IT’S been nearly four months since my last seed sowing so it’s wonderful to be back in the potting shed this week doing my favourite thing — sowing seeds.
It’s February, so it’s still relatively tentative sowing and almost exclusively confined to vegetables and herbs that will be planted out in the polytunnel as opposed to outside — e.g. tomatoes, chilli-peppers, aubergines, spinach, beetroot, and some salad leaves and herbs (oriental greens, lettuce, rocket, coriander and dill). Tomatoes, aubergines and chillis need a long growing season so you’re as well to get them started in this month, although you could wait another couple of weeks if you want.
The weather has been arctic of course with some snow on the ground this week, all of which makes it more challenging to persuade the little seeds that it’s a good plan to come out of the ground.
Basically, success at this time of the year is about cheating them in to thinking it’s spring. First of all I use an electric propagation mat, which gives the seeds some ‘heat from beneath’ to help them on their way. It’s important to keep a close eye on watering when doing this, as the compost can be inclined to dry out on a sunny day with the extra heat.
Secondly, I also put some horticultural fleece over the trays and pots — always at night time and often in the day as well if it’s particularly cold outside. It’s better if you can leave it off by day so they get plenty of light (which they also need as well as decent temperatures). I find it’s an added bonus if you can bring the water for watering them up to room temperature. I use a 2 litre water bottle with some little holes in the lid as a nimble watering can at this time of the year — it’s ideal for watering seed trays. I leave it on the heating mat so the water warms up too. They seem to appreciate it.
It’s impossible not to feel buoyant, hopeful and full of springtime enthusiasm when you see signs of life emerging in a seed tray. Let’s hope the winter cold snap moves off soon to enhance the experience.
THE BASICS — CHITTING SPUDS
Chitting potatoes is a process where we try to get a little bit of a head start with our spuds while we wait for the weather and soil to warm up a little. The idea is that because you’ve got this headstart, you will be able to harvest potatoes a little earlier.
Chitting involves leaving your seed potatoes in an egg box or seed tray in a room that’s relatively bright so that they will start to sprout. These sprouts will eventually become the shoots that appear above the ground.
Leave them like this for about a month to six weeks and they should produce lots of sturdy green sprouts. Stand the potatoes in the tray so that the “eye” end is facing up (the eye being the little depressions found on each spud). Hence the use of an egg carton — it helps the spuds to stand up.
It’s important that the room is bright — if it is too dark, the sprouts are literally reaching for light, which will make them long, leggy, translucent and weak. Chances are the sprouts will then break when put in the ground. Shorter, green sprouts will be much tougher.