Easter bank holiday weekend (March/April 2018)

With the many joys that come with a four day weekend, we found some time to spend out in the garden – when we weren’t eating copious amounts of chocolate, of course! It was a shame the rain had to be so persistent – but keeping you dry is one of the many things greenhouses are great for!

This time of year is the busiest in terms of sowing and growing on seedlings ahead of being planted outside once it hopefully, eventually warms up a bit! It is important to plan ahead to some extent at this time of year, to make sure you’ve got crops to harvest during the summer and autumn months.

Therefore, most of the things we got involved in this weekend revolved around sowing and growing on.

A good starting point when it comes to sowing seeds is that we very rarely sow anything straight into the ground. Although possible to succeed in this way, we find that it is often more rewarding (and uses far less seed) if you first sow the seeds into a cell, pot or seed tray. This gives the seeds (and later seedlings) the best chance in life you can give them – by waiting until they are strong and stable before planting out into the soil or their final growing spot.

Sowing BEETROOT and CURCURBIT seeds

Beetroot are a great vegetable to grow, especially if you are just getting to grips with growing veg. They taste great in salads or roasted, and are very easy to grow  as they need very little attention, they are ideal for those of us that don’t have as much time!

First, we filled the cell tray with some seed and potting compost, filling each cell to the top and then gently pressing down the compost to firm it into the cell tray. Each cell is then refilled to the top and levelled off before moistening the compost with water from a watering can with a fine rose. Firming the compost in the cell tray gives the seeds a more stable footing to put their tiny roots into.

A single seed was then sown in each cell and gently pushed into the compost. In this case, it is possible to sow just a single seed, as beetroot seeds are often coated with multiple seeds per “seed”.

After sowing, each seed was covered with a pinch of vermiculite* and then moistened with a little more water from the watering can. The seeds are then covered with a sheet of glass and a piece of newspaper to eliminate the light until the seeds begin to germinate.

*If you don’t have any vermiculite to hand, then a fine layer of sieved compost will do the trick

As you may know, cucurbit seeds (i.e. cucumbers, marrows, courgettes, pumpkins and squashes) are much larger than most vegetable seeds we deal with. We also sow these in a slightly different way; sowing as many seeds as you want to grow in 1/4 seed trays before pricking them out into pots to grow on before being planted out. You may want to sow a few extra as it’s best to anticipate that not all will germinate.

Other than this, the methodology is extremely similar to the beetroot above: fill the seed trays with compost – firming and moistening it before sowing, sow each seed on its side – pushing into the compost slightly, covering with vermiculite, moistening this and then covering with a sheet of glass and a piece of newspaper.

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Pricking out LEEKS

The leek seeds which had been sown a couple of weeks ago in the 1/4 seed trays (referred to above) were ready to be pricked out. In the case of leeks, we were pricking these out into small cell trays (around 1 inch diameter).

Each seedling is carefully prised from the seed tray, being careful not to break off any of its roots or to damage its seedling. The easiest way to do this is using a dibber tool, also ensuring you dig wider and deeper than you expect the roots to be. When pricking out seedlings, it is important not to touch the root if this can be avoided. This should prevent damage to the seedling and give it a better chance of survival. Instead, the seedling should be held by its leaf/leaves when transferring it from the seed tray to its new cell/pot.

Using the dibber tool, you can make a hole to place the seedling in to. It is also key to ensure that each seedling is gently firmed in to the compost after its transferred so that there are no gaps between its roots and the compost created by the hole used to make sufficient space to transfer the seedling over.

Boring and sowing SHORT CARROTS

One of the few vegetables that are sown straight into their final growing place is carrots. This is because carrots are notoriously difficult to transplant, often going to seed as a result of any such distress.

To get a better finish on our carrots, and to try and prevent forking of the roots, we sow our carrots in beds of sharp sand and bore/core holes to grow the carrots in. Once each hole is cored (to about 18 inches in length), it is filled with a multipurpose compost using a funnel.

Once each bore hole is filled, it is firmed down with the back of your hand, and a stick pushed in to the centre of the hole. The reason for this is so the centre of the hole is not lost once the holes are watered after filling but prior to sowing, otherwise it would be all but impossible to tell where to sow the seeds in order for them to actually be sown in the centre of the hole!

When you are happy that the compost in the bore holes are moist enough, the seeds can be sown. We usually sow three seeds per station, with all but the strongest being thinned out later down the line. We do this to try and ensure that at least one seed grows per station so that none are wasted.

As with all the seeds we’ve sown so far, the seeds are then sprinkled with vermiculite before being moistened one last time and covered with newspaper to exclude the light.

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Filling each bore hole with multipurpose compost
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Gently firming down the compost
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Making a hole in the centre of the bore hole
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Putting a stick in the centre of the bore hole
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Close up of the filled bore hole
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After moistening, creating a small indent in the centre of the bore hole
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Carrot seeds
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Covering the seeds with newspaper to exclude the light

Potting on SWEETCORN

The sweetcorn seedlings also needed potting up into slightly larger cells (the sweetcorn was also sown circa 2 weeks ago). With the smaller cell trays, we often find that it is harder to extract the cells intact. However, this is important so as not to damage the roots and/or seedling that have grown so far. With these particular cell trays, we find that gently squeezing the cells does not work. However, poking a pencil up from the bottom to release the cell works wonders!

After extraction, a hole is made in each previously filled cell in the larger tray and the plug pushed in and firmed down. The seedlings are then given a water with a can with a fine rose to settle the new compost around them.

So, as you can see, the weather didn’t hinder us all that much!

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