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 some of my spring seedlings nice and early but I won’t physically plant most of the seedlings into the garden until mid/late October when the ground is much warmer. Even if the air feels warmer as the weather warms up, the cold ground takes a lot longer to warm.

In the meantime, while the weather is warming, my seedlings will get moved to bigger containers as they outgrow their starting ones, and a glasshouse when they get bigger. If you don’t have a glasshouse or much room in the sunniest spot of your house, then don’t plant too many seedlings all at once. Some seeds such as pumpkins and zucchini do muc better being direct sown in the garden when the soil has warmed up but as in my own garden I have a very short growing season because of lack of sun, I start mine earlier. Assess your own garden and space before deciding when to start.

Everything in the nightshade family such as tomatoes, eggplants, capsicum and, chili can all be started inside late winter/early spring as they need a long growing season. They can be transplanted to bigger pots as they grow and keep them in a sunny space.

If you have access to a glasshouse you can start cucurbits such as melons and cucumbers early spring too if they will end up in there. If you don’t have one of those, it would be best to wait 4-6 weeks before your last frost date before sowing those inside.

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.

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.
  3. Seed raising mix- If you’re not using jiffy pellets which include the soil, an organic seed raising mix will give your seeds a great start. If you’re on a tight budget you can make your own seed raising mix, here.
  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 you can soak larger seeds, like beans and pumpkin before planting. It shaves off even more time as it will soften the protective seed coat and let the seedling emerge quicker. This is especially helpful if you’re starting your seedlings off later and you need to catch up on time!

Seedlings

Place them in a bowl of water for 8-12 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 biodegrading 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.

Biodegradable seed trays could include cups made from newspaper, egg cartons, cardboard boxes or 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, you can place your seedlings in mini greenhouses.

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!

Winter in the Garden- August To Do List

Winter in the Garden- August 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 (or in many cases, they already have!)  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, Chinese cabbages, onions, peas, rocket, lettuce, radishes, silverbeet, spinach

What to plant this month from seedlings: asparagus, onions, broccoli, cabbages, garlic, silverbeet, lettuce, Chinese cabbages, spinach, silverbeet

August in the Garden

Prepare garden beds for spring planting

With the wet 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 things such as compost, aged and well-rotted manure, chopped seaweed,  leaf mould and lots of mulch to keep all those nutrients locked in there.

I like to collect as much as I can from my nearby beaches and forests in August, so I can lay it on thickly in all my empty spaces in the garden. By the time I plant spring seedlings (in October/November), it will be amazing soil.

Enjoy your citrus

Homegrown citrus is at its best right now. If you’re overloaded with fruit, there are an overload 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 pasta. 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 mean 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 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, straw, hay, cardboard, 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 to 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 turn it once a week.

Start seedlings inside

You can get well ahead in your spring planting by starting seedlings inside. Here’s some more info on starting seedlings inside.

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 centers should have them on special now which is an added bonus.

Treat Leaf curl 

If your trees were affected by leaf curl, treat them now with an organic copper spray, do it before the buds on the trees burst. If you don’t, it’s most likely that your trees will get affected again by the fungal spores left over winter. If you had a thrip problem, use a horticultural oil* to smother over-wintering thrip eggs.

*If you are using a sulphur spray instead of copper to treat any tree diseases, do not use the horticultural oil.

Happy gardening!

July: A Walk Through My Garden

July: A Walk Through My Garden

Hey all,

I  wanted to do a more personal post today. It’s a lovely winter’s afternoon, super mild and not a breath of wind. I’ll take you for a wander around my own garden and show you what I’m growing right now.

First up, a little about my garden. The part I use for my vegetables is small, about 200m squared and it’s split into three terraced sections. I don’t get much sun in winter, about an hour, so naturally, this impacts how much, and how quickly things grow. I try not to let this stop my enthusiasm to try to grow as much as I can though, it just takes a bit more planning and inventive uses for all edible parts of the vegetables I grow.

My whole vegetable garden, minus two built planter boxes is a no dig-garden. We started with the two boxes but it was so limiting. I found no dig gardening made so much more sense for me and it meant I could use the entire space available (plus not to mention how AWESOME it is for the soil.)

As it’s winter, I’m growing a lot of cold hardy brassicas at the moment. I have about 20 broccoli and 15 cauliflower plants growing, all planted at different times to stagger the harvest. The ones that have heads on them at the moment where planted all the way back in late Feb/early March. I eat the leaves and stalks as well as the actual florets, as I don’t like wasting any food. The leaves are delicious sauteed when they’re young, but if they get too old and tough, or bug-bitten, I dehydrate them and blitz them into a greens powder. This powder I use in smoothies, breads, soups etc.. Once I have harvested the main heads of the broccoli, I let them keep producing mini broccoli shoots.

In between my broccoli and cauliflowers, I have planted lots of leeks. They’re good companion plants for each other and space wise, leeks can fit nicely in the gaps and maximize the planting space I have.

My cabbages and kale are slowly but steadily chugging along. The cabbages are forming heads but they won’t be ready to eat until well into spring. I have cavolo nero kale, purple kale and curly kale growing too. They’re slow but there are enough plants of each of them to provide us with a steady harvest.

Next to them is my garlic.

I use a mix of hay and pea straw as my mulch layers. I pile them on super thick to conserve all the nutrients under the soil and protect it from the harsh winter elements (though, today there’s no harsh weather to be seen!) When using pea straw, there’s the added bonus of free pea seedlings popping up! As well as the self seeded peas, I’ve sown some of my own, including a blue shelling pea. I’ve built a wee frame for them to climb up which well help keep the peas under control and it’s a great way to maximise space.

In summer I’m a big fan of vertical planting. Cucumbers, melons and pumpkins can all climb up and leave plenty of room on the ground to plant non-climbing plants. Near the peas I have selection of rainbow chard, silverbeet, spinach and celery.

At the very top terrace there is a bed of lettuce, more spinach and silverbeet.

Broad beans are spread around in lots of different pockets around my garden. The lot pictured below is around my brussel sprouts. Once they’re done producing, I’ll chop them down at the roots and they can return all the nitrogen they’ve collected back into the soil. The soil will need it too after hungry brussel sprouts have been there!

I like to continuously sow seeds such as pak choy, turnips, carrots and radish in spots that are empty. Pak choy, radish and baby turnips can be ready to harvest in 1-2 months, but carrots take a lot longer. I have to try extra hard to remember to keep sowing those so I’m not caught out when the current lot is all gone!

When thinning my carrots, I let them get to a decent size so we can still eat them. If I thin them too young it’s so fiddly and I find myself just throwing them on the compost! By letting them get just a bit bigger, there’s still a delicious snack that comes from thinning.

My blueberries are coming along nicely too. These are just grown from cuttings so they haven’t produced much fruit yet. I have a couple of strawberry patches, raspberries, and currents growing too. Those are spread around the edges, along with dwarf feijoas, along another veerrry thin terrace that has quite a steep drop, so they’re an edible fence!


Then lastly, there are quite a few fruit trees around the property too though I am unsure of some of their futures. One can get a little carried away in the fruit tree shop and temporarily forget that one does not own enough space for a huge orchard. 😉

My dwarf varieties can stay, some are in pots, some in the garden. I have a dwarf orange, mandarin, nectarine, cherry, and lemon. The other, larger fruit trees on my property (plum, apricot, and peach) will just be a wait and see to see how they do and if I can keep them pruned back small enough to fit. Half the fun is in the trying!

So that’s my little slice of heaven. I’m learning every day about what works, and what doesn’t, but one thing stays the same: it’s the place where I’m truly myself.

Thanks for reading. Happy gardening!

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