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

A new Courgette Crisis begins

The Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ seedlings are up, and so begins the next hurdle…

Just 12 days ago I planted 6 old Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ seeds into two small pots.

Today, as I checked on them, I find that at least 3 have germinated, although one has bolted and is already a few inches tall.

The crisis i’m talking about here is what to do with these lively seedlings in the next few weeks. In 5 weeks time I’m due to get the keys to my new home, where there will be plenty of space for them to grow, but for now, all I can do is try to find a succession of pots and warm spots to put these plants in a bid to carefully nurture them along. Typically, my current small garden will be struck by some heavy winds. It does every year when the new green shoots are tender, and most perennial plants in my garden have a wind-shaped lean to them. The courgette plants with their big leaves and soft stems, don’t survive this very well.

When the summer comes, I hope to be swarming in Courgettes, as I love using them in the kitchen, and I want to avoid being victim of the media-propelled hostage situation in the vegetable aisles of the UK’s supermarkets.

For now though, I hope that the other seeds are on their way. The sunshine and warmer weather will hopefully coax them up out of the compost, and then i can pot them on. The summer and my new garden can’t come quick enough.

The garden Springs to life

The garden springs to life indoors and out.

I came home today to be met by a very cheery Spring time ‘hello’ from some of the bulk purchase bulbs that I’d planted up in pots on 30th November. I think there’s little more cheery than the bright yellow of Daffodils when it’s so cold and not quite warm enough to put the scarf and gloves away for another year.

These were joined by the first of the Tulips that I’d planted the same day. These are mixed, but look to be predominantly red. I expect the, to open in a few more days. All these rain showers and the interspersed boughts of mild weather are ideal for them.

Red Tulips on bud
Red Tulips preparing to bloom in my wooden troughs.

Not to be out-done, the Courgette Black Beauty seeds have germinated, amongst many others, with one racing up a few inches ahead of the rest. It was old seed, but there’s signs of at least one more pushing composted up.

Courgette seedling in pot
Courgette Crisis averted – the first seedling races ahead.

I’ve taken it out of the propogator in a bid to slow it down a bit. Courgette plants get quite large, and seeing as I’m moving house soon, I want this to be easy to move with minimum damage.

Lots more seedlings growing, but I’ll come back to those real soon.

As ever, happy gardening,

Andrew

Wigwams, French Beans and Salvia

Over the weekend I was able to dodge those April Showers to build wigwams, sow the French Beans and prick-out the Salvia seedlings.

I managed to find a few minutes over the weekend when it wasn’t raining to erect two wigwams for my climbers – the Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ and also for the French Bean ‘Blue Lake’.

Bamboo Wigwam
One of the bamboo cane wigwams.

I’ve used a collection of bamboo canes and some strong garden twine – tying the canes at the top and then winding the twine around and down the full length of the wigwam – making sure that wrapped twine around some of the canes on the way down in order to give it all some strength and also to encourage the climbers.

One of the wigwams didn’t have the same number as canes, so i added a cane gripper in the middle to help hold everything together. Based on previous years experience, this means that the UK will now experience gales – as the wind tries desperately to blow them down.

As it started to rain, I returned indoors where I then set to sowing the French Beans in pots – now’s the ideal time to do this.

pricking-out

It’s so important to keep seedlings moving at the moment as it’s easy to get behind and end up with some pot-bound or hungry plants.

This week was the turn of the second batch of the Salvia ‘Farinacea Victoria’ that I sowed back in March to bump up the low numbers of the January sowing.

Salvia 'Farinacea Victoria' seedlings 2012
There’s quite a difference between the January and March sowings of Salvia ‘Farinacea Victoria’.

There were 8 new seedlings in all, bringing my total to 12. These will join the Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ and last year’s Salvia to bring a wash of blue flowers to the garden in a bid to encourage and support more bees.

Pricking out the Salvia 'Farinacea Victoria'
The Salvia ‘Farinacea Victoria’ all pricked-out and potted up. They vary in size despite being sown at the same time.

The two smallest Salvia have gone into the propagator with the Dill and Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ seeds that I sowed a few days ago, in a bid to help it grow on. Btw, one of the courgette seeds has already germinated!!

Best way to grow courgettes?

I’ve grown Courgette’s in the garden – one year producing loads, last year they died from mildew. I’ve grown them in pots before but unsuccessfully (they were small and waxy and generally unappealing). What’s your trick?

The Sweet Peas feel a pinch of success

The Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ seedlings are growing so well that it’s time to pinch out the buds to help the seedlings become strong and more resistant to pests.

If your sweet peas are anything like mine, they are growing very happily on the windowsill at the moment. In fact, a bit too well. It’s time to be brutal with them.

I sowed my Unwins Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ seeds in my propagator back in January, and by now they would be climbing several feet up anything they could find if given the chance. But I’ve been doing them a favour – i’ve been nipping the buds out.

This might seem a bit destructive but by doing so, you’re not only going to avoid having sweet peas up your curtains, but you’re also going to encourage the remaining plant to bulk up – grow sturdy and strong – which is what your plants will need if they face the real risk of a flock of marauding aphids like mine did last year.

To do this, wait for about 4 tiers of leaves, and then pinch out the stem growth after the second set of lower leaves. This will mean that growth will be encouraged from low down on the plant – helping it to grow stronger – stem-wise and root wise. A stronger stem means it’s a stronger plant, and better roots means that the plant will be able to better at finding nutrients in the soil.

A Sweet Pea 'Cupani' flower
Last year’s Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ produced few flowers after battling with aphids.

It’s almost time for sweet peas to go start going outside – but as we’ve had some pretty hard frosts here in the last few days – i’ve held them back. It’s best to do a gradual acclimatisation, so i’ll be putting them out during the day, and bringing them back in at night for the next week or so just so that the shock doesn’t kill them before planting them out.

Fortunately, I have already seen some Ladybirds (Ladybugs) in the garden, and hopefully the Nasturtiums that I planted last week will bring the Hoverflies back – both of which will enjoy munching on aphids.

For more about Sweet Pea varieties and how to grow them, check out the National Sweet Pea Society.

The Crocuses awake!

The Crocus ‘Giant Ruby’ bulbs have grown and are about to flower, and some of the veg are already growing.

The Crocus ‘Giant Ruby’ bulbs that I planted back in October, are now right on the cusp of opening after months of growing up through the soil – and for a few weeks, snow as well.

Crocus 'Giant Ruby' bulbs about to flower
Some of the Crocus ‘Giant Ruby’ bulbs that have grown and are ready to flower.

I planted around 70 bulbs and it would appear that most are doing something. Many have the dash of purple as above, whilst the ones that I planted during November are somewhat behind (I planted them because the Antirrhinums just wouldn’t die!).

I’ve seen a few bees around (including a big fat bumble bee inside a Tube train on the District Line of London Underground the other day!), so hopefully those that have woken early will find these and feed on them – as it’s absolutely crucial for bees to get this early food in order to survive.

Getting a head-start with the vegetables

I sowed some seeds back in the middle of January, and these have been busily growing in my propagator. The Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ have grown very fast and I have been busy nipping out the tips of the plants so that they grow strong and sturdy (and don’t grow too much before i can plant them out). Hopefully these will be far enough ahead that they will survive if/when the aphids swarm again.

Pepper (Sweet) 'Friggitello' seedlings
Pepper (Sweet) ‘Friggitello’ seedlings

The Pepper (Sweet) ‘Friggitello’ seedlings have been steadily growing, alongside my second attempt at growing Aubergine ‘Black Beauty’. I have high hopes for these Peppers, and as I sit here typing, I’m reading the packet which describes them as ‘small, very sweet, conical fruits. Perfect for stir-fries’, I’m looking forward to them even more.  These should be ready to harvest between July and October (about the same time as the Aubergines) – so they’ve got a while yet.

I do believe spring is here!

jobs for the weekend

This weekend I aim to do the following:

  • Remove weeds and any dead foliage from the garden.
  • Sow Chives and Parsley indoors (remember that Gardeners’ World kit?)
  • Check up on the Strawberries – the cold weather once again gave them a hammering and I’m not sure how well they’re coping at the moment.

It all starts on the windowsill

The 2011 growing season for the garden has started – on the windowsill

So 2011’s garden is well underway.

Tray of seedlings growing on a windowsill
Sweet Pea, Marigold, and Aubergine spring to life on the windowsill.

 

Back two rows are Aubergine ‘Black Beauty’, middle 4 rows are Marigold ‘Boy O’ Boy Orange (French)’ – these should discourage black/greenfly that feasted on the veg last year, and in the foreground are Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ – a bright, climbing and very fragrant variety which should help bring in the bees and other bugs. They’re about 5 inches tall now and need to start going outside a bit to harden them up a bit before going outside full-time.

Lots more to plant, or already underway including Antirrhinum ‘Chuckles’ (again for the bees), and Courgettes, Rocket, French Beans, Peas.

Perhaps this year the Strawberries will have established enough to provide fruit?

2011 Season

This year I am aiming at trying to encourage more bees and other insects into the garden. I seem to have no problem attracting woodlice, aphids and blackfly into the garden last year, so I aim to plant more bee friendly plants in a bid to help their plight. I’d also like to see more ladybirds in the garden too, particularly to help keep that aphid colony down.

The flowers:

  • Antirrhinum ‘Chuckles’
  • Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’
  • Marigold ‘Boy O’ Boy Orange (French)’
The veg:
  • Aubergine ‘Black Beauty’
  • Courgette ‘Black Beauty’
  • Rocket ‘Skyrocket’
The fruit:
  • Strawberries
 The herbs:
  • Welsh Onion
  • Applemint
  • Rosemary
  • Mint
  • Thyme
  • Caraway
  • Chives
  • Sage