Spring is here. I don’t know whether it is the stretch in the evenings or the rise in temperature that gets my green fingers itching, but either which way, no sooner is Paddy’s day over then I have an over whelming desire to get back to my garden and get growing.
The first step for this is having something to grow – and for that I need some seedlings. You can buy seedlings in any garden shop, but it is much cheaper (and more rewarding) to buy a packet of seeds and start them off yourself. Particularly if you are starting early in March. Planting seeds is incredibly easy and it is completed indoors where you can look out on the bright sunny day, without having to be out in it and realise that it is actually still cold.
You will require
- Seed trays
- Sheets of newspaper to absorb water below
- Seed compost (this is a fine grainy compost that is easy for delicate seedlings to grow through)
There is as much an environmental debate over plastic seed trays as there is over plastic Christmas trees. If I am honest I have been too busy gardening to research the debate fully. In my opinion plastic seed trays are useful as you can invest in them once and, if you look after them use them, for the next five or ten years. They also use less compost to germinate the seeds. There are two types; a tray without segments which are great for starting off crops that grow in drills (example, watercress) or segmented trays which are perfect for crops which require each seed to have some space (example, cucumber).
On the flip side newspaper pots are free (if you obtained the newspaper for free), but they use more compost because they are bigger, although the round examples use less than the square. These are ideal for plants which don’t like their roots pinched or disturbed (example, melon). There are some great tutorials on YouTube on how to make these round or square. Important things to remember if you are using paper pots is that they are not watered from above, instead they sit in a plastic container that the bottom part is filled with water, and, when planted out, it is important that all the newspaper is covered with soil or else it provides a funnel through which water is evaporated away from the plants.
- Half fill each segment of the seed tray loosely with the compost (or if a flat non-segmented seed tray, half fill entire tray).
- Pour water over the top to wet, but do not flood. Lift trays to allow excess water drain away.
- Place trays on newspaper, this will absorb any extra water.
- Place one or two seeds (depending on size and type) in each segment. Seed packets give all sorts of instructions regarding the depth at which to plant the seed, but if I am honest, I normally plant them all about half way down and hope for the best. I am praying my plants will be alive not perfect.
- Fill remainder of segment loosely with compost.
- Label seed tray with what seeds are in it. This will be very important when you are transplanting, as different plants require different spaces between them, and not all plants should be placed side by side. Even after a number of years, I still find it very difficult to tell what a plant is just by looking at the seedling.
- Leave seeds for several weeks, remembering to water about twice a week, ensuring that excess water runs through and the segments are not flooded (just remember everyone likes a drink, but nobody likes cold wet feet).
Which seeds to pick
For their size, seeds are relatively expensive, ranging from €3-€5 a packet, and for that reason it is important to be choosy about which you purchase. For the most part I like to grow only vegetables that
- I like to eat,
- That are not readily or cheaply available in the supermarkets at a comparable standard to that which I can grow at home,
- I am interested in seeing in their natural state.
Cucumber is a good example of this. I love cucumbers, but until I grew it at home, I had no idea that in their natural state cucumbers are spiky on the outside, and that home grown versions have a much stronger flavour than those in the supermarkets.
Potatoes are an example of something I generally don’t bother with as I am limited with space. There is a large variety available in most supermarkets at competitive prices, and I do not feel that the quality of potato that I get at home is any superior to that in the supermarkets.
When to sow
I have to admit I do not adhere strictly to the growing guidelines on the back of packages. In general, I find the end of March a good time of year to start sowing, and because if gives me strong seedlings for April/May. I also try not to sow in a glut; I try to have two or three sowing sessions, two or three weeks apart. This gives me a steady flow of vegetables in the garden, with some plants being ready to harvest before others.
What I planted today in March
As well as a few new seed packets, very controversially (or foolishly) I will be growing out of date seeds. This was not intentional, but while doing a spring clean of my seed bin, I noticed a lot of my seeds actually expired in 2012. Whoops! Rather than throwing them out I have decided to sow them, in the hopes that maybe not all of them are dead, you never know. Plus the worst that can happen is that I waste two weeks on dead seeds, and then afterwards recycle the seed compost and try again on fresh seeds. I am hoping a few survived, because I seem to remember using these seeds last year in 2013 and there being no issues, but maybe another year is a year too far?
Today I planted tomatoes (full and cherry), sweet peppers (red and yellow), cucumber, broccoli, asparagus, beetroot, celery, radish, brussel sprouts, climbing beans, parsnip, pumpkin, lemon balm, rocket, turnip and watercress.
The seeds I planted today should have seedlings appear over the next week or so. Not all seeds sown will propagate (especially those from 2012!), which is why I place two or three seeds per segment. Although on the flip side, some segments will now have two or three seedlings. If you notice things getting a little crowded in any segment, just carefully knock out segment, and very gently pull apart the seedlings and replant in a new segment.
I will check in with you in a few weeks and let you know how the seeds and seedlings are getting on.