Friday, June 17, 2011

Vegetables: sourcing, germinating and planting seeds and young plants

There is no doubt about it that raising vegetables from seeds is time consuming and unpredictable. Germination rates depend on the viability of the seed, the temperatures, methods and disease. Wherever possible we save and dry seed for the following season but of course that is not always possible. Seeds are sometimes exchanged with friends, bought from online catalogues or from nurseries both here and in the UK. If possible we buy or source organic seeds, especially old fashioned varieties or varieties that are known to us for their cropping, taste and resilience.

We have a heavy clay-based soil here at La Pasera and despite digging in as much organic matter as we can possibly get, the structure remains heavy and seed unfriendly - the rain and sun combination help form a hard crust that seeds find impenetrable. Luis has developed various methods of seed germination that work for different seeds and that overcomes the soil problems we face.

Some seeds such as brassicas, beetroots, legumes, sweetcorn, peppers, marrows, cucumber and fennel are pre-soaked in a moist cloth and contained within a small plastic box. This method ensures a high germination rate and advances the growth much faster than sowing direct. The downside of this method is that once germinated, handling the sprouting seeds is fiddly and takes a bit more time. The seeds are planted with tweezers into pods or half drainpipes filled with a home-made mixture of compost where they grow very quickly and are ready for planting into the prepared beds.

Other seeds are sown directly into pods, yoghurt pots or pipes and then transplanted when robust. Salad crops, tomatoes, celery, celeriac and herbs are sown using this method. Very few vegetables are sown directly into the ground, potatoes, onions and leeks being the exception.

We generally buy our onion and leeks from a local plants-man as young plants. They are good quality and cheap. 100 leeks cost around 5 euros and we always end up with more than we pay for as he usually puts extra in the bag. If we produce too many, young plants and seedlings are given away or exchanged with friends and neighbours although some vegetables we grow are met with quizzical and perplexed expressions by some of our neighbours who have never grown or eaten anything like them before. Preparation and cooking advice is always offered....

If anyone is interested in seed swaps or has spare seed that they think might do well in our warm and humid climate, please get in touch. We are particularly interested in blight resistant tomato strains and any unusual old fashioned varieties of vegetables or fruit.

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