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Sowing the seeds of 2016

Outdoor Living

Country Sights and Sounds
John Shelley

Hello dear readers, the days are getting longer and the new gardening season is around the corner and my desire to try something new is getting stronger. Well I better stop right there, before this becomes a very long poem…!
Growing food from seeds is one of the wonders of gardening. Though often taken for granted, it  is definitely one of the most exciting and even addictive activities. As we browse seed catalogues early in the year we are spoilt for choice. Over the Christmas holidays, I have leafed through many a catalogue, debated with my wife Gaby what we should order, made lists and re-drewn plans.
Most of you already know of my obsession with tomatoes, and when I learned a few weeks ago that 2016 was declared ‘The Year of the Tomato’ by the British Garden Associations I went into overdrive. I rang my son in Munich to run to that special shop and buy new heirloom varieties from Gehard Bohl’s collection (Remember, he is the one who has around 600 varieties of tomatoes?).
So this year I will try for the first time Sankt Ignazius from Northern Italy, Rosii Marunte from Romania, Besser from Freiburg in Germany and Teardrop from China.
At The Organic Centre we are very excited to have an extended range of organic tomato seeds on offer, including two exciting new cherry tomatoes Clementine and Mirabelle Blanche, the large heirloom variety Brandywine and an excellent plum called Roma.
The challenge to grow the best-tasting tomato ever will culminate in our Tomato Day at the centre on August 21.
I will also continue my quest for the most colourful carrots. Besides Yellowstone, which I think is the best yellow carrot, I’ll be nurturing Atomic Red, Purple Haze, Rainbow and Cosmic Purple. What fun to grow what you cannot buy.

Germination gems
For good germination, there are four basic requirements to heed:

1. Viable Seed
Seeds must be of good quality and not too old. Most seeds store for two to four years in a cool, dry place, but I tend to use new seeds every year.

2. Correct temperature
The best temperature for most seeds is 16-20°C. There are different types of heated propagation units available with heating pads or mats with thermostat or soil-warming cables.

3. Moisture and air
Seeds need moisture and air to germinate but beware of ‘damp off’ caused by overcrowding and overwatering. Prick out seedlings as soon as they are large enough to handle. Increase air circulation by removing propagation covers on sunny days. Water from below as this keeps soil surface drier.

4. Light
Once germination has occurred, all plants require light, ideally from above. Germination on window sills works only to a degree and plants often become leggy.
Note though, a few vegetable seeds require light to germinate, such as lettuce and celery, and they need to be sown shallow.

Don’t plant too early
Sowing and planting outdoors too early is the most common mistake. Don’t be fooled by lovely spring days come March. They are always followed by a cold spell.
The only seeds I sow outdoors in late March and April are broad beans, peas, potatoes and onions.
I raise most other vegetables in modular trays and pots and plant them out in May. Carrots and beetroot are probably the only seeds I sow directly outdoors from May on.

Polytunnel head start
The exception to the rule of ‘Don’t sow too early’ is planting potatoes in your polytunnel. Some gardeners might have already done so, but I usually plant early varieties of potatoes on February 1 to be harvested in May. There’s the ever-reliable Orla, but I’m trying the new Casablanca for the first time – a tasty creamy potato with smooth white tubers, which make excellent chips.

Bee friendly
One of my new projects in 2016 is to have a really productive, colourful and tasty bee-friendly herbs collection. I will grow:  borage, chives, hyssop, pot marjoram, sage and thyme.