Gardening - Gone to seed
PUBLISHED: 16:51 06 April 2011 | UPDATED: 19:09 20 February 2013
March is the perfect time to start sowing seeds for fresh vegetables and pretty flowers later in the season. Philippa Pearson gives some tips and advice to get the best out of seed-sowing time...
LONGER days and warmer temperatures mean its the ideal time to raise plants from seed. Growing from seed isnt difficult and is a rewarding and cost effective way to increase stock in flowerbeds and grow fresh vegetables.
All members of the family can get involved and its a super way for children to learn about where food comes from: there is nothing more satisfying than watching the progress of a tiny seed youve sown become a beautiful flower or some tasty home-grown veg.
You dont need a greenhouse or cold frame to get started as seeds can be started off inside the house on a windowsill or somewhere where there is good access to light and a bit of warmth.
How to sow seed
I like to start off most seeds either in seed trays or modular trays rather than sowing direct into the ground. Theres a high success rate, useful when sowing tender vegetables and flowers, plus youve got a bit more control over where to plant seedlings in their final positions outside. All purpose or special seed compost is fine to use and if you have trays and equipment youve used before, wash them thoroughly first.
'There is nothing more satisfying than
watching the progress of a tiny seed'
Fill container with compost up to the level of the rim, lightly press the surface to gently firm it to leave a 2cm gap below the rim. Water the container to moisten compost before sowing so that seeds arent displaced. Small seeds are sown onto the surface of compost, larger ones are pressed in. A layer of vermiculite is perfect to cover seeds as this lets moisture in and keeps light out: most seeds need to be covered for germination but a few dont so check information on seed packets first.
When seedlings have produced a couple of pairs of leaves, prick out into individual pots and after hardening off to acclimatise to outdoor conditions, plant outside when roots have filled the pot or grow on in a larger container. Annuals are frost tender so dont plant these out until danger of frost has passed.
Prepare the ground
Get your soil in tip top condition before sowing direct into the ground or planting. Remove annual and perennial weeds, clear away debris then lightly dig over, ideally adding some well rotted compost or farmyard manure which will help condition the soil. Try and leave the area to settle for at least a week and then rake the area over so the soils surface has a fine, even texture and is level, important if you are sowing seed. Prior to sowing, warm up the ground by covering with cloches, horticultural fleece or black plastic. Use lines if you are planning rows of vegetables, paying attention to the correct spacing between seeds, or broadcast seed freely for a more informal look for flowers. Thin seedlings out as required and water young plants regularly until established
You can grow lots of fresh tasty vegetables in a relatively small area. Raised beds are perfect and easily made: the ideal width is 1metre by however long you want the bed. You need to be able to reach into the beds without trampling on the soil so if your plots are wider than 1metre, consider putting in some paths for easy access. Draw a plan of what you want to grow, remembering to rotate plant families annually for each bed.
In general, there are three groups of similar crop families: group one covers celery, sweetcorn, spinach and root crops, including potatoes; group two covers legumes (peas, beans), onions, leeks and garlic; and group three is for brassicas (cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli etc.) and perennial crops (asparagus, seakale etc.). Salad vegetables like lettuce, radish and beetroot can be intercropped: these are relatively fast growing and early maturing crops so sown (when frosts are finished) in between rows of longer maturing vegetables to make use of valuable space and also help to keep weeds down.
RHS Silver-Gilt medal winner Philippa Pearson is a garden designer and professional horticulturalist, awarded Peoples Choice Award for Best Show Garden at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2010.
Visit http://www.philippapearson.co.uk/ or contact her on 01767 651253
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