Prepare your seeds for a brighter year
THE garden has looked like a winter wonderland for the last few days with temperatures plummeting below freezing.
It is timely and it is good for the control of pests and disease as we need a prolonged period of cold to kill off the over-wintering eggs of pests and the spores of fungal diseases harboured in dead leaves.
The birds are hungry now so do not neglect those bird feeders and bird baths that may be frozen over and inaccessible on cold mornings.
While the ground is frozen, needless to say it is impossible to do much gardening out of doors. The majority of what can be achieved at this time of the year is from the armchair as we take in inspiring books, photos, seed catalogues or video clips.
Planning is key right now in order to have goals to fulfill for the growing year ahead.
Of course, the garden shed, glasshouse or polytunnel provide a more appealing environment and there is plenty that can be done now to make the springtime more manageable.
It’s a good time to apply a top-dressing of mulch of some description to vegetable beds, as this will feed soil microbes and nourish the soil in preparation for the coming year’s crop.
Any old crops from last summer should be removed and composted so that they do not harbour any pests or disease over winter.
The plastic or glass of protected growing environments will benefit from a good wash down with apple cider vinegar. This will improve light transmission and remove any harmful pests or diseases that may be lurking.
A good method for washing polytunnels on the outside, as the top can be difficult to reach, is to use and old bath towel or bed sheet and tie some rope to either end, then just shimmey up and down the polytunnel, with one person holding a rope at each side, rinsing regularly in the apple cider vinegar mixture.
High on my list of priorities this week is sorting the seed box or boxes as they are now the collection has grown.
This job should be done every year to ensure that seed is fresh, dry, viable and being stored correctly with labels intact.
I just know that there are several seed packets that have burst open and their contents now line the base of the seed, box mixed up and gathering in the corners. For precisely this reason sorting this box of tricks is put on the long finger!
Seeds should ideally be stored in a fridge at 5-7 degrees celsius but if that options is not available, then a cool, dry and dark shed will do the trick.
Leaving seeds out on a bench in the glasshouse, for example, is not ideal as the seeds will suffer the effects of fluctuating heat and that will have the effect of breaking down the seed more quickly, decreasing their viability faster.
Seeds will remain viable for longer if kept in a consistent environment. Air tight, cool, dark, and dry are the main requirements for storing seeds, and when you consider what is needed for their germination — oxygen, water, the correct temperature and light (or in some cases no light) — this makes sense. We are depriving the seeds of everything needed for them to sprout in an attempt to preserve them.
With this in mind a metal or plastic biscuit tin, of which there are many after the Christmas festivities, provides the ideal receptacle for seed storage.
Years ago, one of these containers may have been enough, but now, to streamline operations and so that the lid can actually be closed, several may be needed and seeds can be organised into different categories according to sowing times or family or rotation.
There is still plenty of time to order seeds and some good local Irish seed sources include Fruithill Farm based in Bantry, Brown Envelope Seeds in Skibereen and Irish Seed Savers based in County Clare.