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Home > Gardening News >

The Joy of Seeds


It is the time of year when daylight might be getting longer, but it also feels to be getting more grey. Some days it feels like there is hardly daylight at all and there are few better ways to cheer up these days than perusing seed catalogues. Whether your preference is for hard copy or online: hours can be lost in planning the first seed order of the year. I say the first, because if you are like me then you always forget something or see something that you know you have to order.

The first seed catalogues start dropping onto my doormat on the run up to Christmas. They are a delight to dip in and out of and consider the possibilities they hold. Seeds are packets of hope as the most wondrous plants will grow from them: whether you want vegetables, annual/perennial plants or trees. From little acorns...... as the phrase goes. Seed purchasing strategies vary. Some people have the one company they are loyal to and will buy all in one go. Other people shop around: knowing that some seeds will only be found from a few limited providers and that others will be offering the same seeds at a lower price. If you are choosing from more than one company you have to add in any postage costs and work out if your cheap order is still as cheap as you think. Garden clubs often have good deals with seed companies and can get a discounted rate. Bargain high quality seeds are the most prized seeds. Shopping around is good; but cheap seeds that do not germinate are not cheap in reality.

I keep my list of purchased seeds year on year. I note who I have bought them from and keep an eye on how they perform. If they have not performed well I will not rebuy them, but you have to bear in mind that there are always variables to be accounted for. Sometimes the compost is not as good as it can be. Multi-purpose peat-free compost can be too strong for seedlings so look out for special-seed-compost mixes. Make sure you understand how the compost needs to be looked after so that you do not drown your seeds or let them dry out too much. It is easy to lose heart with seed germination failure, but it is all learning and no one will put you in prison if your seeds fail to germinate. Be aware of pests too: slugs love tasty fresh shoots. Mice get into my greenhouse and chomp all the lovely seeds I attempt to grow in there. I now start my seeds off indoors where the main pest appears to be cats walking across them with their huge paws, or better still waiting to sleep on the seed trays (sigh).

Once you have received your seeds the temptation is to start sowing them and here I add a loud note of caution. Some seeds do need to be started early as they have a long growing season but make sure you have the right conditions for them. They might need a propagator to give them some warmth, they might need some help with some growlights as daylight is at a premium early in the year. Check carefully the back of the packet and keep an eye on the weather conditions. Generally sowing a little late is better and more productive than sowing too early. Seedlings elongating themselves to reach the light are a sad sight.

If you follow social media you will see people sowing away like one-o as soon as it gets to be February/March. I urge you to take care on this. There can be frosts until mid/late April where I live in the mild-middle of the UK and frost will not do most seedlings any good. Apart, obviously, from the ones that need a cold snap to start them off. So what is the advice I am giving you here? Mainly it is to read the seed packet and understand the needs of your seeds and understand your local conditions. It might say ‘sow in March’, but remember that March has 31 days and there is considerably more daylight on March 31st than there is on March 1st. Do not sow too early, it will not reward you in the long run. Seeds want to grow (well, most of them) and they will reach their full potential better if you give them the conditions they need. You will find some things work for you and some do not. I wait to sow sweetpeas in mid February/March as Autumn sowings do not work for me. I then successionally sow them until May which usually means I can have sweetpea flowers until the first frosts. I rarely sow a whole packet of anything, I keep some back just in case the first batch fails/gets eaten. Experiment and find out what works for you/your garden/plot. Seeds are one of the best, most cost effective ways, of growing something new and it is fun to try out new things so buy seeds and sow them ....... when the time is right.

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This story was published on: 15/03/2024

Image attribution: Alison Levey

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