Tag: germination

First Germination of 2017

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:

January 2017 Chilli germination
The first three chilli seedlings have poked their cotyledons above the surface and are starting to develop.

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.

January 2017 Goji Berry germination
These tiny green shoots will hopefully grow on into two varieties of Goji Berry bushes.

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.

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Comparative Germination: A Few Degrees of Difference

On March 15th I sowed two batches of Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris – Swiss Chard ‘five colours’ – in coir pellets; two seeds (or rather, seed clusters, as per beetroot and other member of the Beta family) per pellet.

One batch of six pellets was put into an unheated mini-propagator unit in our (also unheated) greenhouse. The temperature will have fluctuated from around 2°C at night to temporary peaks of 34°C during the day (memo to self: check auto-vents are working…) with a probable average of about 14°C to 18°C.

The second batch was put into our Vitopod heated propagator, set to 20°C (bringing the chilli seedlings along). The difference in performance between the two batches isn’t entirely unexpected, but is still dramatic:

March 2016 Swiss chard germination
Spot the difference…

As you can see, the heated propagator seedlings have romped away, having germinated in only three days, to the point where they’re probably a little too vigorous and leggy, but hopefully not etiolated. By contrast, the unheated seeds have only just started to break the surface, although there’s a good chance more of them have put out their radicle (initial root) and are on the cusp of putting up their cotyledons (seed leaves).

I’m going to move the germinated seedlings into the greenhouse, where the dull weather that’s set for the next few days should slow them down a little and hopefully encourage them to grow more steadily. I’ll also thin them out to the two strongest specimens per pellet and let them fight it out from there, otherwise there’s a risk that they’ll all compete each other to death. Winner will take all eventually, with one plant per pellet remaining to be potted on. One thing I’ve learned over the last few years of growing: there’s no point being sentimental about seedlings, if you want strong plants for cropping.

The other batch will remain out in their unheated propagator unit as well. Either they’ll catch up eventually or they’ll lag behind a bit, which won’t be a bad thing from a crop succession point-of-view.

It all goes to show the difference that a steady, reasonably high temperature makes when it comes to germinating seeds. Of course, whether it’s worth using a heated propagator – taking electricity consumption and associated environmental factors into account – just to bring on a few early seeds, is a matter for debate and conscience.

(In my eco-defence, I’ll point out that I’m only using the heated propagator for Swiss chard because it’s already switched on to nurture my chilli seedlings, which do need a long growing season and a higher temperature – not currently achievable at a constant rate in the greenhouse – to thrive. If there hadn’t been a spare bit of space in there than I wouldn’t have used it just to run this quick experiment.)

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It’s Chitting Time! The Seed Spuds Are Doing Their Thing

A couple of weeks ago I took delivery of this year’s seed spuds from our allotment shop. Now, I know it’s perfectly possible to grow new spud plants from supermarket spuds, or even from spud peelings, as long as there’s a decent eye, but I do prefer to stick my hand in my pocket and buy seed tubers instead.

The main reason is because seed tubers are guaranteed to be free of disease and/or viruses. Of course, I’m not saying that supermarket spuds are riddled with pathogens, but for me the added peace of mind is worth a few quid. After all, in a good year every tuber is produce a kilo or three of potatoes come harvest time, but a plant lost to early disease isn’t going to produce much of anything. It seems like a false economy to me to skimp on the seed spuds, given their relatively low cost. (Although I will also be growing some of last year’s spuds – that have been sprouting away in their sacks in the under-stairs cupboard for the past few weeks – in old compost bags in the back garden, just to see how they do.)

Feb 2016 Chitting Spuds
From the left: Swift (first early), Saxon (second early / maincrop), Pink Fir Apple (maincrop)

And yes, I do always chit my seed spuds which, again, some folks might roll their eyes at. But I think the process of chitting – placing seed potatoes in a light, dry place to encourage germination and allow small, green shoots to develop before the potatoes are planted – has a few important advantages that makes it worthwhile:

  1. It gives the developing stems a head-start, allowing them to establish a focus for ongoing growth (in botanical terms, a meristematic zone of cell development) which means they’ll be shoving their way up and out of the soil much sooner than if left to their own devices. Which is important, because the plant needs to be putting leaves up into the light, to enable it to start getting its energy from photosynthesis before the stored starches in the seed tuber run out and the plant loses vigour.
  2. It allows you to control how many growing stems are left to develop, by removing all but the strongest chits before you plant. Two or three are generally ideal, again ensuring that those growing stems have the best chance of breaking the surface and putting out leaves in good time. Too many developing stems all competing for those stored starches – which is what will happen if you leave a tuber to its own devices and every eye on the spud puts out a new shoot – could mean the plant may run out of steam before it breaks leaf above ground and is able to photosynthesise effectively.
  3. On a personal level, I find chitting provides a psychological boost at the dullest time of the year. It means you’re doing something to get the growing season under-way, and something is growing, even if it’s just a few chits for now.

It seems I’m not alone, either. I ran a quick Twitter poll last week, and although the results are by no means statistically relevant, they’re still pretty darn conclusive:

So there you go, my take on why chitting is a good idea. If you’re not chitting this year, start saving your egg-boxes for next year and give it a go, see if it makes a difference.

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We Have Germination! The Chillis Are Coming…

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.

Chilli Seedlings are go!
First up: Capsicum annuum var. cayenne

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.

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