25 February 2010

Sowing seeds in February - Tomatoes, Beans & Peas

As our 11 year old was at home unexpectedly from school yesterday with a tummy bug, I had to cancel my plans and spend a day at home. Looking around the house I could see lots of jobs waiting to be done but none of them took my fancy. And then I remembered my seedlings. I’d taken four trays along to Tuesday’s spring workshop to demonstrate the different stages of growth, and they were all now well overdue for transplanting.




Despite having forgotten to pre-soak the seeds, the majority of Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum) had germinated and all of the Sweet Peas (Lathyrus odoratus) and Marigolds (Tagetes petula). I’m really pleased that I got it together and sowed them early this year. Nasturtiums are a great companion plant – the colourful flowers attract predatory insects as well as deterring whiteflies and cucumber beetles. You can also add the edible petals to summer salads surprising your families. Last year I’d sown a packet of expensive Nasturtium seeds into pots and none germinated. This year I bought three packets from Aldi and am sowing them all!


Having moved all the seedlings from seed trays to pots I then had a root around my seed tin to see what else I could sow. I’ve been saving toilet roll inserts for the beans and peas so I squashed them until they were square shaped (they fit in a tray easier), filled them up with a multipurpose compost (the instructions on the bag told me it was good for seedlings) and planted them up with peas (Pisum sativum). This year we’ll be sowing two varieties Kelveden Wonder – a 1st early wrinkled variety that we enjoyed last year, as well as a mange tout round seed variety (Oregon Sugar Pod) that I’ll be sowing directly into the soil sometime in April when it's warmed up. By starting some of the seeds undercover I’ll be sowing successionally – hopefully avoiding a glut later in the year. The peas I started off in November in the polytunnel are starting to come up already, despite the snow outside.


I’ve also sown a few pots of globe artichokes – last year I sowed one from seed which produced four lovely heads but I didn’t cover the crown over winter and have lost it to the frost. These are spectacular looking plants that aren’t out of place in an ornamental garden. If you don’t eat the heads you can cut them and dry them as they make unusual autumnal flower decorations.


Those jobs done I had another look in the tin and I found my tomato (Lycopersicon) seeds. I hadn’t realised that I’ve been building up a collection of several varieties, thanks to magazine freebies and friends and am determined this year to keep better tabs on what I sow. In the past I’ve been guilty of planting and labelling lots of seed trays and then forgetting to label the individual pots they’re moved into. This only became a problem when visitors to the garden started asking me what varieties of tomatoes I was growing and all I could do was vaguely wave my arms around listing a few but not knowing which was which.


So this year I’m planting: Totem - a dwarf bush (determinate) variety (so they don’t need side shooting) that should give large trusses of crimson fruit. This is apparently one of the best varieties for growing in pots, tubs and windowboxes where space is limited. I’m thinking of planting up windowboxes full of salad veg this year rather than bedding plants!


Sweet n Neat – this is n ultra compact, bush variety that only reaches about 25-30cm (10-12in) in height. It should produce good crops of sweet cherry-shaped fruit for continuous picking. Again ideal in patio containers and mixed planters and due to its compact habit, can even be grown on a sunny windowsill.


Garden Pearl - (this tiny bush variety survived amongst the shrubs and flowers till around October last year). It’s a compact outdoor bush tomato that’s been especially bred for use in hanging baskets and patio pots, giving an abundance of sweet and tasty cherry tomatoes making it great for tubs.


Roma VF – another bush variety so doesn't require support but should give us pasta type tomatoes that are great for cooking and bottling (I’ll try growing these in the tunnel and outdoors to see how they perform at our altitude).



Lastly Costoluto Fiorentino – a heavily ribbed, shiny red, full flavoured tomato. It should be ideal for sauces or making decent sandwich. This is an indeterminate variety (which means it will need strong staking and side shooting). I’ll be planting these in the polytunnel as they originate in Tuscany – a tad warmer than Carlow!



Twenty four modules have been sown in total with two seeds in each. I’m trying to restrict myself as I usually get carried away, sowing several packets and then giving them away to anyone I can persuade to take them. As we haven’t built the heated propagating bench yet (now expecting lots of family visits this year so funds have been re-directed to house decoration), I’m starting all my seedlings off in an unheated propagator that’s sitting on top of some thick corregated cardboard in a south facing window. Once germinated and transplanted I then move them into the tunnel.



Just a note on seeds: to have a strictly organic garden you should be buying and sowing organic seeds. However, this isn’t always possible when you’re on a tight budget and especially when you’re starting off. Where possible avoid sowing anything that’s been pre-treated with fungacides or pesticides – chossing F1 Hybrid varieties that have been bred for their resistant qualities instead.

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