rid of all the lumps; check that you have filled all compartments. ‘Strike off’ the excess compost to level it to the top of the seedtray, either with the flat of your hand, or a baton of wood. Do this working from the centre of the tray with a sawing action outwards to each side, to make sure that the modules at either end get filled. Then lift the tray a couple of inches off the table or bench and gently drop it to firm the compost.

  • To sow, put your seeds in a small container with upright sides that you can easily get your finger and thumb in. Take a pinch of seeds and gently rub them between your finger and thumb until you can feel that you have just one seed. (With some seeds, such as Lobelia, it doesn’t matter if there is more than one seed per module.) With your spare hand locate the corner module in the tray and place the seed in the centre of it. For particularly fine seed add silver sand to increase the bulk to make it easier to pick up fewer seeds with each pinch.

  • Move your free hand on to the next module, either above, below or to the side of the sown module and take another seed and place it in the centre. By not moving your spare hand away from the tray you can work your way methodically over all the modules, placing a seed in each. Work systematically from one side of the tray to the other, making sure that you do not miss any sections.

  • If you hold a small stick or label in your hand, you can place it in the last section completed when you get that annoying phone call that takes you away. Once each cell has a seed, lightly scatter more compost
    using a fine-hole sieve over the whole tray to cover the seed.

  • Label each seedtray. It is a good idea to cover the tray with a sheet of damp newspaper, or clear lid, to conserve moisture. Coverings should be
    removed as soon as the seedlings emerge.

  • From now on, all you need to do is make sure that the trays do not dry out. You will soon be able to judge if the trays are drying out by their weight. You can water the tray by placing it in a larger tray with an inch or so of water in, for 20 minutes. Allow the tray to drain and it will contain the right amount of water. Watering from above can risk washing the seeds away.

Taking care when sowing seeds

  • Sowing and pricking out seedlings is fiddly and can cause a strain if you have arthritis or weak grip. Do a little at a time and take breaks.
  • Bending down to sow seeds outside can put a strain on the back. Use a kneeler or strap on knee pads, and take regular breaks

Seed Tapes

  • Using seed tapes
    Seed tapes are fine paper tapes with seeds at regular intervals. You can feel the seeds as bumps in the tape.
  • If you are sowing these outside, prepare the soil by clearing the site to produce a level area with no large stones. Use a small hoe to create a shallow trough.
  • Lay the seed tape along the trough and cut to the desired length, mark each end and draw the soil over to cover the tape to a depth of lcm. Water in well using a watering can with a rose to avoid washing away the soil.
  • Remember to water daily until the seeds germinate.

Jiffy 7s

  • These can be brought from garden centres as multi-packs and feel like hard biscuits with a dimple in the middle. They comprise of a small fine net bag containing compressed multipurpose compost. To use, soak the Jiffy 7 for 20 minutes to expand the peat, you end up with a 4cm cylinder of moist compost, the fine net keeps its shape.
  • The dimple is the gap in the netting at the top of the Jiffy 7 where the seed can be sown. The roots of the seedling will come through the net so it does not need to be removed. The whole unit is potted up when the roots come to the edge and you have a sturdy young plant.
  • Jiffy 7s can also be used for cuttings.

Hints and tips

  • Seed packets
    Go for tried-and-tested seed varieties with good germination rates.
  • Only use fresh seed and take care to read the instructions fully - some seeds need special treatment to germinate and grow.
  • You can sow large seeds individually in 9cm (3 inch) pots. Longer rooted plants like sweet peas and beans can be sown into cardboard toilet roll inners and planted out intact when established.
  • If you want to enjoy raising plants without seed sowing, plug plants can be a good choice for growing vegetables or creating annual flower displays. You can get a good range by mail order, and at the garden centre.

Labelling seeds

Blind and partially sighted gardeners often ask Slob for suggestions on labelling. Here are a few top tips to help.

  • For gardeners with some vision, large print labels produced on a computer and laminated, are an option. Or you could use permanent marker on bright waterproof luggage labels.
  • Always put your labels in a consistent place, such as in the front. It can also help to make a recorded message of what you have planted.
  • There are two companies that produce large-faced rectangular black labels set on a spike – Wells & Winter and The Essentials Company You can write on these with a white paint marker
  • Electronic labellers such as Casio and Dymo can print out fairly big lettering for large labels.
  • Shaped and coloured indicating buttons from RNIB are useful for attaching to pots or plants. You could keep a record of which shape and colour button relates to which type of plant.
  • You can use self-adhesive Braille stuck to sturdy labels or to the sticks for seed trays. Plastic labels are available from RNIB for use with a Brailler.

Equipment and tools

  • Compost tidy
    A plastic compost tidy tray gives you a space to work and stops compost getting spilt everywhere
  • Modular seed trays come in a range of cell sizes, including 40-cell, or 24-cell for larger plants. You can also buy them for longer-rooted plants.
  • Self-watering propagator units combine a 40-cell seed tray, a clear cover and an integral watering tray. Watering from below can help avoid problems of over-watering.
  • Seed sowers are gadgets that release seeds one at a time with a squeeze or push action.

Compost tidy  

Compost tidy

Useful for keeping compost contained when sowing seeds, potting on or planting up containers.

Find out more about compost tidy

Push button seed sower  

Push button seed sower

Easy to use and ideal for sowing seeds up to 2mm in size.

Find out more about push button seed sower

Root trainers  

Root trainers

Modular cell trays that open so you can keep an eye on growth, check moisture levels and remove plants without damaging the roots.

Find out more about root trainers

Mouth operated seed sower  

Mouth operated seed sower

This equipment uses the suction from your mouth to hold small seeds, leaving your hands free.

Find out more about mouth operated seed sower