The wee lad and I enjoyed a spot of seed sowing today, under our eastern pergola, where the morning light gently fades through the day and where the plants are nicely sheltered from westerly winds.
We gathered all the seeds we wanted to grow for this summer, most from organic Australian growers such as Love that Seed and Greenpatch, and a few saved from our previous crops or from friends, and divided them into:
(a) the little seeds that we’d normally start in punnets – e.g. basil, rocket, lettuce… and
(b) the bigger seeds that we’d normally plant direct into the garden beds – e.g. sweet corn, beans, zucchini, melons – because they are hungry plants that grow fast and don’t really like having their roots disturbed.
Only this time, because the beds are still pretty much occupied with still-productive winter greens & snowpeas, we haven’t planted any seeds directly into the beds. Instead, we sowed them into a box full of toilet rolls, which can be planted out holus-bolus when they’ve grown big enough, so the roots will be able to venture forth out the bottom of the rolls without any unnecessary disturbance.
So we ended up with two covered propagating trays, one for the littlies in their plastic punnets and cell tray, and the other for the biggies in the toilet rolls, wedged together in a shoebox that, yes, will fall apart in a little while, but probably after it has served its purpose of holding everything in place long enough for roots to form.
We could have placed each tray on a heat mat, but I haven’t done that for two reasons: 1. we’re heading into the warm-enough part of spring anyway and 2. the trays are a bit broken and leaky, and although the heat mat is sealed I’d rather not have electrical things sitting in a puddle just in case.
Now our job is to make sure that the seed raising mix stays moist but not drowned while the seeds germinate, and then to gradually bring the trays out into increasing light and ventilation, until by the time they have at least two sets of leaves they start hardening off, uncovered and in pretty close to full sun, close to the beds in which they will be planted. Increasing light helps to prevent them growing leggy and weak, while increasing ventilation reduces the risk of damping off, where fungal diseases attack the young seedlings. BUT we’ll need to keep an eye out for slugs, snails, pillbugs, caterpillars, blackbirds, and – worst menace of all – gorgeous breezy warm spring days that threaten to dry out our babies. Once they come out of their little greenhouse they’ll be unprotected from all these horrors, so it will be up to us to keep a close daily watch on them, water them frequently and vanquish their enemies.
Then, as a bunch of fresh spring onions made its way from the local shop to the kitchen for dinner, we promptly potted their bottoms. No point starting from seeds when whole plants are there for the taking! These will start growing new tops in no time.
And to feed our growing crops, we’ll add compost to the gaps in the bed each time we plant out a batch of seedlings. This weekend’s old chook bedding (newspaper and fresh manure) had a good soaking before it joined the kitchen scraps in the compost, to be welcomed by a toothless battalion of worms. The compost at the bottom of the bin has been maturing for months and is ready to go whenever we’re planting out.