The sight of panicked shoppers fighting each other in supermarket aisles in an effort to stockpile supplies wasn’t our nation’s proudest moment during the pandemic.
But it did ignite a green-fingered passion for growing our own food.
Almost 27million people tried to cultivate fruit, veg or herbs in the last year, according to a report by organic skincare company Weleda, with twice as many 18 to 34-year-olds (40%) than over-55s (19%) growing for the very first time. Tomatoes and mint were the most popular projects.
Almost a quarter said they found growing more rewarding than work, while 34% said gardening helped with mental wellbeing.
It’s a trend TV gardener Frances Tophill hopes won’t end when restrictions lift. In fact, she is challenging gardeners to take the next step and sow from seed to deepen their understanding — and double their satisfaction.
Frances says: ‘The past 18 months has made a lot of us realise how beneficial gardening can be for our own health, well-being and for biodiversity and protection of wildlife that is struggling so much in the wider landscape. So keeping up the gardening momentum is not a choice, it’s a necessity.’
Here is Frances’ guide to growing from seed.
Size doesn’t matter
You can grow in any outdoor space and on any budget. Buying seeds is cheap and even if you don’t have a garden you can use them in pots on a balcony or in window boxes.
You don’t need a greenhouse — I use my windowsills to germinate seeds and have turned a stepladder into a shelving unit by a patio door to maximise space for my seedlings to grow.
What you will need
Compost (peat-free, which is more sustainable). You will need both seed and cutting compost and multi-purpose compost.
A seed tray or small pot with drainage holes. Recycle things like toilet roll tubes, tubes of folded newspapers, egg cartons, fruit punnets or takeaway tubs with holes made in them.
A water tray to keep the soil moist.
Larger pots for repotting seedlings.
Pick things you like, then you’ll put the care in that the plants need in order to survive.
If you are choosing species specifically for wildlife, make sure the flowers are either strongly scented or brightly coloured so that pollinators can find them.
Also make sure they have nectar that is accessible — that means single flowers with only one set of petals.
The more variety you bring into your garden, the more species you will attract.
It is important to know the soil type and light availability in your garden as different plants prefer different conditions.
Fill a container with seed and cutting compost. The bigger the seed the more space they will need, so for big seeds like sunflowers you will one small pot per seed. For smaller seeds, a seed tray where lots of seeds can be sown is best.
Firm down the compost to reduce the amount of air to allow small seeds to make contact with the compost.
Sow. Small seeds need to be scattered on the surface and larger seeds pushed into the compost. As a rule, bury the seed around three times the length of the seed.
Cover the seeds with compost. If they are surface sown, gently sieve a little compost over the top to keep them from blowing away.
Water — seeds need water to germinate so don’t let them dry out. Keep them moist but not too wet. Put the seed trays or pots into a tray with a few cm of water, which will moisten the seeds from below.
Keep in a warm position on a windowsill, in a greenhouse or even in a propagator with a heated base, especially if seeds need a little extra heat. The seed packet will tell you.
Seeds should germinate in a week or two, but can sometimes take longer (up to six weeks), so be patient.
As soon as the second set of leaves appears, very carefully remove the seeds from their pots and plant them into their own pot, this time using multi-purpose compost, which provides more nutrients.
NOTE: Many seeds can be planted directly into the soil outdoors, including the likes of beetroot, carrot, parsnip and many wildflowers. You will need to wait for the soil to warm a little in the spring and always remember to water them well until they have germinated.
Once your seedlings have grown into their final pots and been gradually acclimatised to the outdoors, they are ready for planting up, once the frosts have finished.
Place amongst other plants as part of a matrix of planting, or plant them in their own space. Dig a hole and plant the seedlings so that the soil is at the same level as the compost in the pot. Firm them in and water in thoroughly and often. Vegetables, fruits and flowering plants will also need to be fed through the summer/growing season, usually once a week with an organic liquid feed.
Propagation, taking cuttings, seeding, dividing plants and layering will give you lots of new plants for free and will save you a fortune.
Cuttings involve cutting a piece, usually of stem but sometimes from leaves, of a plant, sticking that plant material in some seed and cutting compost, keeping the roots moist and keeping the cutting warm until roots begin to form over a few weeks or months, depending on species.
Collect seeds on a warm, dry day, once the seed is fully mature. Collect it, dry it and keep it in a cool, dry place in a breathable envelope until they are ready to be sown.
Division of plants is done in the spring or the autumn. It involves digging up a plant, breaking the roots up either by hand or using a clean knife, making sure there are both roots and growing tips. Then simply pot up your smaller plants or plant them straight back into the ground.
Layering is the process of pinning a plant’s stem to the ground until it naturally forms roots that anchor it to the soil. Once it has done that, usually after a few weeks or months, chop that section away from the parent plant, dig it up and either pot it up or put it in the ground.
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