Archive for windowsill crops

Seedlings, storage ideas and this Sunday’s allotment harvest

I would like to be sharing some exciting news with you about some readings I’m going to be doing … but nothing is finalised yet, so I have to bite my tongue and wait until it is! Meantime:

winter density lettuce seedlings

The winter density lettuce seedlings are through!

radish seedlings

And the radish seedlings are even further along.

clever greenhouse storage solution

Winter is the time to work on storage solutions: like greenhouse flowerpot stockings!

allotment harvest leeks and rhubarb

Today’s allotment harvest: muddy leeks and early rhubarb.

nasty rhubarb

All of which leads to smugness when I see the price of supermarket crops that are of inferior quality to my home-grown ones!

My first workshop of 2014 will be on 29 March and I’ll be teaching people how to propagate perennials and grow their own exotic crops in a cold greenhouse. £5 per student, an extra 50 pence if you want to take home a starter pot of fresh lemongrass. Contact me through comments if you want more information!


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Plastic bottle propagators and how to pot on from them

bottle propagators

This is how the propagators looked on 15 May

bottle propagators

And how they looked on 22 May

To pot on from a week-away propagator you need to remove the bottle cap and push gently on the soil and roots in the aperture, to get the whole plant moving out of the wider end.

To pot on from a week-away propagator you need to remove the bottle cap and push gently on the soil and roots in the aperture, to get the whole plant moving out of the wider end.

seedling root formation

Root formation is usually substantial, and it’s fun to be able to see the roots through the clear plastic but if you let the seedlings get too big, you’ll have to tease out the cotton wick from the roots, which can be faffy.

seedling roots

Even if the roots aren’t tangled with the string, it’s good to ease them out of the shape of the bottle top.

squash in flowerpot

Replant nice and deeply, in multipurpose compost and allow to sit in water so that the roots immediately start to reach out – don’t top water.

squashes in pots

And there they are, four Turks Turban and four Crown Prince in their new homes!

P.S. Instructions for making week-away propagators can be found in The Allotment Diaries!

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Greenhouse growing update

greenhouse plant

Greenhouse plants like this Royal Black chilli often need hand pollinating

I use a small paintbrush to move the ripe pollen from one flower to another

I use a small paintbrush to move the ripe pollen from one flower to another

While the mature chilli gets pollinated, seedling royal black chillies are growing vigorously

While the mature chilli gets pollinated, seedling Royal Black chillies are growing vigorously

Update on the leggy celeriac - they're growing strongly but still need to be in the greenhouse at night

Update on the leggy celeriac – they’re growing strongly but still need to be in the greenhouse at night

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Our April seedlings … the good, the bad, the ugly!

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Allotment – nothing to report

103 greenhouse 30 mar 13It’s just too cold to plant anything out!

I’ve potted up 18 celeriac seedlings, six chocolate pepper seedlings, started off red cabbage, brussels sprouts, purple sprouting broccoli and lots of flower seeds … and everything is clogging up the greenhouse because we’re still getting zero temperatures at night.

It would be depressing if all the seeds weren’t popping up as if they really thought spring was here!

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Leggy seedlings and how to deal with them

VP had an interesting post about lettuce seedlings – of which she seems to be the complete mistress, as she’s curating about a zillion varieties in a fascinating project. She commented that she’d been told she could replant leggy seedlings up to their leaves and as that’s something this long cold spring has given me an abundance of, I thought I’d produce a quick tutorial.

One thing I dislike is those gardeners who never tell you about their failures – I believe we all have seeds that don’t germinate and crops that fail or are destroyed by weather/predators/incompetence and I think it’s important to be honest about those things too.

First, what is a leggy seedling?

Well, it looks like this:

celeriac seedlings

Leggy celeriac seedlings looking very sorry for themselves! Really soak well, then lift with a kitchen fork.

replanting celeriac

Leggy seedlings can be lifted into a new pot using the first true leaves to hold the plant

celeriac seedling in pot

Fill in around the seedling with good quality compost, right up to the first true leaf

small celeriac seedling

Smaller seedlings don’t need to be buried so deeply

planting seedlings

Use a kitchen fork to dib a small hole in a pot of compost for less leggy seedlings

Already they look happier and healthier!

Already they look happier and healthier!

I’m going to follow the progress of the leggiest seedling, in the distinctive purple pot, through the next couple of weeks in the hope that it will show just how well leggy seedlings can recover. And if it doesn’t, I’ll still show you!

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Endless basil … for the price of one supermarket pot

Here’s how to do it.

Buy a packet of red basil seed and a packet of green basil seed.

Split your packets of seed with an allotment neighbour so they pay half (and get half the seeds).

Winter starters

Start around eight red basil seed in a 10 to 12 cm pot. Ensure there is some gravel in the bottom of the pot to provide drainage and you may like to mix some sand or a bit of gritty John Innes into standard potting compost as basil hates having wet feet. Red basil seems to tolerate the occasional wintry blast more comfortably than green basil, so if you’re starting in winter, start with the red.



You probably need to cover basil seeds in winter, unless you have a heated greenhouse or heated propagator. I have neither, just a windowsill near the back door (hence my experience with seedlings that don’t survive a bit of outdoor weather each time the door is opened for Rebus, the Cairn Terrierist, who goes out at least 20 times a day, just because he can!)

I either cover with an old bit of glass (the clear lids of small Pyrex dishes are brilliant for this and you can pick them up for pennies in charity shops) or lay some clingfilm over the top and poke about six holes in it with a darning needle. The covering needs to be lifted every day and wiped/shaken free of condensation. Ensure your compost is damp, but not sodden, sprinkle the seeds on, and cover with the merest layer of compost (half a centimetre is ample, I’d say aim for a quarter of a centimetre in winter) before spraying with a standard mister to dampen. Don’t firm the compost.

It can take 21 days to germinate in winter, because of low daylight levels, and is likely to be a bit spindly. As soon as the first seedling shows, remove the covering. You may have to mist the surface every other day or so but probably you won’t need to water more than every week or ten days, depending on your growing location – push your finger into the pot and if the soil is dry 2cm down, its time to water from the base. Stand the pot in a deepish container to water (we use an old bowl) give it a good drink and then remove – that ensures your basil gets to drain at the roots which hate being waterlogged.

red basil

Seedling red basil

If you’ve spaced your seeds reasonably well, you may not have to thin – the picture shows a pot that should have been thinned, but what I will do in a few days is pinch out a couple of the congested seedlings to let the others have space to grow on.

When the basil has four true leaves, start off your next pot the same way. Ours live indoors all year around as we like a lot of basil!

Summer starters

Same system, but with green basil, and about half a centimetre of compost over the seeds. Once there’s good daylight the seeds will germinate quicker, around 7-10 days and once there’s both good daylight and adequate heat (from June) you don’t have to cover the seeds with a lid and they can appear as rapidly as four days from sowing. You’ll need to water more often though.

green basil

Green basil grown on the kitchen windowsill

For summer basil, start your next pot whenever the first is in full growth, like this one. We alternate a red basil and a green one, that way we’ve always got a pot of both on the go. Pinch out any flower heads that form – once the plants start to flower the leaves become tough and bitter.

If your plants are producing more basil than you can use, simply open freeze the leaves and then pop them in a resealable bag. They are good to make pesto in the winter. As for those wintry blasts, you can see a desiccated basil stem in the middle of these healthy plants, it was the biggest strongest plant, standing proud above the others, then we opened the kitchen window to let out some steam and it was just tall enough to get caught by the cold air. End result – death!

From June, lift a couple of seedlings from your pot each time you sow – plant them outside in your warmest, most sheltered location. A big well drained container is good enough, just tuck them in with something else. Ideally, if you want to save seed from each variety, plant them far apart to avoid cross pollination. Basil doesn’t seem to cross that easily, but it does do it. We deal with this by having the red basil on the plot and the green at home, but we’re in a privileged position.

Don’t harvest the outdoor plants, just let them … run up to seed! As they do so, the flowers will begin to turn brown – get down below the flowers and see if any of the seeds inside the flowers are black – usually they start green and turn black when ripe. Basil is a bit of a pig to harvest, as you will always get some unripe seed in with the ripe which feels like a waste, but each flower head that ripens should provide around 8 viable seed. That’s your next entire pot …

To save the seed, cut the flower head off when around half the seeds appear to be black. Put the whole flower head in a brown envelope and leave it somewhere cool and dry. The seed will eventually fall out, and you can increase the speed of this process by giving the envelope a good rattle every few days. Just keep saving flower heads in old envelopes (with the week you saved the seed and which variety of basil it is written on it). We end up with about eight envelopes from July to September, each of which has between four a seven flower heads in it.

As we need new seed to sow, we just take the oldest envelope, tip out some seed, and sow it. I can’t remember the last time we bought basil seed and it does go right through the winter, although it’s a weaker, leggier and less flavoursome plant in November, December and January than in the summer months.

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