Feeling Seedy (Seed Following 2017)

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It’s been a fun month since my initial seed following post and I can happily say I’ve sown seeds from all three of my planned sources. I’m generally impressed with the results I’ve had from my new heated propagators; not complicated bits of kit, just some gentle heat from below seems to have made a big difference.

The larger propagator, also containing my proprietary “root cuttings in water” gizmo.
The smaller propagator (fits nicely onto a window sill beside big brother).

Using the grow light has also worked wonders; I wouldn’t usually sow this early as the result is leggy, poor seedlings which lean into the light – towards the window – but the current lot are strong and upright. Essentially the “special” bit is merely an LED “bulb” which I found at a wholesaler for about £12 but, if you don’t have an account with a wholesaler, you can get one via the likes of Amazon for around £15-16. The bulb has a standard E27 screw fitting and simply goes inside an ordinary anglepoise-type of desk light that takes this fitting of bulb. It’s very economical to run (like all LED bulbs) at a mere 12 watts. I use it for about 12 hours a day, giving 6 hours to each group of 2-4 pots that the light will cover.

The growlight’s small and will cover 2-4 little pots at a time. Bigger beasties are available.

Apart from the electrical items, my sowing arsenal comprised Growchar peat-free seed compost, vermiculite, a mister full of camomile tea and an old bottle fitted with a fine spray head. And, of course, the pots, pans and labels*.

I started early with a nice collection of sweet peas, 9 different varieties, from the Higgledy Garden Seed Emporium, now back home in Cornwall following a sell-out successful UK-wide tour (well some parts of the UK probably sold out of car parts). And I discovered that all toilet roll cores are NOT the same. For totally non-horticultural reasons, I’ve stopped using Andrex and now pander to the delicate parts with Cushelle. And Cushelle cores aren’t as sturdy as Andrex ones. About three days after sowing they started to unwind. Whoever invented the rubber band came to my rescue though; I’ll just need to remember to remove the bands as I plant out. And remember to buy at least one pack of Andrex next winter.

I do like to have a good pea in the garden.

Anyhows, I sowed five seeds to each core. Ol’ Benjamin Higgledy will say that’s too many but if you’ve ever bought pre-sown plug plants you’ll know that everyone from Thompson & Morgan to Mr Fothergill multi-sows at that density (at least). This year, for the first time in a forgettable number of years, more than one seed failed to germinate! I averaged 4 out of every five. But not to worry, there are 20 seeds in each pack so I’ve enough for three more attempts. I will do a second sowing anyway but I’m happy with the rate of germination I got and 12 days after sowing, the plantlets were relocated to my greenhouse (heat maintained at 5C). They’ll soon make their second move to the cold frame (no artificial heat unless Wales becomes Siberia).

A mere three days after sowing the seeds, the early risers want to play!

Meanwhile, Gill Heavens, over at Off the Edge Gardening, had been extremely generous in sending me a collection of seed she’d collected herself. Now I don’t know whether she gave the seeds a lecture before sending them or found an irradiated spider to nibble them a bit, but these seeds were definitely on the gin steroids. They were sown on the afternoon of Sunday 12 February. By the morning of Tuesday 14 February, I had liftoff in some varieties; all bar one had germinated by the Wednesday morning (the one is Cardiocrinum which will shortly move to the refrigerator for a short while as it needs to catch a cold before it will do anything).

Some Carthamus Tinctoria seedlings decided to mess about a bit in class though. Whilst one grew away like a Triffid, the others misbehaved in different ways, generally refusing to grow once they’d shoved their cotyledons out of the compost. One even managed, somehow, to push itself out of the compost completely and I found it one morning lying flat on top of the vermiculite. I put it back to bed and it seems to be about to become the next leader of the pack.

Seven days in the maternity ward and they’re ready for pricking out.

But apart from the Cardiocrinum and all bar one of the Carthamus, the entire lot of “Gill’s seedlings” were pricked out on Sunday 19th. Exactly seven days after sowing. Not bad eh?

The seeds I had from the Hardy Plant Society seem generally to be more tardy and were late for afternoon tea. I have a little potful of Stipa pseudoichu which will reach pricking out size probably in a week’s time and a single seedling of Stipa tenuissima. Otherwise zilch so far. But it’s early days yet. Meanwhile I’ve eaten all the cupcakes. That’ll teach ’em to be slow starters!

Though I may just be having a run of luck. I sowed a batch of resident cat’s nibble fodder yesterday morning and today:

Zilch to nibbly in 18 hours. Not bad.

Next Sunday (26 Feb) I’ll be sowing a second batch of Gill’s seeds and a second batch of sweet peas; I don’t have the luxury of seconds of the HPS seeds. Some cuttings of a hardy Osteospermum may become interlopers in the large propagator as I’ve decided the parent plant’s now way past its best. I’m already growing some cuttings as a return present for Gill and now need to grow some for myself too. Suspended in water, the cuttings will produce roots in a week or so when, hopefully, I’ll also be able to prick lots more stuff out to clear the propagators for my annual flower escapades.

Until next month’s seedy report card……..

*Before someone gets all pernickety, I suppose I have to mention also a compost sifter, compost scoop, sieve (to extract only the smallest bits of vermiculite), my potting bench, tape label maker and the dictionary I used to check the spelling of pernickety (which, in North America is apparently spelt “persnickety”. Bet you didn’t know that!)

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11 thoughts on “Feeling Seedy (Seed Following 2017)

  1. I knew about the North American persnickety, actually… 😉 . I do have to say that I was wondering who “the Mister filled with camomile tea” was, but then when you mentioned you ” do like to have a good pea in the garden”, I knew it was you!!! On a serious note, I find your propagation setup very impressive!!!

    1. Haha! I can’t stand camomile tea (from a drinking perspective) but it’s a darned useful thing to have around. Here in the UK, where we try to be chemical-free (assuming aforementioned chemicals are not illegal to begin with) it’s one of those wonder things and, in the case of seedlings, the occasional morning misting wards off the dreaded damping off disease. The pea in the garden is better said than read of course. But the “first of the day” is a great compost activator, though it has to be yours rather than Grace’s.

  2. Camomile tea as an insecticide is new but very interesting. Have you tried it on the lily beetle, if it works I’m sure Monty would like to know!

    1. It’s pretty good with a lot of insects as a contact killer (and I haven’t had an instance of damping off on seedlings since I started using it). But them lily beetles are a pain in the neck. My usual treatment is to get a plastic beaker and knock them off the plants into that – trying to pick them off risks them dropping, bottom up, onto the ground where the’re virtually impossible to see. Then, depending on the tally they get squished or doused in a bit of bleach (which then gets used in the drains), or, if I’ve just boiled the kettle, hot water. A few years ago, there was an explosion of the blighters here and, on that occasion, I admit to a single, controlled use of Provado. But as I routinely remove the anthers from lilies as they start to open anyway, there was no neonicotinoid-impregnated pollen for the pollinators to take.

      Part of the strategy is to start early. The reds generally emerge from the soil to have starters on the fritillaries before the lilies appear above ground. Watching the frits carefully means I get the adults that overwintered before they get too much chance of nookie and that makes a big difference to the numbers later.

  3. Hello John, you manage to make the intricacies of seed sowing sound not just fun but funny. A post full of really useful information for a novice seed sower like me – and it made me smile. So thanks!

    1. It’s got to be fun. And it’s not intricate. Fill container with compost. Sprinkle seeds on compost. Smother with vermiculite (which is, at least, better than smothering with more compost). Sit back and wave the cupcakes over the seed trays as enticement.

      Then eat the cupcakes as punishment for the tardy.

      Did I say I like cupcakes?

  4. You are putting me to shame. I really must get the propagator fired up tomorrow. Andrex loo roll here, all will be well.

    1. They don’t sell Andrex at under a tenner for 24 in Lidl. But then neither do they sell Cushelle round here any more. I will have to run some more trials. And you know there are three grades of loo paper: Ah, Uh and Uch!

  5. Finally caught up with the blogs i read, and i’m thinking John if I could join you on the next seed following on the 21st of March…. I’d like to link to your blog, and perhaps borrow your germinating seed picture… perhaps seed where it leads…. a new meme if you like.
    I’d like to blog about my attempts at giant tomato growing, and perhaps include a flower seed as well

    Would that be ok..?

    1. Oh ‘eck! You’ve reminded me that I need to update my tree escapades. As it’s been raining on and off today, I’ve been catching up on blogs too. Not sure if I can sustain 73 followings much longer (plus keeping an eye on the 160-odd on my web site blog list)!

      TBH, I have no idea about how to host a meme. But if you want to join in the seed thing, be my guest. Can you grab the seedling icon from my blog or would you like me to email it to you? If latter, perhaps DM an email addy via Twita?

      Must tweet a pic of the brambles next door to me too! Bet I’ll put yours to shame. Hmm. Bramble-following week maybe?

      1. Hi, I think I’ve managed to copy the seedling…. but if I mess it up further I’ll drop you a line. I’ll just pop a blog up on the date, and we’ll see if it takes off.

        Cheers….

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