Pricking out the Swiss Chard and Sweet Sultan seedlings

It’s time to be ‘pricking out’ my Sweet Sultant flowers and the brightly coloured Swiss Chard seedlings, and get them ready for their next stage of growing.

Yes, the garden is driving on towards summer, and there’s not much you can do to stop it.

My windowsills are full of trays of seedlings, and so I have been busily pricking out and potting them into pots/plugs in preparation for their final planting out from late May.

What is ‘pricking out’?

‘Pricking out’ or ‘to prick out’ is a term used to describe taking an individual seedling from the tray or pot it germinated in, and then carefully planting it in its own pot or plug so that it can continue growing without having to compete with other seedlings.

The ‘pricking’ part refers to the precision needed to separate seedlings, and usually requires a small hand device, a bit like a needle, but usually (in my case) an old pencil.

The Sweet Sultan

Last year was the first time that I had ever grown Sweet Sultan flowers, after family friend (and keen gardener) Anne, gave me a bundle of seed packets that she’d had from the front of her magazine subscriptions. I’d picked out a few bee-friendly looking plants and sown them.

Sweet Sultan ‘Mixed’ were amongst these and they were fantastic, and they looked lovely alongside my Cosmos ‘Seashells Mixed’ plants.

Sweet Sultan Mixed purple flower
Sweet Sultan ‘Mixed’ were wonderful – and a new plant for me in 2017.

I sowed these flower seeds at the same time as my Swiss Chard, and so they are ready to ‘prick out’.

 

My Sweet Sultan 'Mixed' seedlings ready to prick out.
My Sweet Sultan ‘Mixed’ seedlings ready to prick out.

With the seedlings all pricked out, they will now be able to continue growing on to their next stage. I managed to grow 22 seedlings in that pot, and so i added two more seeds to fill my 24-plug tray. That will be plenty.

Sweet Sultan 'Mixed' seedlings all pricked out
Sweet Sultan ‘Mixed’ seedlings all pricked out and ready to grow on.

The Swiss Chard

My Swiss Chard ‘Bright Lights’ have been a delight to grow. This is my first year growing them, and I have undoubtedly sown far too many and will probably become sick of Swiss Chard by the time I’ve got to about July.

Swiss Chard 'Bright Lights' seedlings
The Swiss Chard ‘Bright Lights’ seedlings were soon up out of the compost. Here they are at 10 days old.

However, their brightly multi-coloured stems (almost Rhubarb-like) make them a fun addition to the garden. They’re far from ready to go out yet (they’re too small and tender), but they had to be carefully pricked out so that they could grow on.

Swiss Chard 'Bright Lights' seedlings
Swiss Chard ‘Bright Lights’ seedlings

I think these can often be sown direct, but I didn’t have my raised beds built until I’d been able to get outside to demolish the old shed (that provided the wood, and the ground space for the raised beds) first.

Armed with my trusty HB pencil, I dibbered out the seedlings one-by-one, and put them into a plug tray where they can grow into individual plug plants.

Most of the Swiss Chard 'Bright Lights' seedlings pricked out
Most of the Swiss Chard ‘Bright Lights’ seedlings pricked out

Once these plants get outside, they’ll soon straighten up, as they’ll grow upwards aiming for the sunshine. Right now, they’ve grown a lean like most seedlings, as they chase the light on a windowsill.

My parents have just moved house into a bare garden, and like me it has an unbroken lawn. Their plan is to have a load of raised beds and containers… so I know exactly where to smuggle some brightly coloured spare Chard plants in to 😉

I’ve already pricked out a load of Cleome ‘Colour Fountain’ seedlings, and the Parsley ‘Laura’ seedlings are now potted on too. It’s a productive time, and it’s so important to keep on top of growing as we head through April, otherwise they’ll get behind, or too leggy to be any good.

As ever, thanks for reading, and I hope you have a happy gardening week ahead (despite the rain).

Andrew.

Planting the French Beans

It’s time to sow the French Beans and to tackle my Antirrhinum forest.

As we’re heading towards the end of April, it’s time for me to plant my French Beans.

I’ve always started them off indoors in pots, and once again, I’ve opted for French Bean ‘Blue Lake’, which have grown well for me most years (when they don’t get fried, blown to bits, or eaten by marauding snails).

In good years, these beans have given me many crops of beans, so as I head towards the final days of my tiny little border garden, and towards the proper new garden, I’ve sown 12 of these beans in a hope that they will give me a bumper crop come July. I erect a wigman from bamboo canes and let them get on with it, and give them plenty of water.

French Bean 'Blue Lake' seeds to sow
French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ are ready to sow.

Usually these smooth pale off-white bean seeds shoot up through the multipurpose compost within just a few days and with a great success rate. I’ve bought some fresh seed for the first time this year too, so hopefully they’ll be super-charged and soon climbing up those poles in my new garden.

Meanwhile, I tackled my Antirrhinum ‘Chuckles’ forest, which having only had one germinate from the old seed, and hundreds from the seed head of one of the Antirrhiums in my garden that I used to re-sow a few weeks later, it was time to prick out some of the seedlings from the lush green forest on the windowsill.

Antirrhinum 'Chuckles' seedmings
My Antirrhinum ‘Chuckles’ forest. The large seedling (foreground, right) was the only one to germinate from the old seed.

One great thing with these plants is that once you’ve got Antirrhinums, you’ve got Antirrhinums – such great value for money! Whoever is having my old house and garden, is going to have Antirrhinum’s unless they own a blowtorch or are very creative with concrete and cement. I’m looking forward to introducing them to my new garden and letting them find where they’d prefer to grow in year 2.

I spent quite a cathartic while carefully pricking out seedlings on Saturday morning, which hardly seems to have made a dent in the forest, but as given me 47 pricked out seedlings.

Some of the Antirrhinum 'Chuckles' seedlings after being pricked out.
Some of the Antirrhinum ‘Chuckles’ seedlings after being pricked out.

I suspect I could probably fill another 4 or so trays with Antirrhinum seedlings, so I might do another one, and see whether my mother wants any for her garden. If not, just plonk the rest in the garden after the frosts and let them get on with it.

Anyway, there’s plenty of things to prick out, sow, and dig up in preparation for the coming week’s house move. So, with April nearly at a close, I wish you another week of happy gardening.

Thanks for reading, Andrew 🙂

Potting on the Minibel Tomatoes

The Tomato ‘Minibel’ seedlings are ready to be potted on to their individual pots, and head towards their next growing stage.

The Tomato Minibel seeds that I sowed back on 20th March have done well, with all six of these old seeds germinating (i first sowed this pack of seeds in 2013!), and now standing to about 2 inches tall. They’re all in the same pot, so it’s time to pot them on into their next stage and into their own pots, so that they can independently get growing.

Tomato 'Minibel' seedlings
The Tomato ‘Minibel’ seedlings at 10 days old.
Tomato 'Minibel' seedlings need potting on
The Tomato ‘Minibel’ seedlings now need potting on.

Firstly, I gave them a really good soak in water, in a bid to make it easier to prick them out from their seedling compost. Whilst letting that soak in, I rummaged outside for 6 identical 3 inch pots, knocked off the snails, and then filled each pot with some multipurpose compost.

I poked a hole in the middle of each pot of compost with my finger, and then carefully teased each plant out of the now soaked compost, by holding a leaf and gently prising them out from beneath with my makeshift pencil-dibber.

I planted each seedling a bit deeper than they’d been before which is absolutely fine with tomatoes, as they’re a vine, and will just throw out more roots from the buried stem – resulting in a much sturdier plant.  I firmed them in and gave them another good soak and returned the 6 pots to my windowsill.

The potted-on Tomato 'Minibel' seedlings.
The potted-on Tomato ‘Minibel’ seedlings.

This should see them through the next few weeks where I hope they’ll now mature nicely, and eventually be ready for their next (and probably final) planting on stage – either large pots or into the ground of my new garden (I’ve not decided yet), where I can then give them tomato feed, plenty of water, and hopefully lots of sunshine.

This variety have done well for me in previous years, giving me some juicy little cherry tomatoes, that I like to cut in half and throw into salads.

Are you growing tomatoes this year? Which varieties? How far along are yours?

Right, time to go back outside and make the most of this sunshine. As ever, happy gardening!

Keep Calm and Prick Out

It’s time to start pricking out some of the seedlings and move them into larger pots and onto the next stage of growing.

The Cosmos ‘Seashells Mixed’ seeds that I planted a few days ago have sprung up, looking not much different from grass initially, and also the Sweet Sultan ‘Mixed’ seedlings have gotten to a size where they need to be moved on from their tray into their own spaces.

So, with my trusty old 40-plug tray, I filled it up with multipurpose compost, and with a pencil to hand, I carefully began the process of pricking out each seedling and setting it into a small hole in the middle of each plug. This took me a fair while. You need to be delicate with this process though, so time really is of the essence.

Tray of pricked-out Cosmos, Hollyhock, and Sweet Sultan seedlings.
Tray of pricked-out Cosmos, Hollyhock, and Sweet Sultan seedlings.

The Cosmos roots were quite long, whilst the Sweet Sultan roots were quite shallow but clumped. Carefully up-rooting each seedling, whilst holding a leaf (rather than stem) takes time, but it avoids the sickening feeling of snapping them and knowing you’ve just killed a plant.

I left one plug hole blank, so that I can easily get water through into the base, and this left me with room to add in the Hollyhock ‘Majorette Mixed’ seedlings, and sow two further of those seedlings to make up the 39th plug. There was quite a range of sizes with these seedlings, with some quite tiny, and one quite large – odd considering that they came from the same seed packet, were sown in the same pot, at the same time. I guess everything is just a reminder of nature’s roulette.

All this pricking out has helpfully condensed my windowsill jungle together, and resulted in one of the three propagators being closed down.

Hollyhock Majorette Mixed seedlings
Two Hollyhock seedlings planted from the same seed packet on the same day, with such different results.

With these three sets of seedlings pricked out, I turned to the Sunflower ‘Helianthus Annus Autumn Time’ seedlings. Only three of about five germinated, but I potted each one up in their own 3″ pot. I’ll probably grow a few more, along with the full size variety, but I’ll sow those seeds in a few days.

Are you at pricking out stage yet? Have you seen a contrast between seedling sizes? Let me know in the comments below.

As ever, happy growing!

Andrew

Potting on the Courgettes, and welcoming the Tomatoes

It’s time for the Courgettes to be pricked out, and potted on, but not all of them are ready, and the Tomatoes are up!

The first of the potting-on in 2017 has begun with the Courgette Black Beauty seedlings. Their growth has been unequal, with the first plant emerging after just 48hrs.

I sowed 3 seeds in each of 2 small pots, and even though they’re using the same compost (John Innes Seed Sowing Compost), and were in the same propagator, and on the same windowsill, while I’ve needed to prick out and pot-on one of the pots where growth has balanced out fairly well, the other pot has one seedling a little behind, and another just breaking the compost. The 6th seedling remains a mystery for now.

Taking the pot with the three larger seedlings, I carefully tipped it in the palm of my hand, with the stems and leaves cradled through my fingers and out of my hand. These plants are lush green, rubbery, and very tender and so I don’t want to damage them, therefore as soon as the weight shifted, I counteracted it so that I didn’t end up tipping the pot of compost all over their underside. The plants are healthy, and I’ve now potted them up into their own pots with a multipurpose compost.

Courgette 'Black Beauty' seedlings
The 6 Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ seeds were sown on 13th March. They’re all at about 5 different stages. The 5th seed is just breaking through in the bottom right pot.

This will be the first of 2 or 3 pot-ons for these, before I can finally plant them out in my new garden.

The other pot remains as-is on my windowsill alongside them, waiting for the seedlings to catch up.

Meanwhile, my Tomato Minibel seeds have germinated within their single-pot dome propagator. This took 10 days, although one seedling was up within about 2 days. According to the packet, it’s now safe to remove the dome and let them enjoy normal temperatures.

Tomato Minibel seedlings
The Tomato ‘Minibel’ seedlings are up, but can stay there for about a couple more weeks.

These seedlings can remain in this pot for about a couple more weeks before I’ll need to pot them on into the safety of their own pots.