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When you’re gardening in a small space, you have to get creative. Spacing is something that new gardeners are often confused about because the directions on the seed packet are often meant for large-scale farming. I discovered multi-sowing when I started learning more about intensive gardening, and it’s been a method that has been very productive for certain crops.
Multi-sowing is a simple method of obtaining more seedlings within the same cell when starting your seeds in trays. Simply sow a number of seeds (usually from 3 to 8), and don’t thin the seedlings. Plant them outside at the recommended spacing for one plant, and they will grow in clumps.
Multi-sowing isn’t a method that can be applied to all kinds of vegetables. If you’re worried that not thinning your seedlings will affect your plants’ growth, that’s usually right. However, there are certain crops that thrive when being sown in clusters, and those are exactly the ones you need to know about, so you can get a better harvest.
Tried and tested vegetables I’ve multi-sown:
Multi-sowing works impressively for plants with roots or bulbs that develop above the ground, such as beetroot, radish, leeks, and onions. However, plenty of leafy greens and herbs do very well without any kind of thinning.
Here’s a comprehensive list of all the plants I’ve successfully grown with the multi-sown technique:
- Onions for bulbs
- Spring onions
- Peas for shoots
- Peas for pods
- Dill, Parsley, Basil
- Lettuce for leaves
When multi-sowing these plants, the general rule is to sow 4-6 seeds for larger plants and 6-8 seeds for smaller plants, such as leafy greens or onions for salads. Later on, you can discard some of the weaker seedlings by pinching them at the base. This way, you’re left with the exact number of plants you want in your cluster.
Beets, radishes, and onions grow nicely when sown in clumps, because, as they’re developing their roots and bulbs, they are pushing each other apart. The general concern about multi-sowing is that we’ll get small-sized plants: 4-5 small roots instead of a large one, but that’s not the case. Check out this article on multi-sowing beetroot to see the ridiculous size of beets I’ve grown this way.
Actually, I’ve learned that, when sown in clumps, you can harvest the roots and bulbs successively, as one root or bulb will develop sooner than the others. Simply twist it out, careful as not to dislodge the other roots, and the remaining plants will continue to grow.
Have you ever failed to thin some crops after direct sowing them, like radish or lettuce? Did you find that some of these crops did just fine when growing very crowded together, and the strongest seedlings thrived while the others died off? This is what multi-sowing is trying to emulate.
One note on leeks: I’ve noticed that when sowing them in clumps of 5 or more, they were indeed producing smaller-sized leeks, but plenty of them. Because we don’t bury the young seedlings very deep, the multi-sown leeks have a smaller white stem, as they mostly grow above the surface. When sown in clumps, leeks are sometimes difficult to harvest because the root system becomes tangled together. But it depends on how fluffy your soil is, as well.
Pros and Cons of multi-sowing:
Multi-sowing is very simple, and you shouldn’t be afraid to give it a try. But if you’re not yet convinced, here are the pros and cons of this method:
- You have absolute control about how many plants to have in one cell, by selective thinning. Get rid of the weakest seedlings.
- You have control over where exactly to plant your clumps, as well as the spacing between them.
- This, in turn, means better use of space.
- You will work less on thinning, and there will be fewer weeds because of the shading these plants provide for each other.
- Some plants like companionship.
- Beets and radishes that are grown this way, although they grow a bit more slowly, don’t have a tendency to become suddenly woody, as it happens with single plants.
- Plants don’t grow homogeneously inside the clump, they have a staggered growth (but that can be a pro as well, depending on how you see it)
- You will need a warm, bright place to start your seeds, like a greenhouse or grow lights.
- You will need seedling trays and bottom flat trays to keep the water in.
- Many plants aren’t suitable for the multi-sowing method.
Module tray sizes you can use for multi-sowing:
We’ve been talking about how to sow your seeds inside module trays using the multi-sowing technique and you’re now probably wondering: what is the best tray size for this method.
I found that a 72-cell module tray that is 21.25 inches long, 11 inches wide, and 2.25 inches deep, is both the most generous yet economical size for starting most seeds, including multi-sowing.
If the soil mixture is right, and you stay on top of watering, you should be fine.
If, however, you choose to go with a smaller tray, bear in mind that there will be multiple seedlings in one very small cell, growing a lot of roots and occupying that space very quickly. If you transplant them too soon, they’ll fall apart, while if you leave them in for too long, they’ll eat up all the nutrients inside the cell. You can also go wrong by overwatering or underwatering in cells that are too small.
When your multi-sown seedlings are about 4 weeks old, transplant them as you would any other seedling. Don’t be afraid to plant them deeply, even cover their stems a little bit – this will make for sturdier plants.
Can you multi-sow carrots?
You should sow carrots directly in the ground, that’s their preferred method, as transplanting them will hurt their roots and you will get forked or distorted carrots.
When carrots grow about 4 inches tall, you should thin them to ensure better root development. If you don’t do this, you’ll still get carrots, but they will most likely resemble baby carrots.
You shouldn’t multi-sow carrots for these two reasons alone: they hate being transplanted and they need room to develop – their roots won’t push each other apart.
What about multi-sowing bigger plants?
While no one would imagine multi-sowing tomatoes or peppers, there are some plants that are initially sown in small clumps, and then thinned out until only the strongest seedling remains.
This process is called station sowing, and it consists of making holes in the ground, instead of drills. This method serves plants that have very large seeds such as corn, squash, zucchini, cucumber, peas, and beans.
It’s very different than multi-sowing because station sowing is a method that is meant to ensure germination and leave the strongest seedling, whereas multi-sowing aims for a bigger harvest from the same space.
You shouldn’t attempt to plant large plants too close together or in clumps, it will most definitely stunt their growth.
I hope I’ve convinced you to give multi-sowing a try. Here’s a summary of everything you’ve learned:
- Crops like beetroot, radish, onion, turnip, and leek will push each other apart while growing, and they will grow to a normal size;
- The crops above will have a staggered growth – pick them as they mature;
- When harvesting one root or bulb at a time, carefully twist them out;
- You can sow between 4 to 8 seeds inside a cell, depending on your plant;
- When transplanting them, space them as you would with just one plant;
- The ideal tray size is 72 cells, 21.25 x 11 x 2.25 inches;
- Don’t confuse multi-sowing with station sowing;
- Bigger plants that need space can’t be multi-sown.
Gardening in a small space is all about efficiency: working less and harvesting more. Multi-sowing is the perfect way to do that, and it’s proven to work. You can triple or even quadruple the number of plants you harvest in this way and enjoy them at a medium size. When your crops are ready, simply twist them out of the ground, amend the soil with compost, and you’re ready to grow again.
Don’t be afraid to try new things, multi-sowing works great both in spring, summer and autumn, and it’s perfect for succession planting as well. Have a great season and happy gardening!
Check out these must-have gardening products
You don’t need much to start gardening, but some tools and products will make a difference in how comfortable and effective gardening can be for you. Here are my favorites:
- Garden Trowel. A good garden trowel will last you many years. I love how sturdy this hand trowel from WOLF-Garten is, the metal doesn’t bend and it has a nice grip.
- Trimming Scissors. I use them for delicate pruning and harvesting all summer long, and they’re super handy. These Teflon Trimming Scissors are extra nice because they don’t rust as easily.
- Dutch Hoe. Dutch hoes may seem old-fashioned, but there’s nothing like a quick sweep through the topsoil to get rid of small weeds – no bending required. I love WOLF-Garten’s selection: this dutch hoe coupled with their universal handle.
- Grow Lights. These grow lights from Mars Hydro are super strong, yet dimmable, so they fit every stage of growth. They don’t put out too much heat and are very economical.
- Seedling Trays. There’s an art to choosing the best size for seedling trays so that it holds the perfect amount of water and gives the roots enough room to grow. These germination plugs are perfect when coupled with 1020 bottom trays.
- Liquid Fertilizer. You’ll need to feed your plants from the seedling stage, all the way to fruiting. This organic fish & seaweed blend is a very versatile option. Use it half-strength for young plants and full-strength for established plants.