How are you all holding up? Hope you are managing to enjoy the sunshine in some way or another. Thank you to everyone who read my last blog and left touching comments and thanks to Maria for solving the mystery plant name I was searching for.
I have so much to update, and I’m not sure quite where to start!
Since my last blog I have gone from a walk in the park to a sprint on the race track with my growing endeavours. I have somehow adopted hunter gatherer instincts prowling the local parks for stick and stones. I’ve hoarded enough egg boxes and cartons; I see growing container potential in everything around me. I went too far when I had the idea that I might be able to collect the horse manure left by police patrolling our area. My daughter was not so keen.
Since all our gardening workshops have been cancelled until further notice, it seemed like a real shame to not get seedlings started. I ordered a great selection of organic seeds and compost from Garden Organic back in early March before the lockdown. Luckily, I had the order delivered to my house.
The idea was to start some seedlings at home anyway for Wen’s Soil Sisters’ garden. I work in a women’s refuge as a therapeutic gardener supporting women in recovery, through gardening and crafting. For this reason, I started sowing seeds on a mass scale. I have ended up sharing my seedlings with households around my area as it’s been hard for some people to get hold of seeds and plants in the lockdown. But, you can start much smaller!
My basic advice is to grow what you like to eat as all gardeners will tell you. Choose things to grow according to the size of your space. Remember you can buy dwarf varieties of fruit and veg so no space is too limiting in my opinion! I have sown mostly things you can definitely grow on a balcony and others just to be adventurous.
here’s my list:
Swiss chard / Mustard / coriander / runner beans / dwarf French beans / cucumber / tomatoes / courgettes / chillies / amaranth for salad / lab lab beans / sunflower / mixed salad / spinach / potatoes / pumpkin or squash / peppers.
I sowed a couple of early potatoes in a pot since I ordered them for the gardens. I had them on a tray in front of my window ‘chitting’ in moderate sun. Basically, waiting until they have sprouted a little before planting them out into pots. This encourages the potatoes to start growing quicker once they are planted but you don’t have to wait for this. They can also just go into the ground or pots once you have them.
In addition, I daringly sowed squash/pumpkin. Not ideal for small spaces though no doubt it’s possible and that’s the possibility risk I took. I saved some seeds from a delicious pumpkin I ate two years ago. Not sure of the exact variety, something resembling a kuri squash, I think. I could be completely wrong; it was two years ago! I really did not expect every single seed to germinate as well as they did. With their succulent luscious thick leaves, it was like little umbrellas opening up.
I have a fairly small balcony, south facing mainly, and I get intense heat and sun light all throughout the day. That is equally intensified inside the house which makes the windowsills ideal for starting off seedlings.
Now we have our growing space, seeds and compost – let’s get started.
Step One: choose your growing space to keep your seedlings
This can be anywhere in your home where it’s warm. I have sacrificed my study table for this as its right up against the window. I had a metal shelf that I took apart and used as water trays a while back. I also cut a garden refuse sack beforehand, to lay on the table, to protect it from any damage. I had bits of cardboard from deliveries which I cut to size and lay them on the metal slats. It just helps with spillages when watering.
Step Two: choose your containers
As you can see, I’ve collected most of my recycling and you will be surprised how much you do end up with. Tin cans, we all have plenty, just make few holes at the bottom and you’ve got your drainage sorted. Do the same for all other containers and make sure you have poked a few holes in them to allow water to drain.
I also used these green modules. which are surprisingly stronger than the black ones you can buy online. So definitely will be keeping them for a while to reuse. Great for starting off the bigger seeds. Size dictates, so if your seeds are small, use smaller containers to start them off, like chillies and tomatoes for example. If seeds are bigger, like courgette and squash seeds, then the green modules are ideal.
Step Three: fill in with soil and other mediums
I bought top quality multipurpose compost which is good for sowing seeds. You can also use potting and seed compost to start off seedlings, though the multipurpose is more readily available in most shops. Use what you can get hold of.
You might also want to consider adding coir to the compost. This will help with aeration and retention of moisture in the soil preventing it from getting waterlogged. Other mediums to consider are things like sand, grit, perlite and vermiculite, which lightens up the soil and creates the right conditions for growing. I had none of the above so don’t worry if you don’t either. However, I did mix in a bit of old compost to absorb the richness of the new compost. Top tip!
Step Four: sow your seeds and label
In the picture below I’m sowing courgette seeds which are one the larger seeds so I have used the larger modules. The leaves will grow big and space is definitely warranted. I have put in one seed per pot.
I found some plastic knives and forks to use as labels but you can use whatever you have. Wooden ice cream sticks are ideal. My daughter got involved too and made these fun labels. Good activity for the kids.
Step Five: Bring your pots to the growing space and watch them grow!
I found I needed to water them daily to ensure seedlings didn’t dry out. This is crucial for germination. Be mindful not to over water either. I tend to dig my finger into the soil to check for moisture levels and use a spray bottle to lightly water. For some seeds it’s good to prioritise heat and moisture before light at this stage. I covered them up with cling film to retain moisture and this helps to speed up germination.
Once the seedlings have two true leaves, and you feel they are big and robust enough, you can separate them by thinning out, if you planted more than one seed in the same pot. Otherwise size them up to bigger pots as they grow, until they are ready for planting outside.
I started my seeds at the end of March and most seeds germinated within one to two weeks. So, you have plenty of time to start sowing now. As the weather warms up, your seeds should germinate much quicker even if you start a bit later.
Your sowing journey is complete!
I can’t quite explain my fanatical connection to these seedlings as I jumped out of bed every morning to greet them, staring at bare soil praying for green. I talk about nothing but plants since I adopted these babies. Despite the madness and craze which comes from collecting and hoarding, as well as the daily commitment and dedication; the whole process has been a real pleasure. And it’s only the beginning! The rewards come in the form of a physical expression, a childlike excitement and joy. That’s my way of topping up on those serotonin levels and strengthening my immunity, and there is no better time than the present.
Here are more pictures of my seedlings
Ta da! These plant boxes (I made the boxes from my vacuum cleaner packaging) will be going out to around 10 different households. We will post some pictures of the boxes with our happy customers soon.
No seedling has gone to waste and every plant will have a story.
Happy gardening everyone!
Love from Wen and Shaheda. (Who is still happily planting from her bedroom).
Shaheda, Garden Outreach Lead