The developing theme for this week seems to be “emergence”. On a personal level, I’ve emerged from my Deep Dark Revision Cave, sitting four RHS Level 2 exam papers yeesterday, and am once again able to focus on things that don’t necessarily have a Latin binomial or a key role within a cohesive garden design scheme. For the time being, anyhow.
Meanwhile, on the growing front, the first seedlings of 2017 have emerged in the Vitopod propagator. First germination is always a lovely moment, one I look forward to immensely every year.
Here are the first few chillis to emerge:
They were all sown on January 20th. Note the ones that have germinated are all seeds sown in the middle part of the small trays. I’m assuming they’ve benefited from a lower rate of moisture loss and a higher constant temperature due to the volume of compost surrounding them.
These specks of green are Goji Berry seedlings. I’ve sown far more than we’re likely to need for our own purposes so with any luck we’ll have spare plantlets to share around later in the season. They were sown on Jan 31st and emerged yesterday, so that means they germinated in just seven days.
I’m going to leave the seed trays in the Vitopod for the time being, although I’m conscious that the humidity in there is probably too high to do so for too much longer, as it could result in poor growth and maybe even damping off disease. Once the majority of the seedlings have emerged I’ll transfer them to cooler, un-heated (therefore room temperature) trays with lids and let them grow on in peace until they’re robust enough to be pricked out into a more nutrient-rich compost.
How are your seedlings coming along? Let me know in the comments, and please feel free to post links to your own blog as well.
It’s still very early in the sowing and growing season, of course, but there are one or two crops that can benefit from starting off in January. The hotter members of the Capsicum family – chilli peppers – are one example, and so, as I did last year I’ve sown four varieties and tucked them away in our Vitopod heated propagator to (hopefully) germinate.
This year’s sown varieties are:
Capsicum annuum ‘Cayenne’ (‘Hot Portugal’?) – Once again, the bog-standard magazine freebie with supermarket-style red fruits. 5,000 – 30,000 Scoville.
Capsicum baccatum ‘Aji Limon’ – A bush variety with bright yellow fruits that’s apparently good for hanging baskets. 40,000 – 60,000 Scoville.
Capsicum annuum ‘Prairie Fire’ – A bush variety that did well for us last year. It’s a prolific cropper and looks very attractive when it’s in full fruit. c. 70,000 Scoville.
Capsicum annuum ‘Padron’ – The classic tapas pepper, known for its mildness when young and green, apart from the odd one or two that develop their heat sooner than the rest. 500 – 2,500 Scoville.
I only want to grow one or two plants of each variety, so sowing six of each ought to include plenty of redundancy, but of course you can never guarantee germination rates. And I’m planning to keep a closer eye on the pepper production line this year. Last year the seedlings got a little leggy and some of them weren’t strong enough to grow on into strong plants, so I aim to move each variety into an unheated but covered propagation unit as soon as the seedlings show. Hopefully that will help them grow a little more sturdily. (And if all else fails, I’ll send away for some interesting plug plants later in the year.)
If you’re interested in the full sowing method I used, details can be found in last year’s chilli sowing post. I used the same method this year, albeit without the vermiculite top layer.
(By the by, do please excuse the recent lack of new content; a situation that may continue for the next fortnight or so. I’m sitting my second set of RHS Level 2 exams two weeks today and I’m deep in my revision cave, so not much else is going on. I’ll be back in full swing just as soon as I’ve recovered the brain power to devote to anything other than memorising Latin binomials…)
Well, the chillis that I sowed back in January and have been nurturing in the greenhouse have been steadily growing away; setting flower, fruiting and now ripening up nicely. Here they are the other day:
I’m quite pleased with the size of the plants and the number of fruits, considering that it’s my first year giving chillis a serious go, and that I didn’t get round to putting any of them in the chilligrow planter than I bought specially for the purpose. Next year, definitely (I have plans for reorganising the greenhouse along more sensible lines…)
Most of the fruits that have ripened so far are the standard ‘cayenne’ variety, probably the one you see in most supermarkets. They’ve either been shared around (it’s a minor irony that I love growing chilli plants for some reason, but I’m not all that keen on cooking with them, as I tend to prefer spice to heat) or have been set aside for a batch of chilli jam. There are a few small fruits on one of the habanero / scotch bonnet plants that have ripened to bright red already. I might sneak those into the chilli jam as well, just to give it a bit of a kick.
Here are a couple of close-ups on the more interesting varieties – ‘pot black’ and ‘prairie fire’ that haven’t quite ripened yet:
I’m hoping the burst of warm weather we’re having this week will help them along towards ripening at long last.
Our 8’x10′ greenhouse has been a hive of activity – seed sowing, pricking out, potting up, potting on – since early March. But as most of the plants have now been moved outside to their longer-term homes, things are a bit more sedate now, with a few of the more tender and/or heat-loving plants settling in to some serious growing.
Here’s a whole shelf-full of chilli plants, happily doing their thing:
The taller plants are all ‘Cayenne’ – the standard red chilli sold in most supermarkets – and they’re all producing fruits quite happily. The smaller plants in front of those and on the lower shelf are an assortment of ‘pot black’, ‘prairie fire’ and ‘habanero / Scotch bonnet’ (t.b.c.). They’re healthy and have all flowered, but have been slower to produce fruit, I suspect because they’re hotter varieties and therefore need more sustained heat that we’ve had of late? A more seasoned chilli grower than me might be able confirm that one.
Sneaking in from the left of the pic, you might spot the flowers of Fuchsia ‘berry’ – a variety from Thompson & Morgan that’s meant to produce large, edible, tasty fruits.
The flowers are certainly large and impressive enough:
We’ve also managed to grow a decent basil plant or two, which is a first for us:
The green at the top and the red at the bottom have been grown from seed. The ‘bush’ basil in the middle is one we bought from a nursery the other week (I might take a few cuttings and see if I can multiply it along.)
It turns out that we’re growing indoor beans this year as well. Not deliberately – I started off a few climbing French bean ‘Purple Queen’ and instead of climbing they ended up draping themselves down the staging. It seems to be working for them though: there are flowers and even a couple of proto-beans:
May is a pretty mad month in the greenhouse as the seedling shuffle continues apace. Last month’s sown seeds are shooting like crazy. More new seedlings need to be pricked out and potted up daily. And larger plantlets are outgrowing their starter pots and being potted on at a rate of knots. I’m loving every minute of it.
In lieu of time to describe everything in detail, here’s a quick photo gallery to convey the general impression:
What’s giving you particular joy in the greenhouse at the moment? Let me know via the comments…
Almost the first thing we did when we moved into our new house last Summer (apart from put he kettle on) was to invest in the biggest greenhouse that we could sensibly fit into our new back garden. We hoped that the 8’x10′ we opted for would offer more than enough working and storage space to meet our needs. It really should have done, but thanks to these cold snaps that the weather keeps throwing at us, we’re rapoidly running out of room.
We’ve currently got about as much heavy duty plastic shelving crammed into the place as we can sensibly fit and pretty much every shelf is taken up with plants in various stages of development. They range from newly-sown seeds – I put in some peas at the weekend; sweetcorn, gherkins, squash and kale in the last couple of weeks, and Jo has been working hard on her flower selection – through to good-sized plants – the broad beans for instance, and the dahlia tubers – which are pretty much ready to go out onto the allotment. That is, they would be if it wasn’t too darn cold to risk trying to harden them off in the cold frame, and there wasn’t a very real danger of frost and snow showers damaging the tender young shoots if we did.
Here’s a small selection of what we’re currently juggling:
The forecast for the weekend is a bit more promising. If there’s no frost on the longer-range radar then we’ll start moving a few things out into the newly re-stained cold frame to begin hardening off, and all being well we can take them down to Plot #59 in a couple of weeks’ time.
(And please do feel free to sing the title of this post to the tune of the E-Street Band classic, chorus line, if you feel the urge…)
The majority of our assorted chilli plants have now been moved from the propagator to a high shelf in the greenhouse – except the two habanero / scotch bonnet plants, which are still a little on the small side – and are coming along nicely:
I’m very happy with the size of the plants at the moment: a few good sets of leaves, strong root development and the main stems are starting to thicken up nicely. Another few weeks and they’ll need staking, and another few after that they’ll be ready for pinching off and planting out into their final positions. I’ll be topping them up with a nitrogen-rich liquid feed every so often in the meantime to keep those stems and leaves healthy.
The weather in our neck of the woods was distinctly variable during March, although thankfully storm Katie largely passed us by. A couple of dry weeks meant I could go full steam ahead on digging and clearing the back section of the plot, for a while. We haven’t worked this bit since we took it over two years ago and so has been lying fallow for who knows how many years (previous tenants only worked small sections and those infrequently, so our plot neighbours have told us). The net result so far is three new potato trenches, two of which now contain nicely-chitted first early ‘swift’ tubers.
I removed all but three chits from each tuber before planting them a good spade’s depth deep and then mounding up the earth above. Potato tubers form as modified stems rather than roots, so you want the tuber to sit deep and reach upwards through the soil, rather than spreading out on the surface, which leads to inedible green spuds if you don’t do a lot of mounding up. Too deep though, and the shoots might not be able to break surface and put out photosynthesising leaves before the tuber exhausts its store of starches, so it’s best not to go mad and dig them six feet under.
The digging and clearing job is continuing forwards from the back of the plot, through some horribly bindweed- and buttercup-choked patches, down towards the fruit bush section in the middle. It’s slow, steady, fiddly work, especially when heavy rain stops play for a day or three, but we’re getting there.
Jo and I also spent a couple of hours weeding the over-wintered allium patch (white onions, garlic and the as-yet-uneaten leeks) before planting out the ‘sturon’ sets that had been started off in modules in the greenhouse. As you can see, after about six weeks of growth the majority of them had developed great roots and strong, healthy leaves; time to get them in the ground before they started to get pot-bound and run out of nutrients. Jo and I planted around 110, in three rows (plus filling in a few gaps in the white onion section from winter losses) and they should be ready to start harvesting round about late June or July, if the weather goes our way.
Progress has continued on the new asparagus bed, with free-draining ridges set up in the previously well-manured section. The crowns are arriving sometime next week, all being well, so I look forward to getting those planted before too long.
Another section of the plot has been sown with red and Persian clover for a green manure trial on behalf of Garden Organic. At last-look, the clover seedlings that I sowed in the middle of March were just starting to germinate. The Persian clover came up first, but so far the red clover seedlings seem to be more robust.
Meanwhile, back at base, I’ve been sowing the first of our brassica and tomato seeds. It’s perhaps a little early for some brassicas, but so far I’ve just sown cauliflower (‘purple cape’ and ‘all year round’) and brussels sprout (‘rubine’, ‘Evesham special’ and ‘Bedford’), both of which need a longer growing season than the likes of cabbage or kale. They’re in a plastic propagation trays (seed trays with a domed lid) in the greenhouse, making the most of whatever sunshine comes their way.
I know a lot of folks will have tomato seedlings well on the way by now, but I’m planning on keeping a lot of ours outside this year, so given the state of the North Manchester weather at the moment, I didn’t see the point in starting anything off too soon. I reckon they’ll catch up once (or if…) the temperatures start to rise. I’ve sown five different varieties, two determinate (bush) or tumbling forms for containers: ‘maskotka’ and ‘principe borghese’, with indeterminate ‘red pear’, ‘tigerella’ and ‘gardener’s delight’ all likely to need a bit of support later in life. (I might sow one or two more varieties at some point as well, depending on how things go.) Again, they’re in the greenhouse in plastic propagation trays for now, as I don’t want them to grow too quickly and become leggy as a result.
In other news, I potted up the chilli seedlings (two weeks on and they’re coming along very nicely) and we took a few first steps in two new (for us) horticultural directions: carnivorous plants for greenhouse pest control and Dahlias for growing at the allotment and at home.
Exciting developments all round. Lots (and lots) more to come in April, weather allowing. Please do feel free to add any comments, questions or helpful suggestions down below, and check out the monthly updates archive for more round-ups from earlier in the year.
Last weekend I decided the time had come to pot on this year’s successfully germinated Chilli seeds. it being around six weeks since I sowed them. Not all had germinated but I wasn’t expecting a 100% hit rate, so I wasn’t at all disappointed by the tally of 17 viable seedlings.
I’d already half-filled a sufficient number of 7cm(ish) pots with general purpose compost, soaked it and left it to warm in the greenhouse. The next job was to get the chilli seedlings from their trays to the pots. My tool of choice for that job is an old dessert spoon, which allows a good scoop of compost around the base of the seedling to be lifted in one piece. This helps to minimise damage to the incredibly delicate roots – and the even more fragile, microscopic root hairs – that are so essential to the health of the plant.
Once all 17 (7x Cayenne, 5x Prairie Fire, 3x Pot Black and 2x Habanero / Scotch Bonnet) were safely potted up, topped up with compost and watered in, they went back into the Vitopod propagator – set to a balmy 20°C to bring them within the optimal temperature range for photosynthesis – to grow on. They’ll be moved to the greenhouse in another couple of weeks (some maybe a little sooner if we need the space to germinate more seeds) but it’s a little too chilly in there overnight just yet.
They seem to be doing quite nicely back in the Vitopod: a few of them have started putting out a second pair of true leaves. When they’re big and strong enough – around 12 to 15cm tall, with five or six good leaf pairs – they’ll be re-potted again into 15cm pots. The best three (hopefully of the more interesting varieties) will then be put in the Chilligrow containers.
It’s going to be a bumper year for Capsicum, with any luck. Anyone know a good recipe for chilli dipping sauce?
Always one of my favourite moments of the growing season: the appearance of the first seedlings of the year. A small start, but so much promise of harvests to come.
Here we have germination from seven of the twelve cayenne chilli seeds that I sowed on January 26th. They’re about three days above-ground in this pic, which means they germinated in around (does sums in head…) ten days in our Vitopod heated propagator.
As you can see, I’ve taken them out of said heated unit (seven plants should be more than enough) and transferred them to a vented, un-heated propagato: just a lid on top of a standard seed tray, on our north-west-facing kitchen window-sill.
Two reasons for doing so: firstly to (hopefully) avoid these seedlings from damping off in the humid atmosphere, and secondly so I could whack up the heat in the Vitopod to 24°C in order to give the three slower-germinating varieties of chilli – pot black, prairie fire and habanero / scotch bonnet – a bit of a boost. (It worked, by the way, as there are now tiny seedlings showing in all three trays).
Once the cayenne seedlings are large enough to safely handle, I’ll prick them out and pot them up in individual small pots of compost, then pot them on again a time or two and move them to the greenhouse, before deciding on their final growing position. I suspect that the three-pot Chilligrow planter will be reserved for the more interesting varieties, depending on how they do, so these cayenne might end up in pots in the greenhouse, or wall-baskets in a sunny spot somewhere.
I’ll post more pics and updates as things develop.