With this recent cold snap it may seem like Winter is only just getting going, but with the days beginning to lengthen and Spring just round the corner, it’s time to start sowing some of the veg for this year. Long season crops like Chillies and Aubergines can struggle to grow to maturity, flower and set fruit before the relatively short summers here in Britain are over. So it’s crucial to get a head-start to give these tender crops as long as possible. Our Greenhouses provide the perfect spaces for this, but you can also do perfectly well on a sunny windowsill at home.
When sowing seeds, as ever, it’s helpful to understand the biological processes at work. A seed is a plant embryo in dormancy, waiting for the right conditions to start growing. After the plant ovule has been fertilised, the cells’ metabolism effectively ceases and a tough seed coat develops to protect the embryo within. It is an amazing adaptation that can survive drought, fungal attack, animal predation, extreme temperatures, and in some cases even fire or a sea voyage; allowing plants to pass on their genetic material to the next generation.
In order to break dormancy and germinate, most seeds need two things: moisture and warmth. Chilli seeds for example won’t germinate below 17 or 18Celsius, and 25C is best. Once the seeds have been sown it is crucial to make sure you don’t allow the compost to dry out, so keep a regular eye on it and mist it gently from above with clean tap water if you notice it getting dry. Young seedlings are also susceptible to bacteria and fungal attack, so good hygiene like washing pots in hot soapy water and using sterilised compost is a good idea.
Seed compost tends to be free-draining with a high sand content, seived to remove any large particles and low on nutrients. We then mix it with another free-draining medium like perlite, grit or vermiculite to further improve drainage.
The seeds are sown thinly on top of lightly-firmed compost in small pots or seed trays and then covered with a thin layer of compost or vermiculite to a depth dependent on the plant. the pots are then stood in a shallow tray of water until the compost is thoroughly damp. At this time of year we place them on the hot-bench or in a specially heated propagator to speed up germination.
To learn more about seed sowing and get some practice come along to our workshop at 11am on Saturday 20th February or become a regular volunteer and let us know you are interested in this area.
These days seeds are big business, with the majority produced by a few large companies. Over the last 100 years we have lost many thousands of once popular varieties of fruit and vegetable to the drive for industrial agriculture and standardised foods. This dramatic loss in biodiversity is not only a shame for our taste buds, but also a threat to the resilience of our food supply – less genetic variation means less resistance to things like drought, disease and predation.
Because of this BPCG endeavours to source all our seeds from responsible organic seed growers with a commitment to growing a wide variety of crops both new and old. Some recommendations include Tamar Organics, Garden Organic, and the Real Seed Company. We are also committed to saving and swapping our own seeds and offer some of our own collections for sale.
If you are interested in finding out more and swapping some seed of your own then be sure to go along to London Freedom Seedbank’s ‘Seedy Saturday’ at the South London Botanical Institute on Saturday 5th March.