GARDENING: Propagation box is buzzing with activity

Starting vegetables from pots.Starting vegetables from pots.
Starting vegetables from pots.
A propagating box in the greenhouse is currently buzzing with activity.

Equipped with a soil-warming cable that sits on a bed of sand beneath 10 centimetres of rooting medium, it was switched on mid-February in support of early sowings. There`s enough warmth inside (15 C) to secure the germination of a range of popular seeds within two weeks. However, do bear in mind that some seeds have a built-in inhibitor that must be neutralised before germination can occur. This can take ages, as I rediscovered recently after anticipating the

emergence of paeony seedlings for several months.

It's been five years since we received some black, cherry -sized seeds of tree paeony (Paeonia) from friend Jaci. They`d come from a shrubby specimen in her garden. One of the plants raised from that source `Canary` flowered for the first time in summer 2019. In the autumn we sealed three of its large seed capsules in an envelope and kept them in storage. In July 2020 two dozen of the resultant hard-coated seeds were planted in the propagating box medium, labelled, and forgotten.

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Two weeks ago, a mass of shoots emerged from the compost. These seeds need two cold spells with one warm in between to clear the inhibitor. Clearly, the unheated greenhouse environment before enabling the propagator had sparked germination. Now those seedlings are potted up. Tree paeony `Canary` anyone?

Vegetables are always first in line when indoor sowing begins because I believe in starting their growth under cover and introducing them to the open garden as sturdy young plants from April onward according to the type. Of course, they could be sown directly into drills outdoors when the weather allows. However, this tradition, which I once followed avidly, carries

too many imponderables.

We are so reliant on favourable weather to get started in the garden, and time is of the essence given our relatively short growing season. Once seeds are sown a cold, wet spell can delay germination. A poor germination creates gaps in a row. Conversely, too thick a sowing presents a need for thinning-out of the crop. Garden pests lie in wait, anticipating the emergence of succulent young seedlings. There`s no fun in waiting two weeks for courgettes to germinate outdoors then find that they`ve been consumed at the seedling stage by slugs overnight. Grow your own to a substantial stage before planting or, buy plug plants, and you avoid these problems.

So, having started the most cold-tolerant vegetables under cover first (broad beans et al), the perpetual spinach, beetroot, carrot, runner bean, sweet corn, courgette, are currently being sown. They're going into modular trays or small pots according to type. The toughest plants can expect to be transferred as sturdy young plants into the vegetable beds in early April.

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Our chitting of first early potatoes began in mid-February by placing them, eyes upward, in seed trays, better still trays with modules which I use. They stand in the greenhouse with lots of light but no artificial heat, so fleece or newspaper goes over them when frost is forecast. They currently have sturdy green shoots one centimetre long. This will give them a flying start in

the garden.

Given reasonable weather over Easter weekend they'll be planted by trowel in a different bed to last year that has a decent organic content. With the shoot tips 8 to 10 centimetres below soil level, I anticipate them breaking surface, weather permitting, within two to three weeks. That's when they`re most vulnerable to frost but earthing-up soil from either side of the row will

keep them safe a while longer. Ten weeks is a reasonable growing period but why wait so long? We planted three large pots with potato tubers, three to a pot, last month.

`Foremost,` `Charlotte` and `Red Duke of York` currently stand on the greenhouse border and will offer an early taster. Lettuce sown alongside them has just germinated. It will offer plenty of picking between now and May, before making way for the tomato plants. Meanwhile in the garden, rhubarb stems are heading skyward under the inverted forcing pot. It's all taking-off in

the garden!

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