With the nights drawing out very noticeably and a slight rise in temperature the garden is starting to come alive. Spring really is only a few weeks away. In the greenhouse the plants are starting to sprout into life. Cuttings over-wintered in the shelter of the glasshouse have rooted and are ready to plant out. But the best is yet to come. The seed season is upon us and experienced gardeners are already nurturing precious seed for early crops of the favourite plants.
This year I'm spreading out my sowing activity and waiting a bit before I start in earnest. Partly as I don't heat my greenhouse, instead relying on basal heat from a trusty Sankey Propagator (www.rsankey.com) and also because I find that by the time I get to May, when there may still be a frost, the greenhouse (and cold frame) is literally bursting at the seams with pots and pots of developing seedlings that still can't be planted out in case of frost. So, for some crops I will simply sow a few seeds on a fortnightly basis and keep on sowing right into June and July, and for others such as greenhouse tomatoes, I may even resort to buying ready grown plants from a quality supplier. Even for an experienced grower, buying mail order plug plants is an excellent way to get the best of both worlds. There are some seeds like begonias and busy Lizzies that need such an early start and so much mollycoddling to get good results, that it's often a good idea to let the experts do it for you. There are many mail order companies sowing and growing from seed and providing plants to gardeners at just the right point in the season. Check out the range on offer from companies such as Gardening Direct (www.gardeningdirect.co.uk) and Suttons Seeds (www.suttons.co.uk).
My 2010 seeds have arrived thanks to Thompson & Morgan (www.thompson-morgan.com) and Unwins (www.unwins.co.uk) and are carefully filed in my seed hamper waiting for me to get started. I have washed my pots, modules and root trainers and the seed compost is now warming in the greenhouse ready for action. It's an exciting time and one that most gardeners enjoy.
When it comes to sowing seeds every gardener has a different preferred method. I'm not a fan of seed trays, I like my seedlings to have a bit more root space, so I prefer to use small flower pots, modules or Root Trainers (www.ronaash.co.uk) depending on what I am growing. Large seeds that develop big root runs quickly such as peas and beans are sown singly into Root Trainers where there is plenty of room for them to develop. Slightly smaller seeds but those that are large enough to handle are sown singly or in pairs into individual modules. When both seeds germinate the weaker one is removed leaving the strongest to develop on its own. I use this method for tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and courgettes. For fine seeds such as salads I sow them thinly into individual pots and then they are thinned out or pricked out when they are large enough to handle.
I also rarely sow my seeds direct into the garden soil, preferring to get them started in clean, fresh, dedicated seed compost in the greenhouse and then growing them on until they are ready to plant out and able to withstand some of the ravages of the weather and even some other garden pests.
Visit the Author's website: http://www.hartley-botanic.co.uk/ranges/hartley_greenhouse_range.php