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Dublin: 7°C Thursday 25 February 2021

From the Garden: 'It seems an opportune time to write about sowing seeds in module trays'

‘The beauty of a module tray is that the roots of seedlings are kept apart which means you don’t upset them when you are transplanting them’, writes Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

ON OUR HOW Food Grows courses at GROW HQ I always spend a lot of time with the group on seed sowing.

It’s such an important part of GIYing, and I think that once you’ve seen it done right and practised it yourself, it’s a skill you’ll have forever.  

It seems an opportune time to write about it too since we’re in peak seed sowing time now. Although some seeds are best started off in pots (tomatoes, aubergines, celery), the majority of my seed sowing is done in module trays.

A module tray is a tray with individual compartments or modules in it.  A decent sized tray will measure 335 x 515mm and have between 80 and 150 modules in them. They are made from rigid plastic so they can be used again and again.

I have five of them at home, which I’ve had forever. The beauty of a module tray is that the roots of seedlings are kept apart which means you don’t upset them when you are transplanting them.  

Before you fill the tray with compost, it’s important to work with the compost a little first.

Break up any larger clumps – this is important because smaller seeds might fall down through the cracks and fail to germinate because they’re too deep in the compost.

I start by completely overfilling the tray with compost and working it into the modules with my hands.

Banging the tray against the bench a few times will help the compost to settle down into the container.  Overfill it again. Then, I use a flat stick or piece of timber to ‘slice’ the excess compost off the top of the tray, leaving a flat, clean surface on the module tray.

Before sowing the seeds I make a ‘divot’ in each module with my fingers.  This is the little recess in the compost in to which you will drop the seed.  

I usually use two fingers from each hand to do four modules at a time to speed things up!

How deep you make the divot depends on how deep the seeds need to be.  A good rule of thumb is that you sow the seed roughly twice as deep as the seed’s size.

So, a tiny lettuce seed is almost on top of the surface, while a larger seed like a squash or pumpkin would be much deeper.

Depending on the size of the seed, you can either pick one up and drop it into the divot; or use a plant label to move it off the palm of your hand and let it fall into the divot.

With most vegetables, you will be sowing one seed per module but with others (e.g. oriental greens) you might be sowing 3-4 seeds per module.  It’s really important to label the tray. I use white plastic labels and a pencil so they can be washed off and reused.

I always write the name of the veg, the variety and the date it was sown on the label, so for example “Beetroot, Detroit Globe, 17/04/19”.

That way if germination is slow you can check how long it was since it was sown.  

To cover the seeds, I then overfill the tray with compost again and slice the excess off with my trusty stick to leave a flat surface again.  

Next, I bring the trays outside and water them on the ground outside the potting shed. I use a fine mist setting on the hose, but a fine rose on a watering can is just as good.

Check out the videos in the Get Growing section of giy.ie to see the seed sowing in action.

The Basics – Top Tips for Seed Sowing

If you are still not having success with your seed sowing, keep an eye out for the following:

 • Planting Depth – you could have sowed your seeds too deep or too shallow.  Check the seed packet and try again.

• Old seed – seeds that are past their “sow before’ date will often struggle to germinate.  It’s a good idea to discard old seed or at least do a germination test before sowing big quantities.  Make sure you are buying good quality seed.

• Temperature and Water – different vegetables have different requirements in terms of their preferred temperature and the amount of water they get.

• Mould – a formation of mould on the surface of the soil is often a problem when the temperature is cold and the trays have been overwatered.  Poor ventilation can compound the problem. Placing a fan in the area will keep air circulating.

Recipe of the Week – Spinach Soup with Wild Garlic Toasts

A bowl of soup and a crusty bread roll get a glamorous makeover with this vibrant dish from Adam Gray.

Wild garlic is easily foraged. It has long green leaves and a distinctive garlicky smell, and as in this recipe, it can be cooked or used raw in salads or as a garnish.


 Spinach soup

  • 50g of butter

  • 250g of shallots, finely sliced

  • 200g of potato, finely sliced

  • 1.75kg spinach leaves

  • 50g of wild garlic leaves

  • 1.75l vegetable stock

  • salt

  • pepper

Wild garlic cheese toasts

  • 200g of cream cheese

  • 15g of wild garlic leaves, raw and finely chopped

  • 1 egg yolk

  • 8 bread rolls (or blaas!)

  • olive oil


For the Spinach soup, melt the butter in a heavy-based pan. Add the shallots and potatoes. Sweat with no colour until the vegetables start to soften. In another pan, bring the vegetable stock to the boil and remove from the heat.  

Add the picked, pre-washed spinach and wild garlic leaves. Sweat for a further minute only and remove from the heat.

Add the boiling stock and blend until smooth immediately to retain the fresh, green colour. Pass through a fine sieve into a bowl over ice.

This is done to cool the soup quickly to stop browning. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

For the wild garlic cheese toasts, divide the egg yolk in half, discarding one half.

Mix all the ingredients together except the bread rolls and olive oil, seasoning with the salt and pepper to taste.  

Slice the top and bottom off the rolls and then cut in half.

Spread 2-3mm of the cheese mixture on one side of one half of the roll, evenly. Place the other half on top, making a sandwich. Repeat with the rest of the rolls.

Place in the fridge for 10-15 minutes to set. Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a frying pan and fry the rolls on both sides until golden brown.

Serve the spinach soup with the wild garlic cheese toasts on the side.

Michael Kelly is an author, broadcaster and founder of GIY.

© GIY Ireland 2019 – all rights reserved.

About the author:

Michael Kelly  / Grower

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