After three long months of blistering heat, smoky haze and having a water can glued to one hand, even the most evangelical of gardeners can find themselves feeling just a little enervated and gone-to-seed by the end of the long summer season.
Tempting as it may be to race off the the shops for that quick-fix, store-bought seedling panacea, I have always found that my waning enthusiasm makes a much faster and more rejuvenating recovery after a solid morning session of autumnal exercise. It also proves to be a great family friendly activity for those little green thumbs who may be having an extended period away from the school house.
Ready. Set. Time to go wild for the Seedy Winter Workout Session…
Kit up: you don’t need to race out and purchase the Lorna Lemon, rolled-gold standard of equipment to realise an impressively bulky result but you do need some basic essentials: pots (these can be made from newspaper/old egg cartons/milk bottles, collected from tip shops/ second-hand websites or purchased from the local gardening store); labels (paddle pop sticks or old milk bottles cut into strips work well) good quality potting mix; a trowel or large spoon; and a suitable location in dappled sunlight (I use a seed raising greenhouse…mostly for the shelf space!!).
Squats and chin ups: if you’re anything like me, then searching for that “carefully filed” seed collection saved from last season’s harvest, can involve lots of crouching, lifting and pulling oneself up on the edge of cupboard shelves…just in case that hidden box of growing treasures is lurking behind those bagged up sacks of pre-loved clothes. In addition to my own stock (or those swapped with neighbours, friends and fellow community gardeners), I also tend to plant a range of heirloom varieties of my family’s favourite eatable numbers, the seeds of which are purchased from reputable online stores or my local garden centre.
Dips: you’ll be doing multiple repeats of these arm building digs as you plunge your trowel/spoon into that bag of potting mix, so best to find a comfortable place to lay out your kit so as to make for an efficient transfer from bag to pot. An outdoor table can double as a potting bench, otherwise you can always go old school and lay at a sheet on the ground (to catch residual potting mix) instead.
Scatter runs: and so we reach the endurance aspect of your whole, garden-body workout. Planting seeds can be tiresome and lengthy work. Patience is a virtue. Particularly if you happen to love having a number of different varieties of each food plant! I always work to a general rule of sowing to a depth of three times the diameter of the seed. The easiest way I have found to do this is to first fill all the pots ½ (for the larger seeds like peas) to 2/3 full with potting mix. After selecting the packet to be planted, I then pour a small amount of the seed into my hand, scatter a pinch relatively thickly over the soil, then cover with approximately three times the diameter worth of potting mix. Repeat…times the number of different seed varieties to be planted.
Hydrate: like all well functioning systems, regular intakes of water is essential. I tend to wait until I have planted up all my seeds and then give the whole lot a good dousing with the rose spout, being careful (by moving the watercan quickly in a back and forth motion) not to allow the water to fall too heavily onto the surface of the soil: we wouldn’t want to wash away all our hard work!
Stretch session: I’d love to tell you that now all the hard work is done you can walk away and wait for your growing bounty to emerge…but then I’d be telling a very disappointing lie! Depending on the ambient air temperatures, the seeds can take between three days and two weeks (especially for slow germinating seedlings like onions) to awaken their green tendrils. During this time the seedlings need to be placed in a warm place out of direct sunlight and watered regularly. I like to place them near the front door with a bulb sprayer kept handy so that whenever my kids and I walk past we can give them a good squirt: a fun activity for the whole family…particularly if it results in a friendly bout of water warfare. When the baby leaves are well and truly above the soil surface, the pots should be moved into a position in dappled sunlight or a place that receives plenty of morning sunlight.
Cooling down: after a beefy surge of growth and maturation, your little sprouts will be well on their way to being mean, eatable greens. To help boost the strongest of the bunch along, some tough and some what cool hearted culling needs to occur.
Depending on the size of the pot, and the location of the seedlings within the pot (best to select those growing closest to the middle), I usually cull the sprouts back to half a dozen of the healthiest looking specimens. As for those lesser developed runts of the bunch, don’t be too hasty to send them compost-heap-packing, they make a refreshing addition to that salubrious, Saturday Pizza Night, salad.
It’s always a rewarding experience to reflect back to the beginning of the workout session and give yourself a well deserved pat on the back for making it through the restorative journey. Once those dinky dazzlers, have bulked up to a reasonable size (I usually wait till they have atleast two sets of true leaves) they are ready to graduate into the big leagues: the planting bed in that beloved vegetable patch…
…Ready, set…Plant it out!!