Archive for the ‘Peas’ Category

March update

March 30, 2017

Well, summer is officially over, but the weather remained warm all through March, with temperatures in the high 20’s and sometimes nudging into the low 30’s.

I’ve pulled out most of the tomatoes—the plants looked awful, with dead, shrivelled lower leaves, extending upwards in some cases. Surprisingly, yields were pretty good, especially of the cherries, but then there were more plants of those than the bigger varieties. I didn’t bother to dry any cherries, but instead froze a large box of them, to use for winter soups and casseroles. There’s still one self-sown plant going well in a wicking box down the back, just starting to bear fruits.

I picked 2 more eggplants and there are still 3 on the plants plus a couple more flowers which may produce fruits. I’ll definitely grow these again next season. Six fruits from 3 plants wasn’t a bad effort for a first-time growing :

I decided to try peas in a ‘tepee’. It’s worked well for beans in the past. These are a tall, purple-podded variety. They germinated well….. :

…..and after a week or so I put up the supporting strings for them to climb on :

I’ve put more peas in a wicking box. These are a short-stemmed variety which have a lot of tendrils so they hang onto each other. I’ll just put 4 stakes in the corners of the box with a string around them to keep the whole bunch from falling over and that should do. The tiny seedlings are self-sown chickweed which the chooks will get eventually :

I may get some pumpkins this year. There are 2 on this plant. With any luck they’ll get big enough to ripen before the weather breaks:

Capsicums, sharing a wicking box with climbing beans, are fruiting :

The prize for the top-bearing plants this season would have to go to the 5 thornless blackberry plants I put in 2 years ago. At the height of the season I was picking a small handful of delicious berries every couple of days. I decided I would definitely get more bare-rooted plants from my local nursery this winter and then discovered Bunnings had them for sale in small pots. They’re a Nelly Kelly variety :

I’ve put one in a large tub beside the deck and will train it up onto the deck :

I haven’t decided where to plant the second one yet. I didn’t keep the tag of the original plants and think they were just called ‘thornless blackberries’, without a variety name. They were just pencil-sized, bare-rooted stems when I planted them. These Nelly Kelly varieties have thin little stems and small leaves. Maybe that’s just due to being young plants in pots. It will be interesting to see how they turn out.

It’s been a good year for pepinos :

The new season’s silver beet is also bearing well in a wicking box :

I had a wicking box on the deck with Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) in it. Also known as arthritis plant, it’s native to Asia and is reputed to cure many ills as well as arthritis. I intended to use it to make a herbal tea, but didn’t like the bitter flavour and so it wasn’t used much. I planted a pepino in there to keep it company. A self-sown alpine strawberry also appeared :

The pepino grew well and produced several fruits but eventually got big and woody and I hacked it back, not caring whether it sprouted again or not, because I had others in the garden. It didn’t…..and the gotu kola took over. I trimmed it back occasionally but generally ignored it.  Finally, it occurred to me that the wicking box was just being wasted and I’d be better to plant it with something I would actually use.

So, I tipped it on its side and then upended it :


As I suspected, the bottom half of the soil mixture was bone dry and the roots in it were dead. I’d been watering it every day, but the water was running out of the drainage holes before it was able to soak into the soil and saturate the lower reservoir. The plant had been living on its daily drink. The box just had too much growth in it.

The dry soil was friable and worth saving. There had been worms in it and they’d either died or moved on, so it was likely most of the soil would be worm castings. I broke it up with the spade and sieved it :

I got a large tub of soil that will be useful as a seed-raising mix :

I filled the wicking box with new compost and sowed seeds of mizuna, a fast-growing Asian green, which both I and the chooks like :

A few weeks later and it looked like this :

The grassy stuff is wheat. The chooks don’t eat the wheat in their grain mix and wherever I use the chook poo compost made with the floor sweepings from their run, I get wheat germinating. I decided to leave it there. The chooks will only eat wheat if it’s sprouted first, so it makes some sense to grow it for them for sprouting. I used to grow it years ago, but gave up when the parrots kept raiding the ears while they were green. Because there are still cabbage white butterflies about (and will be, until the weather gets colder), I’ve had to put a cover over the box to prevent the female butterflies laying eggs on the mizuna :

Mosquito netting is the only thing that will keep the butterflies out. I’ve always used half-inch netting in the past but was stunned to see a butterfly fold her wings back and actually squeeze through it. So now I have a (relatively) new wicking box with a more useful crop.

I planted garlic on the equinox. Only a few cloves have sprouted—not worth a photo. I’ve failed dismally with garlic the last couple of years, but I still keep trying. Last year the plants rotted away in winter; the year before that they didn’t produce any bulbs. I’ve had good garlic in the past—don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I felt a bit better when my Italian neighbours told me their garlic has failed too—if Italians can’t grow garlic, there must be something more at work than my own incompetence.

I tend to divide my growing year into 2 seasons—spring/summer (October-March) and autumn/winter (April-September) and always grow more food in the spring/summer season. In total, in the season just finished, I managed to grow about 30 varieties of food, including more than a dozen different fruits; 6 greens; 4 root crops; onions and leeks and asparagus, plus a variety of herbs. Oh, and eggs (the Girls helped with those). There wasn’t a huge amount of anything (except maybe tomatoes), but I’m aiming for diversity anyway. Pretty happy with what I’m able provide for myself.

We had 37 mm rainfall in March; 32 mm in the 3rd week and 5 mm in the final week. Melbourne’s average is 44 mm. Let’s hope the warm weather and rain continues through autumn.


Those thornless blackberries from Bunnings—

I went out to take a few more pics for this post and noticed that the blackberry I put in the large tub by the deck had a flower on it :

It’s white! The other thornless blackberries I bought at the local nursery had pink flowers :

So there is a difference. I think I need to do some research on thornless blackberries. As I understand it, they’re hybrids of the normal blackberry with something else. Something else what? The first 5 plants I put in have had really good yields. I hope these 2 new varieties are as good.

April update

May 1, 2016

I found a spot for my little Australian native Finger Lime in a large tub beside the deck. It looked so big in its original nursery pot and now looks so tiny dwarfed by the gas bottles. I had planted a half circle of purple-podded peas at the rear of the tub and they had only just germinated, so it will have some company and they will put some nitrogen into the soil for it. I’m still tossing up whether to get another one to plant in the garden near the regular citrus trees :


Tamarillos are starting to ripen and so are persimmons :


I wasn’t sure about the persimmons, even though the colour looked right, they were still hard, so I picked just one and left it on the bench for a week and thankfully it softened and became edible. This is what a friend told me to do years ago. She had a huge tree and I can remember visiting and seeing dozens of bright orange persimmons lining the window sills in the kitchen and living room.

I’m pleased with my garlic so far, growing in the new bath. Hope it’s better than last year when the bulbs I picked were so small as to be practically useless :


Carrots direct sown in a wicking box :


My local greengrocer had locally grown Pink Lady apples for under $2 a kilo, so I got some to dry. I’ll chop these into smaller pieces in the Thermomix and use them in a mixture of chopped dried apricots and sultanas, which I add to my (cooked) rolled oats for winter breakfasts :


I dried some lime slices at the same time. Don’t know what I’ll do with these :


My Jerusalem artichokes were a dismal failure, but then I wasn’t surprised. They were in a terrible spot under gum trees, got very little water through the summer and almost no nutrients. So this is the entire crop. I’m not eating any, but replanting them right away into a large tub which will be well watered and fed through next summer.


The solitary yellow tamarillo has produced more fruit than the four red ones, which, for some reason, lost most of their flowers during the summer :


The trouble with most of these fruits is that they’re well out of reach, because tamarillo plants do this :


A tall skinny trunk with an umbrella of foliage at the top. In The Complete Book of Fruit Growing in Australia, Louis Glowinski recommends pinching out the tip growth when the plant is a metre high to force it to branch. Well, I did that with this plant and it still reached for the heavens (it might have been a little over a metre). Nowadays I pinch out the tip growth when the seedling is only 25 cm high (no mature trees from that experiment to show as yet). Luckily the fruits fall when they’re really ripe, even though they’re usually OK to eat before that.

My Naranka Gold pumpkin has been picked and is maturing enjoying the sun on top of the firewood box on the deck. I hope there’s plenty of seed inside as I’ve now run out and this one is grown exclusively for Coles supermarkets, so seed isn’t available to buy :


My yacon crop is better this year. I kept it well-watered and fed over summer, so I’m hoping for some decent tubers. It’s planted under a couple of tamarillos (note the trunks either side), so it was always protected from the direct sun which makes the soft leaves wilt readily :


I cleaned all the old summer crops out of the two planter boxes and planted some kale seedlings :


But there are still white butterflies about, so :


The climbing beans did so well in the milk bottle planters, I thought I’d try some peas. Only three per bottle and they’ll require careful tying up since they don’t twine like beans, but hey, anything’s worth a try :


The strawberry wicking buckets are still producing a few strawberries :


During the month we had a welcome 50 mm of rain which greened everything up nicely, but we still need much more to make up for the very dry spring and summer months. Melbourne’s average for April is 53 mm.

Last but not least, the Girls have all stopped laying and are having their autumn/winter break. I don’t expect any more eggs until September at the earliest. I’ll be buying eggs for the first time in 13 months. This was the first laying year for the three newbies (Bonny, Missy & Clover) and between them they laid 382 eggs. Five year-old Molly would have contributed some of those, but not many. She’s a senior cit now and just likes to spend her days lolling in the sun. When she does produce an egg it probably surprises her more than it does me.

March update

April 2, 2016

The Big Dry persists.

In the first 8 months of last year, we had 424 mm rain, an increase of 17 mm over Melbourne’s average for that period. In the last 7 months since then, we’ve had only 50% of normal rainfall and that was in the critical spring/summer months, when plants are putting on growth, flowering and setting seed and fruit is swelling. I’ve tried to keep water up to all the fruit trees and berry-producing shrubs and my latest water bill shows I’ve used much more than normal. And that was with 18,000 litres in 3 tanks, which quickly ran out. The 3 large pools at the rear of the property have dried out; the third one (which is up to my waist when full), has only ever dried out once before in the last 16 years.

The rest of the plants—mostly natives and those in the bush have been left to survive as well as they can. Many have died. Even the bracken fern in the bush is looking peaky and when that happens, you know it’s dry!

So, I wait and hope. The ground is cooling down and without rain soon, I don’t expect to find many edible mushrooms, not that there are ever many of those anyway, but it is nice to get at least one hunt-and-gather meal.

Rain or no rain, life goes on.

All the summer veggies have been pulled out and the wicking boxes and tubs topped up with fresh compost. I’ve sown peas at the rear of most boxes, where there is wire for them to climb on :


I planted my garlic on the 21st of the month….it being the autumn equinox. I had prepared a bed down the back earlier in the year, but it is all so dry down there that I decided to plant it in the other half of the new bath, where the soil is richer and moister :


That’s self-sown mizuna on the left. The chooks are getting most of it.


Within 10 days green shoots were showing :


I am so pleased with my quinces. I put apple socks on some of them, otherwise I wouldn’t have harvested any :


This is what the birds did to those that weren’t protected :


When they had turned yellow I picked about half a dozen and left them on the kitchen bench for a couple more weeks. There are still another half dozen on the tree. It was my first real harvest. Not bad for something that was grown from a seed :


I cooked them in the slow cooker for 10 hours. 700 ml of water, a cup of sugar, a couple of cinnamon sticks, a dash of lemon juice and one star anise (thanks to Y for the recipe). The flavour is superb and while the colour isn’t the deepest I’ve seen, it’s the best I’ve ever achieved :


If the tree fruits as well next season, I’ll protect more of the fruit and do some serious bottling.

The leaves on the persimmon are starting to colour up and fall and the fruits I’ve ‘apple-socked’ are becoming more visible :


Are they starting to colour up under their socks? :


Yep, looking good :


Now I can see them more easily, I can count them and it looks like about a dozen :



The critical time will be when all the leaves are gone and just the fruits are left hanging on the tree. I’ll have to pray the socks will do their job and keep birds and possums off, or failing that, sit under the tree 24/7 with a shotgun. This will only be the second year I’ve had a harvest off the tree and it’s 8 years old. Persimmons are one of the most beautiful fruits I’ve ever tasted. This variety isn’t the one that’s eaten when it’s crunchy; it’s the one that goes soft and the inside is like rich apricot jam. You slice off the top and spoon it out. I’m salivating just thinking about it.

Tamarillos are starting to ripen, too. There won’t be as many this year as something caused most of the flower buds to fall :


My Naranka Gold pumpkin has lost most of its leaves and I’m hoping the single fruit will be ripe enough to contain fertile seed. I used my last seed to grow it and haven’t seen any more for sale (it’s grown exclusively for Coles) :


Seedlings of kale, broccoli and Chinese cabbage are waiting in the wings. I’m keeping them in the polyhouse as there are still white butterflies about :


I’ve sown carrots in 2 wicking boxes and leeks are on the way for winter. There are a few green capsicums still on the bushes and chickweed has self-sown in a wicking box. The chooks will get most of it, but I’m cutting it for scrambled eggs for me.

All I’m picking now from the garden is silver beet, a bit of rhubarb and some Asian greens. Oh, and Bonny the chook is still laying but only a couple a week now. But there are tomatoes, tomato puree and beans in the freezer, 2 large jars of dried tomatoes in the cupboard and pickled cucumbers in the fridge. Summer’s bounty is over until next season.

The winter garden

June 9, 2014

Not much is happening and I’m not picking much. There are still a few tamarillos* on the trees and in the greens department there’s silver beet, dandelion greens and warrigal greens. There are oranges and (very) small mandarins.

The kale seedlings finally grew big enough to plant and I bought a couple of punnets of broccoletti from the old chap at the Sunday Market. They’ve all gone into the big planter box…:

…and there’s more kale in a wicking box…:

…and some climbing peas in a wicking box behind the potato onions…:


…and dwarf peas in another wicking box:


There’s just one celery plant:


Carrots are too small to pick.

Potato onions still looking OK.

Garlic likewise.

And leeks.

And that’s about it!

One good thing…I finally managed to buy a bamboo plant:


This is Bambusa oldhamii. I’ve wanted a bamboo for ages and finally Bunnings had them in stock. This one will grow to 12 metres. I want to use the culms for stakes, bean tepees and trellises and whatever else I can think of.

This is a clumping bamboo, not a running one, so it won’t take over the neighourhood. I’m not sure if rabbits like bamboo, but the wire circle means I’m not taking any chances.

I’ve started building the new chook run and coop, but I won’t write about it until it’s all finished.

* Just an update on the tamarillo seed for those who wanted some. I haven’t forgotten you! I extracted seed and dried it and it was very thin and immature-looking, so I’m leaving some of the remaining fruits on the tree till they’re almost ready to fall and hoping the seed will look more mature.

Update on peas

May 12, 2012

I wrote a while ago that I was ‘doing’ peas this year, by which I meant, trying out several varieties of peas for ease of growing and yields.

All the varieties are up and running; most are flowering and I’ve harvested some, so it’s time for a few preliminary comments.

Firstly, I don’t grow snow peas, sugar-snap peas or any of the many edible-podded varieties. I don’t eat them because they just don’t agree with my system. The last few meals I had of them (years ago), were followed by ‘many happy returns’, so I stopped eating them. Shelled peas are OK; it’s obviously something in the pods of the others that doesn’t agree with me.

As with beans, germination of pea seeds is very quick. First sowings in February, into warm soil, germinated in just under a week. The same varieties, sown at the end of April (cooler soil) are now taking twice as long.

I put the tall varieties on  tepee—a stake in the centre of a wire circle, with strings leading from the centre top of the stake (nail hammered in) down to the outer edge of the wire:

It works in principle and does very well for beans that happily twine around the strings. The peas should grab the string with their tendrils and haul themselves up this way. In practice, they need a bit of encouragement to actually find the string, preferring to wander away from it. The varieties I grew (Telephone & Purple-podded), were a bit too tall for the tepee and got to the top before they flowered and then flopped everywhere. Wind is their real enemy at this time. So I need a taller tepee or a different kind of structure—a tall frame of some sort that holds them in place. Not sure if I want to go to all that trouble.

The dwarf varieties were better behaved, although I haven’t tried any yet on a tepee. Instead, they were planted in wicking tubs and wicking boxes. In a wicking tub, a circle of wire sitting around the inner edge of the tub keeps the plants confined and a few crossing sticks give the central ones something to hang on to:

The dwarf varieties flower first because they get to their mature height more quickly. Blue Bantam from Fothergills Seeds flowered in just 34 days. Massey Gem, another dwarf from Eden Seeds, took 41 days. I was picking both these varieties at 70 days. The tall Purple-podded climber from The Lost Seed flowered in 60 days and isn’t ready to pick yet after nearly 90 days.

So if you’re after a quick yield, the dwarf forms are the way to go.

The most interesting of the varieties is one I call Field Pea, because a crop of them came up in pea straw I bought for mulch and I collected their seeds. This one is a semi-dwarf (getting to a bit over a metre high) and has so many tendrils which all grab onto one another, making a patch of plants hang together like a stiff bush. All they need for support is a central stake with a coil of wire around it and they’ll grow into a sort of column. I planted these in a tub on the deck. The rear ones have attached themselves to the wires between the deck posts and the others are hanging onto them. They flowered in 71 days and I’m just about to pick the first of them, after 90 days:

I began to look at the flowering habits of all the varieties. The more flowers the higher the yield. They all seem to produce one flower stem from  each leaf axil (that’s the junction between the stem leaf and the main stem). Like this:

So presumably, a tall plant will have more leaves up the stem, more leaf axils, more flowers and more pods. A dwarf plant won’t have as many.

But here’s an interesting thing which I just noticed. The Field Peas have a single stem coming out of the leaf axil which branches into two flowers. How clever is that? More bang for your buck:

Note the mass of wiry tendrils on this variety.

I’m shelling the pods as soon as they’re picked, weighing and blanching them then putting them in the freezer. I’ll have to admit there’s not a lot. I’m bemoaning the fact that the pods (probably more than half the total weight) get thrown away (or at least into the compost). Not good if you want high yields. Are peas worth it? Not if you want peas with every meal and only if you have acres of them. I’ll have to give growing peas some thought.

In the meantime I’d love to know more about this Field Pea variety. Is it grown just to provide pea straw for gardeners? Or is it grown for the peas and the straw is only a profitable sideline? The central part of the flower is pink and the rear petals are white:

In the Purple-podded variety the central part of the flower is deep pink and the back petals are purplish-pink. Real elegance:

All the other varieties I’m growing have white flowers.

What is this pink-flowered variety?

Missing out—or not

April 14, 2012

I’ve been out of major action for over a week with a torn back muscle (or ligament; don’t know what, but seeing the GP next week).

I’ve been hitting the anti-inflammatories hard and doing gentle, stand-up-at-the-bench work, like sowing seeds and taking cuttings, and a fair bit of sitting on the deck in the sun, with a coffee, chook-watching. I need the laughs!

It’s amazing how quickly things in the garden go on without you when you’re not there every day to observe.

This loquat is finally in bud, so I’ll have a new fruit sensation to enjoy in a few months. It was planted 6  years ago, is now 3 metres tall and about time it earned its keep. With the truss of flowers at the tip of the branch like that, it looks like it will be easy to get a bag over the top if the parrots and possums get interested:

The purple-podded peas have reached the top of their tepee and are starting to flower—58 days from sowing the seeds. Actually they’ve lost their way and spread to the side of the tepee, so I’ll have to show them the way back with some extra string:

Before I hurt my back I managed to erect a protective cover over one of the wicking boxes and I’ve been gradually planting brassica seedlings in there, where the Cabbage White butterflies can’t get at them. The cover is just cheap mosquito netting I bought on special at Spotlight. I think it looks rather cute:

I bought a punnet of Red Russian kale at a Sunday market and potted them into small tubes. They were being kept in the polyhouse until butterfly season had well and truly ended, but since the covered wicking box looks so good, I think I’ll cover another one and plant them:

Have you ever had that potatoes-forgotten-in-the-back-of-the-cupboard feeling? I remember now, these ones had green skins and I didn’t want to eat them, so thought I’d put them away till they sprouted and then plant them. Waste not, want not, in other words. Or maybe famous last words:

The last small sowing of butter beans flowered and set beans. I picked them all today—200 gms in all, and that will be it for beans for another year. I never buy beans, just preferring the fresh taste of home grown. I usually do them in wicking boxes and start planting on or near October 1st and every month from then on till February. There are still jars of pickled beans in the fridge. I didn’t freeze any this year, because it wasn’t a success last year. For some reason they had that awful, bland freezer flavour.

Garlic & The Year of the Pea

March 26, 2012

I planted all my garlic last week, about 60 cloves in all. I always do it at the autumn equinox. Unfortunately, last year’s harvest wasn’t good enough to replant and I’ve had to buy new bulbs. I’ve been getting miserably small bulbs over the last 2 years. I don’t think I’m feeding it enough.

When I first started growing garlic, I did what most references I read said to do—plant cloves on the shortest day and harvest on the longest. Those first bulbs I got were so disappointingly tiny that I was ready to give up. I must have missed harvesting one, because it re-sprouted the next autumn and eventually grew into a giant! So from then on, I’ve planted my cloves in autumn (at which time they sprout within a week) and harvested them when the leaves brown and wither. Longer growing season = bigger bulbs (in theory).

This year I’m ‘doing’ peas. They’re so easy to grow and so useful to have in the freezer, for adding to soups, casseroles, stir-fries, risotto and pasta dishes.

So far, I have 11 varieties to try—for flavour, yield and ease of growing.

Climbing varieties:
Purple Podded
Angela’s Blue (also has purple pods)
Alderman (also known as Telephone)
Field *

Dwarf varieties:
Massey Gem
Blue Bantam
American Wonder

* I call these Field peas for want of a better name. They’re an unknown variety that came up in bales of pea straw I bought for mulch years ago. I saved seeds and have been growing them each year ever since. They’re really a semi-dwarf variety and they bear reasonably well.

I’m growing the climbing varieties in my wire circles where it’s easy to put up a tepee for them to climb on. These are Purple Podded, just starting to head up the strings:

I started sowing on 31st January with Field peas in a wire circle and in a large pot on the deck:

The dwarf varieties are being tried in wicking boxes and wicking tubs and some will also go into wire circles. These are Blue Bantam, in a wicking tub, sown 16th February. They’re flowering already, after 34 days. Looks like I’ll get an early yield. The wire circle helps keep them confined and the crossing sticks give them something to grab on to:

These are also Blue Bantam, in a wicking box. They’re flowering already, too:

As soon as I pick a handful of peas, I take them inside, put a small saucepan of water on the gas, and while it’s coming to the boil, I shell the peas. Toss them into the boiling water, give them a minute to blanch, scoop them out into a bowl of iced water to cool and then it’s into the freezer. Couldn’t be easier!

How much am I growing?…3 month update

February 6, 2012

I wrote this post back in November about how I was going to record all the food I bought and all the food I grew, for a whole year. I want to see what percentage of my food I’m actually providing from the garden.

I’m writing it all in an exercise book and I’ve also put it on a simple spreadsheet which adds up the totals and calculates the percentages.

So far, in the first 3 months, the average is 25%. In other words, of all the food that’s come into the house in that time, 25% of it has come from the garden.

Not too bad, but it’s summer—the best season of the food-growing year, with tomatoes, zucchini, beans, cucumbers & carrots in abundance and fruit (not a lot this year) from the trees. I know I won’t be able to keep that up over the winter. There’ll be peas, leeks,  plenty of greens (silver beet, chinese cabbage & kale), but my broccoli leaves a lot to be desired (I really must do something about keeping the Cabbage White Butterfly off the plants and I must learn to grow better broccoli). Right in the middle of winter there will also be oca & yacon and asparagus in the spring.

So it looks like I’ll finish up with something less than 25% for the year. The only thing that might boost the % is that I may not need to buy much over the winter. The fridge is bursting at the seams with bottles of pickled veggies, pesto, tomato paste, pasta sauce and marmalade. There will be tomatoes in the freezer and jars of dried tomatoes in the cupboard, plus potatoes under the sink and pumpkins, if I’m lucky. I have enough bread flour and wheat to make a year’s supply of bread and enough pasta and rice for at least that time, too.

Oh, and I forgot eggs. A dozen eggs a week will help boost the totals, too (speaking of which, top egg weight this past week was 53 g—going up!).

In no way am I self-sufficient in food and I doubt whether I ever can be, especially where meat protein is concerned, but it’s an interesting exercise anyway.

Around the garden

October 17, 2011

These purple podded peas are doing well. The colour will make searching for them amongst the foliage much easier:

The flowers are so pretty:

I love watching the girls dust bathe. They dig a large hole in the sand and all three crowd into it, tossing sand all over themselves. They aren’t vocalising much yet (as in clucking like a chook), but this exercise was accompanied by what I can only describe as the chook equivalent of moans of delight:

The leeks are starting to put up flower stems and getting tough, so I’ve picked them, sliced them and put them in the dehydrator. I’ll use them in soups & casseroles:

I’m putting two new wicking boxes up near the house. I’ve put them up on poly boxes to keep the rabbits off. I’m going to plant these up with Green Harvest’s Clucker Tucker mix for the chooks. At the moment I’m walking all the way down the back to pick greens for them every morning. The boxes are close to the chook run, so will save me some energy:

Growing vegetables from seed

September 13, 2011

It usually amazes me when someone asks what I think is a dumb question about growing plants from seed. I’m afraid I tend to forget that I’ve been doing it for 30 years or so and much of it is second nature. For newbies, growing from seed is, well….new. Totally.

So here’s some of my experiences. I hope you find them useful.


Most books will tell you to buy a bag of commercial seed-raising mix, put it in a pot, sprinkle the seed over the top, cover with a depth of mix equal to the thickness of the seed and water gently.

When the seedlings germinate (they never fail to do so in the books—real life is often quite different!), you ‘prick’ them out into larger pots to grow on. They always tell you to do this when the first set of true leaves appear. (Note: the first set of leaves to open from a germinating seed are the seed leaves or cotyledons. They are often very different in size and shape from the true leaves which appear next.)

Seedling with cotyledons and true leaves:

After that (say the books), you simply water the seedlings, perhaps add a little fertiliser and wait for them to grow big enough to plant out in their final position.

That’s all right as far as it goes, but seeds vary enormously. Here’s a few examples:

On the left is tiny, tiny seed (like dust) of camomile; then tomato, then peas and finally broad beans. It’s generally accepted that you sow large seed, like peas and beans, direct into the ground, bypassing the potting on stage. The disturbance to growth that would result from trying to pot on a large bean seedling (if you could do it without breaking the root) would set the plant’s growth back too much. Yet I still see punnets of pea and even bean seedlings for sale in nurseries and Sunday markets. Don’t buy them.

On the other hand, tiny seed means an equally tiny seedling with equally delicate roots. That means trying to prick out something very small with a  very large thumb and finger, while trying to avoid crushing the poor thing to death.

So one of my tricks for tiny seed is to sprinkle a pinch of seed onto the surface of a small pot and allow all to germinate, then thinning later to the strongest seedling (often nature will do this for you by simply wiping out the weakies). Be careful though, that the little group of seedlings don’t succumb to fungus that will wipe them all out. Good air circulation around them is important. The plant is allowed to grow on in the original pot, bypassing the pricking-out stage and can be put in the ground without too much transplanting shock. If you know your plants and their growth habit, sometimes it’s possible to leave 2 or 3 seedlings to grow on and plant out as a group. You wouldn’t do this for a large tree, but you might do it for an annual or perennial, where a group of 2 or more plants will grow successfully together.

This doesn’t mean that all tiny seed should be treated in this way. Some small seeds resent the disturbance of potting up and planting out and need to be direct sown. Carrots are an example (and parsnips, although their seed isn’t as small). They must be direct sown and thinned in the ground. Thinning should take place as early as possible, but sometimes I’ve been able to get away with a succession of late thinnings and get a feed of baby carrots into the bargain. It’s possible to buy carrot seed sealed at nice regular intervals in a ‘seed tape’, which means thinning isn’t necessary:

When sowing seed, you don’t need a deep pot; this is only wasteful of seed-raising mix. A shallow punnet will do. A margarine container is suitable, but even then that can be a bit deep. I’ve taken to using those black plastic trays that supermarket meat comes in. A few holes in the bottom for drainage is all that’s needed:

Don’t forget to label with the name of the species and the date. Now, not later. Memory doesn’t recognise ‘later’. And keeping written records is most important if and when you want to check back on germination times (for forward planning, for example).

Once your seeds have germinated, forget about potting on at the first true leaf stage. They’re mostly still too small to be handled. Wait till they’re a decent size and have a small cluster of roots. You might need to do some experimental poking about at this stage. Some seeds make good top growth and very little root growth. Others make a lot of roots and still look pretty peaky on top.

While they’re waiting to be potted up they will relish a dose of weak liquid fertiliser—diluted worm juice is good, if you have a worm farm. If you’re going to use pelleted fertiliser, make sure that no pellets are sitting right against the seedling’s tender stem. The sudden influx of strong chemical can dehydate and kill the seedling.

If you’ve started your seeds off inside then they should be given adequate light as soon as they germinate.  Otherwise they stretch up and become leggy and fall over. That usually means outside, although not in really hot sun.

You might start by using a commercial seed-raising mix and then decide to experiment with something else entirely. At various times I’ve used sieved potting mix, a mix of sand & cocopeat or commercial mix. At the moment I’m using a mix of 2 parts perlite:1 part cocopeat. It makes a nice light, but water-holding mix that makes it easy to lever out the seedlings.

I’ve found that the longer I leave them, the stronger they are and the better they transplant. Sometimes I may have to trim a long tap root, but as long as side roots have formed this isn’t usually a problem. If there are strong, multiple side roots sticking out in all directions and you can’t get them into the hole you’ve made without crushing them, then here’s a neat trick. Dip the root system in some water. As you pull it out, the roots clump down into a narrow cylinder, allowing the seedling to be dropped straight into its hole.

When I’m potting up seedlings I fill the pot with potting mix and make a hole with a thin flat stick by working it from side to side. The mix has to be damp for this, otherwise it will fall back into the hole and you won’t have a hole! So I fill my pots and water them overhead with a fine rose spray on the hose and let them drain.

Here’s a selection of some of the pots I might use for potting up seedlings:

The pots don’t need to be very big, otherwise you have to wait too long for the seedling to grow before planting out. I want to get a nice strong seedling into the ground and growing as soon as possible. The tall pot is 50 mm (2″) square and 150 (6″) mm deep. (By the way, that black thing in the cement course between the bricks behind the pot is a plump little spider. See the legs. She’s found a nice warm spot to shelter in).

Tomatoes get special treatment. I want them to be a decent size so I can put them out as soon as the weather warms in spring. I don’t want to be actually sowing seed in spring and planting seedlings in summer. I want them growing and fruiting as soon as possible. So tomatoes get sown inside in late winter, on a heated propagating mat. I soak the seeds overnight, then plant them in cell trays, 3 seeds to a cell. Later, I thin to the strongest seedling. It’s important that they get plenty of light once they’ve germinated, to stop them becoming leggy, so they’re moved right up against the glass window during the day and moved further back into the warm room at night.

Cell trays on the heated propagating mat:

The first batch of tomatoes has already germinated:

When the weather warms enough outside, the cell trays go into the polyhouse until the seedlings are big enough to transplant into their final pots. They get fed really well at this stage and are planted out from these small pots.

Tomato seedlings ready to plant (from last year):

It doesn’t really matter if tomato seedlings get leggy, because they can be planted out right up to the level of the first set of true leaves. New roots will grow all along the stem and make for a much stronger plant.

Here’s a batch of beetroot seedlings I bought at a Sunday Market recently. They’ve been allowed (by the grower, not me) to become a bit leggy and have flopped sideways. You want to try and prevent your seedlings from doing this:

I potted the seedlings on into tall tubes. I didn’t want to plant them straight into the garden as they’re too small, but I wanted to eliminate the legginess, so I’ve potted them right up to the base of the cotyledons:

The tall tubes will allow a good deep root system to develop, but won’t stop the formation of the swollen root. I’ll put them out when they’re bigger and the ground is warmer.

If you’re going to have a go at growing trees and shrubs from seed, you need to know a bit about the plant species and where it grows naturally, especially what the normal germination conditions are. For example, the seeds of many plants from the northern hemisphere drop in autumn and spend the winter buried under snow and won’t germinate until the spring. Being buried under snow is a requirement for germination—they won’t germinate without this happening to break dormancy and prime them for germination.

If there’s no snow handy, you can get around this by ‘stratifying’ the seeds. This means sowing them as normal, then putting the pot or punnet in a plastic bag and storing in the fridge for a few weeks.

Some seeds, e.g. wattles, have a hard seed coat that needs to be broken down to allow moisture to penetrate and start the germination process. In the natural environment, fire usually does this by cracking open the seed coat. To get around this, you can sow the seed, pile some leaves onto the pot (not a plastic one!) and set fire to them, however it’s easier to put the seeds in a cup and pour boiling water over them, then leave them to soak. The ones that swell up can then be planted.

Many plants that come from fire-dependent vegetation areas (Australia and South Africa come to mind) need fire to germinate their seeds, but it’s not only hard-coated  seeds that are in this category. In this case it’s chemicals in the smoke that trigger the seeds to germinate. Experimental work in South Africa and later at King’s Park in Perth proved this.

Seeds were treated by enveloping them in smoke from a drum of burning vegetation and germination was improved. In another experiment, the seeds were watered with water that had smoke bubbled through it, with the same result. The water was chemically analysed and a synthetic brew made up. It’s now possible to buy ‘smoke water’ to use on difficult to germinate species. I’ve been using it for some years on Australian natives with great success.

So, germinating seeds can be quite involved, but  fortunately for us, growing veggies from seed is pretty easy!