Getting ahead in the Garden- Starting Seedlings Indoors

Getting ahead in the Garden- Starting Seedlings Indoors

One of the best ways to get ahead in the vegetable garden and save money is to start your own seedlings inside, from scratch.

In the garden centre, the seedling punnets can be pretty expensive at $2-$3 for only 6 or so seedlings. A packet of seeds is that price but for 100 seeds! What you are really paying for is the time that was spent growing the seedlings.

A little preparation and planning now can mean a full vegetable garden for only a little money.

Spring Seedlings

I start my spring seedlings nice and early, about halfway through August but I won’t physically transplant the seedlings into the garden until mid October, when the ground is warmer. Depending on where you are situated and the chance of frost in your area, the date of planting in the garden may have to be pushed out later. You want to start your seedlings about 6 weeks before the last frost date in your area.

What you need:

  1. A warm and light space. Warmth is most important as the seed germinates, but light becomes vital when the seed pops through the soil. If your seedlings don’t get enough sunlight they’ll become thin and ‘leggy’ as they search for the sun. If you don’t have a sunny window, invest in a grow light like this one. They aren’t too expensive and the LED red and blue lights mimic the sun.
  2. Seed Trays- There are many different sorts you can get, including biodegradable ones like jiffy pellets that can be planted straight in the ground. I will explain more down below.
  3. Seed raising mix- If you’re not using jiffy pellets which include the soil, an organic seed raising mix like Tui’s Organic Seed Raising Mix will give your seeds their best start.
  4. Labels (for what you planted and the date)- As much as you think you’ll remember, trust me, you end up forgetting what you planted and where and when. Labels are essential!
  5. Watering- Something that waters gently, like a spray bottle, so the soil doesn’t move around too much and disturb the seed.
  6. Seeds- of course, you need seeds.

Soaking Seeds

This part isn’t compulsory but I like to pre-soak my larger seeds before planting. It shaves off even more time as it will soften the protective seed coat and let the seedling emerge quicker.

Seedlings

Place them in a bowl of water for 8-10 hours. After soaking, take care when handling the seeds as they’ll be more delicate and plant them in your seed trays straight away.

Seed Trays

There are many different seed trays available, including using what you have at home.

A plastic container with a few holes punched at the bottom will work fine, but I definitely prefer disposable containers that can be planted in the garden without disturbing the seedling roots. This is especially important if you’re starting seedlings like beans,beetroot or artichokes inside which don’t transplant particularly well.

Disposable seed trays could include cups made from newspaper, egg cartons, cardboard boxes or my favourite, Jiffy pellets They are little, compressed pellets made from peat. They expand as you add water and provide all the nutrients your growing seed needs until it is time to transplant in the garden. Once it is time, you can pop the whole thing in and it will decompose in the soil

Seedlings

To keep things extra warm, I place my seedlings in mini green houses.

You can buy them like the one pictured above, or make your own.

D.I.Y Greenhouse

Place your seedling trays in a large container that can that has higher sides than the seedling trays. Cover that container with plastic wrap and punch a few holes in it for aeration. 

If you’re not using jiffy pellets which include the soil, fill your seed trays with seed raising mix and use a spray bottle to moisten the soil. Sprinkle your seeds over this moistened soil and gently press the seeds into the soil. You can add a small layer of soil over the top of the large seeds but for the smaller ones, you won’t need to cover them. Pressing them down will suffice.

Keep your soil moistened daily or as it dries out, but don’t wet it too much that it gets waterlogged.

Make sure to label what you have planted and include the date that you planted the seeds. This is so you can keep a record of how it is growing and know when it should be ready.

Transplanting and hardening off

As your seedlings emerge, the first set of leaves it grows are the seed leaves and aren’t considered the ‘true leaves’, the next set of leaves it grows however are. Once your seedling grows two sets of true leaves, you can start hardening it off to prepare it for life outside.

Place your seed trays outside on a calm day for 3-4 hours so they get used to the sunlight and outside temperatures. Decrease your watering to every second or third day. Slowly increase their exposure to cooler temperatures.

As the ground warms and there is no risk of frost anymore, your hardened plants can be transplanted. Don’t rush this step though, it’s not worth the risk transplanting them too soon only to lose them to a cold snap.

After transplanting your seedlings, water them well with Seasol to avoid transplant shock.

Happy gardening!

August in the Garden- End of Winter to do List

August in the Garden- End of Winter to do List

Buds on deciduous trees are swelling, there’s an abundance of citrus and spring bulbs are standing tall ready to show their faces next month. August is just so close to spring that you can practically smell it.

What to sow this month from seed: broad beans, carrots, broccoli cauliflower, bokchoy, onions, peas, rocket, lettuce, radishes, silver beet, spinach

What to plant this month from seedlings: asparagus, onions, broccoli, cabbages, garlic, silver beet, lettuce. 

August in the Garden

Prepare garden beds for spring planting

With the harsh winter weather nearly behind us, we can asses the damage it has done to the soil. The pounding of the rain will have compacted it as well as people stepping on it when it’s wet.

Take time this month to prepare your vegetable beds and return them to their former glory by adding organic matter to the soil in the form of compost, sheep pellets, aged manure, and by cultivating it well. Take care not to dig over your garden too much, unless absolutely necessary, as this disturbs the intricate Eco systems set up below the soil.

Enjoy your citrus

Home grown citrus is at its best right now. If you’re overloaded with fruit, there are an over load of recipes out there to make sure it’s all put to good use. Try middle eastern preserved lemons to add a citrus kick to roast chicken, salad dressing or pastas. Tui Garden Products has a great recipe on their website. You can find it here.

August in the Garden

Plant salad greens in containers

Things can still take a little longer to grow as the sun doesn’t stay up as long as it will in spring and summer. Growing salad greens such as rocket in containers means you can place them in the sunniest spots and move them around if need be. They grow quickly and offer a ‘cut and come again’ harvest so you can be eating fresh salad greens as you please.

August in the Garden

Start a compost bin

If you haven’t got one already, setting up a compost bin will help you get rid of all the fallen leaves and plant debris as well as kitchen scraps, vacuum dust, pet hair and newspaper. You don’t actually need a physical bin, if you have a room to make a compost heap do so, as the bins do fill up quickly.

A compost heap needs a mix of ‘brown layers’ and ‘green layers’. The brown provide the carbon and are things like twigs, dead leaves and newspaper. The green provide the nitrogen and are your fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings, eggshells etc.

You want to layer your compost like a lasagna. For each layer of brown, add a layer of green. Try make sure no pieces are too big in your compost as they’ll take longer to break down. Then you wait as the worms do their thing and break it down for you. To speed things up, cover the compost to keep it warm (with a lid if it’s a bin or a burlap sack if it’s a heap) and add an occasional sprinkle of Blood and Bone.

Start seedlings inside

You can get well a head in your spring planting by starting seedlings inside. I will do a more in depth post on this later on this month.

Plant Fruit Trees 

It’s still a good time to plant deciduous fruit trees right now, but do so before they start to blossom. Garden centres should have them on special now which is an added bonus.

Treat Leaf curl 

My nectarine and peach trees were affected by leaf curl last year. If yours were too, treat them now with an organic copper oxy spray such as this one. If you don’t, it’s most likely that your trees will get affected again by the fungal spores left over winter.

Happy gardening!

Flower Power in the Garden- Beneficial Blooms

Flower Power in the Garden- Beneficial Blooms

Just over a month to go and spring is here. This means more warmth and sunshine on the way. Unfortunately this means more garden pests too. If you’re trying to garden organically, one way to help with this is to plant certain flowers.

That’s right, a lot of blooms don’t just look good, they also help keep your garden healthy. There are flowers for all sorts of reasons in the garden: encouraging bees, keeping away detrimental bugs and encouraging beneficial bugs.

French Marigolds

French marigolds, with their bright yellows and optimistic oranges are one of my favourites to plant in my garden. Their gorgeous colour attracts the bees and their strong scent keeps away the bugs we don’t want, such as roundworm, slugs and leaf hoppers.

They are a fantastic pairing with tomatoes as tomatoes can often fall victim to the attack of round worm.

French marigolds are best planted in clumps of many as opposed to one or two. They are an annual so will die after a year but if you let them self seed, you can grow them again and again.

Marigold flowers
French Marigolds

Calendula

These gorgeous flowers have many uses. They not only help repel detrimental bugs, they’re also edible, and have antibacterial, anti-fungal and antiseptic properties.

So toss their petals in a salad, make your own medicinal balm or brew a calendula tea. So many uses!

They’re an annual but they self seed super well so you’ll really just have to plant them once, then watch them multiply effortlessly.

Calendula

Borage

Borage is a bee’s best friend. These pretty and interesting looking flowers are edible and though it’s an annual, it’s a fantastic self seeder. Once you plant one plant, you’ll never have to plant another again.

Borage is another good pest control plant and helps keep away horn worms and cabbage worms. It also leaves beneficial trace elements in your soil when it’s planted.

Borage flowers
Borage

Lavender

It smells delicious to us but not so much to mosquitoes, moths and fleas and will keep these pests away from you while you’re gardening. The heavily scented purple flowers will attract bees and other pollinators though so lavender is a big asset in the vegetable garden.

Lavender

Nasturtiums

Last on my list today is the sweet and peppery nasturtium. Another edible bloom, this rambling flower helps repel white fly and keeps other bugs off your vegetables by acting like a ‘trap crop’, sacrificing itself to save your produce, (a hero plant right there.)

This is another flower that needs no help with self seeding.

nasturtium flowers
Nasturtium

So when you’re planning your spring garden, don’t just plant vegetables. A flower filled garden is a happier place for both nature and gardener.

July in the Garden- To Do List

July in the Garden- To Do List

To sow this month: broad beans, broccoli, cauliflower,peas, snow peas, radish, rocket, onions, lettuce, swedes, turnips, silver beet, carrots

To plant from seedlings this month: asparagus, Chinese cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, garlic, lettuce, onions

As always, there is still plenty to do in the garden.

If you’re keen on the idea of homegrown fruit, it’s still a great time to get some fruit trees planted. Choose a nice sunny spot and dig a large hole that’s double the size of the tree’s root ball. If your soil has poor drainage, add some Tui Garden Mix to the bottom of the hole. Place the tree in the hole and fill with Tui Garden Mix and compost.

Potatoes

It’s getting to that time to plant potatoes. Start chitting them now, to force seed potatoes to sprout. This takes about 4 weeks. Place them in a single layer in a cool light place, but not in any direct sunlight. Once the sprouts have long and strong shoots, keep the strongest 3-4 shoots and rub off the rest. Then they can be planted out. For fail free results, use some certified seed potatoes, such as Tui Certified Seed potatoes as these will ensure a healthy crop

While your potatoes are sprouting, you can use that time to prepare a bed. Dig in lots of compost and well rotted manure or sheep pellets to your soil.

When it’s time to plant your potatoes you can add Tui Potato food to give them an added boost. Dig long, deep trenches in your soil and place your potatoes in the trenches, about 20cm apart. Cover them with about 5cm of soil. As the potatoes grow and green leaves pop out through the soil, keep mounding them with soil. This will stabilize the long green potato leaf stalks and stop the potatoes from reaching the light (which would make them turn green and poisonous). 

Strawberries

Plant strawberries now for some early spring treats! Read my strawberry growing post here.

Mulch

Keep on mulching those garden beds. The weather in NZ hasn’t been too kind lately so to stop that rain leaching away all those nutrients in your soil , get that mulch on.

Weeding

A not so fun bit. Use the soft soil to your advantage and get on top of your weeding. There’s that old saying, ‘One year seeding makes seven years weeding.’ So heed the advice! It’ll pay off in the end I promise.

Happy Gardening!

Soup in the Garden- Being Self Sustainable

Soup in the Garden- Being Self Sustainable

Have you ever read the book, Bootlace Soup by Anthony Holcroft? It was one of my favourites as a child.bootlace soup

A tired and hungry hunter comes out of the bush one evening and asks an old couple for a meal. They say they have no food in the house. That’s fine, says the hunter. He pulls out one of his bootlaces and tells the couple this will make a delicious soup. All it needs is an onion. They get the onion. Oh and a potato. They get the potato. Oh and a pinch of salt- and so forth.

In the end the ‘bootlace’ produces a delicious soup when the old couple had initially thought they had no food.

What’s the point of me telling you this story? Well it’s sort of what I base my vegetable gardening on. Even if the cupboards are bare and I can’t get to the shops, I can always get enough from my garden to make a ‘bootlace’ soup.

Minus the bootlace.

self sustainable pak choi

It’s pretty cool to be self sustainable like that, even if it’s just the basics. You can make a good soup with pretty much any garden greens so there’s nothing specific you need to plant.

I think it’s a cool little message to keep in the back of your mind- always have a soup growing in your garden. ❤️

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