Seed packets

An act of faith

Sowing seed despite the cold snap

It’s an act of faith as it seems like winter will never end – even though it was the spring equinox a few days ago.

And weather forecasters are warning us we’re not out of the woods yet – another massive drop in temperatures from the current balmy 12 Celsius to a miserable 3 degrees¬† is on the cards.

Mange Tout pea seed
Sowing mange tout peas (Carouby de Mausanne variety) with seed saved from last year

It’s difficult to believe that in three months time these seeds will have grown five or six feet high, produced beautiful lilac flowers and set small, crisp, edible sweet pods that are one of the first harvests from the vegetable garden along with minute courgettes (zucchini), broad beans (fava), and lettuce.

Mange tout peas are at the back to the left of the tunnel

Fresh veg now

Believe it or not we do have vegetables to harvest right now – overwintered purple sprouting broccoli and rainbow stemmed swiss chard that’s sprung back into life under a small fleeced tunnel.

There are also mustard leaves from the polytunnels at the allotment project where I volunteer and a few leeks that survived the extremely hard weather a couple of weeks ago.

The first sowings

The first seed I sowed about a month ago were aubergines (who knows why as I only produced one the size of my thumb last year), tomatoes and a selection of chillis – mostly from saved seed.

Tomato and aubergine seedlings
My tomato and aubergine seedlings are not putting on any growth

They have stubbornly remained at the two-leaf stage even though they’ve been cosseted in the warmth provided by some brand new electric propagators.

I do despair sometimes and wonder why we try and grow vegetables suited to warmer climes.

Maybe we should stick to brassicas, potatoes, peas and beans with the odd root vegetable thrown in.

I am also flying in the face of bitter experience with an early sowing of Florence fennel.

An early sowing of fennel
An early sowing of fennel

The only time I’ve ever had a decent crop is when the seed has been sown after¬†midsummer’s day which means there’s less likelihood of the plants bolting before they’ve had a chance to make decent fat white bulbs.

But I still live in hope!

Other small miracles

I have also sown summer savory – a herb that goes well with broad beans. It acts as a companion plant deterring blackfly but it’s also good added to the cooked beans (a bit like the role basil plays alongside tomatoes).

It’s been sown on top of the compost as it needs lots of light to germinate – fingers crossed. And I guess that is one thing that is really noticeable now – the days are as long as the nights and the light levels have really increased

And a second tray of coriander is up and running.

Coriander seedlings
Coriander is leggy but strong and toughening up outside during the day

Leek seed – both early and longer lasting cultivars – has germinated.

But I have yet to get my potatoes, beetroot, lettuce, brassicas and turnips on the go.

I also intend sowing some chervil, dill and borage soon.

And onions and shallots that I meant to put in before Christmas are still languishing on the table in the glass house. Aaaaargh! I’m already running behind!

No Dig

I am practising no dig for the second year running so today I prepared some more large pieces of cardboard (mainly discarded bike boxes) ready to lay down on my vegetable beds to be topped with compost.

I have made my own compost but may have to resort to buying some more so that I can use it as a thick mulch to smother any weeds.

I will transplant my module sown seedlings into the fertile top dressing once the weather had warmed up. I’ll also direct sow other seeds in a month or so.

Charles Dowding is evangelical about the no-dig method as is Australian permaculture teacher and innovator Morag Gamble.

Her methods are more suited to gardening in the southern hemisphere but there are still some interesting tips to be gleaned from her blog.

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