Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Early Seed Sowing....

The days are getting longer and there's real heat again in the sun, so long as you're sheltered from the biting cold winds of course !

It's that time of the year when all gardeners are itching to start growing things, but experience tells us that it's still far too early to sow without the right conditions.

However, now that we have mains electricity in the big greenhouse, we can use heated propagators to get a headstart with the seed sowing.   Historically, we've started most of our seeds off in the house on the kitchen and workshop windowsills, but even in these south-facing locations the overall light levels are not quite enough to stop some seedlings becoming blanched and 'leggy'.

I've two heated propagators that the wife bought me for Christmas many years ago - we had electrical power to the greenhouse in our previous house - but they've just been languishing in the shed here for the last six years.

When the sun's shining, the greenhouse can get quite warm even at this time of year.  We've already recorded temperatures approaching 30 degrees C in there, so the propagators are connected via a plug-in thermal switch, which only cuts in when the temperature drops below a preset level - in our case, I've set this to 17 degrees.

the thermostatic switch...

the heated propagators...

We've also put our cheapo polythene mini-greenhouse inside the big greenhouse, so we can use unheated covered seed trays with three levels of frost protection (also three levels of light reduction, of course, but germination is the top priority and the tray covers can be removed afterwards).

greenhouse within a greenhouse....

So what have we got in there ?
  • two 40-cell trays of Globo onions - one in the heated propagator and one unheated - we're quite late in sowing onions this year, because we were away for all of January and half of February.
  • one 40-cell tray with 28 Toledo leek seeds, and the remaining 12 cells with Mulhenburgis Capillaris, a pink ornamental grass, also in a heated propagator.
  • three small trays of five / six Iris seeds, of different flower colours.  The seeds have been in the fridge for the last three months, followed by one week of soaking in water, which should hopefully aid germination.
  • three small trays of Aubrieta, of different flower colours.  These are low ground-cover perennials that flower in the spring.
  • a half size tray of Begonia 'Supercascade', 10 seeds each of different flower colours.  We've a few begonias already, and Monty Don might not be keen but I like them, mainly because of their bright colours and very long flowering season.
  • five mini pots with Jalapeno pepper seeds.
  • three 3" pots with Monkey Puzzle tree seeds.  We also have another three in the house, in case it's too warm inside the propagator.  I just fancied growing these beautiful prehistoric trees, they're supposed to germinate in just a couple of months but then grow so slowly that they can remain in pots for a decade or more, so they won't take up much garden space.

We've also planted fifteen seed potatoes in five of our large white buckets, and placed them in the small greenhouse for frost protection where they'll remain for at least the next six weeks or so.

It's still too early to start off the tomatoes, cucumbers and melons, which I'll sow in around three weeks time, but I've ordered some fresh sweet pepper seeds which will go into 3" pots inside the house as soon as they arrive.  In my experience, peppers can take a long time to get going and so they need to be started early.

Elsewhere in the garden outside, our autumn-planted garlic is up, with 19 from 20 showing.

garlic in 6" pots outside...

And 100% success with our Iris bulbs, which will need planting out very soon.   These should flower this year, whereas those we're growing from seed might not.

irises from bulbs planted in the autumn....

We put 70 Tulip bulbs in our new bed last November, in seven groups of ten, and they're all starting to come through.  I was worried that this area might have been too wet for Tulips, because it can get quite waterlogged at times, but we haven't had a lot of rain this winter and they all seem fine.

tulips just poking through....

We also planted around 50 red onions from sets in October, and they've grown away well.  The hope is that they'll be ready in midsummer, well ahead of our onions from seed.

young red onions....


  1. That trick works well - yours is much neater than mine. I have a sensor embedded in a load of sand in a frame made from pallet wood, using with a large heating mat from ebay under the lot. Impressed you're getting 17C - our conservatory where I'm doing this is north facing, so you are doing much better.

    Illuminating the top when they come out using CFLs helps us get things started earlier for planting out in polytunnels too. I tried using 12V strips of 5050 LEDs last year but they just don't have enough grunt.

    1. A huge area of south-facing glass helps enormously in raising the temperature, even in the late winter !

      I've had a max-min thermometer inside one of the heated propagators since I started to use them, and even on frosty nights the temperature's never dropped below 8 degrees in there.

      I've already 30 out of 40 onion seeds sprouting in the propagator - the other batch, in the covered-tray-within-a-greenhouse-within-a-greenhouse aren't showing at all as yet. Aubrieta seedlings in the propagator are also up.

      We've enough daylight now, more than 11 hours, so we haven't used our homemade LED growlight in earnest this year, although it's still set up high above the bench and timed to come on for a few hours after dark, but just because the greenhouse looks beautiful when it's lit up with a soft unearthly blue glow !