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Sowing the Right Seeds

peter donegan

I went out looking for seeds this week, primarily as I had built some raised beds for a client and being that my qualifications are horticultural….. I told Mary [not her real name]

Sure Mary, of course there’s loads of stuff you can grow at this time of year….

Except when I visited my first port of call, the seed racks had been removed. I asked Jim the salesman [not his real name] what had happened…

Ah Peter…. nah we get the rep to remove the whole lot once the kids go back to school….

In conversation with another garden related business owner it seems this was the done thing.

I didn’t think people would be interested Pete….. at this time of year and all

In between all of this another client called and explained to me that she had bought seeds in a garden centre. I dropped by for a cuppa and we had a chat. The seed packets were shown to me and all appeared well until I realised one of the purchases were in fact Pumpkins. I read aloud….

Sow March, April….

Here’s the bit where I’m slightly confused.

And as I wondered the seed selling stores for myself in search of some inspiration, I saw this was not just a one off. I get the point where a sale is a sale, but why would I buy seeds, that are not sale price reduced, just in case you might ask, that I can do nothing with for six months. Pointless. But still this lady, Mary, had just spent over twenty euro on seeds.

Side-tracking ever so slightly, last year when the weather was oh so bad, I will admit that I grew Beetroot [variety boltardy] seeds on my kitchen window ledge – but that was just an experiment, albeit a messy one from an indoors perspective – to prove the back of the packet theorists entirely incorrect. The sowing time recommended as a by the way should be March to July. Whereas I sowed them in December with outside temperatures of minus eighteen celsius.

But it is to this point that I refer to the factors required for the growth of any plant.Put simply they are light, air, a suitable temperature, a suitable growing medium and water.

Knowing these is hugely significant as the elimination of any one of them will also cause the demise of any plant. In short if you prevent light getting to a plant – it will kill it. Hence and now you know why bark mulch may only somewhat prevents weeds from growing.

Back to the beets, what I had done was given the seed a suitable temperature [inside], sown the seed in compost, watered it and there was enough light in the room for it to be able to photosynthesise. I was also able to breath inside, so the air part was I assumed [correctly by the way] also take care of.

But it leads me to the point that with seeds and the packets in which they come in, it is very much the case that you can grow anything you want, at any time you wish – so long as you give the plant what it needs to grow.

To that and to an extreme hypothetical example – at the very least from an Irish perspective – should it be eighteen celsius in December I could grow Beetroots very easily. Again I refer to the back of the packet and Mary’s dilemma of having nothing to sow after all of her purchases.

The reality is I never paid attention to the back of any packet. Never. At present I have runner beans growing and for the purposes of this article I am not even going to check the recommendations as I already know I [apparently] shouldn’t have sown them about ten days ago. But if I get two pods – I’ll be a happy camper. Anything more than that and you are invited to my home for pea soup with extra added peas.

I am however smart enough to realise that there is a point where I shouldn’t push the boat too much against the tide and I know the annual getting into trouble  routine for storing seeds in the kitchen freezer is quite shortly on the horizon.

My excuse for freezing the seeds is vernalisation. A word that is more synonymous with bulbs.

Vernalisation is the acquisition of the competence to flower in the spring by exposure to the prolonged cold of winter.

Like I said it’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. On that note bulb planting season has arrived. If you fancy doing so there are six that I recommended on The Sodshow, the garden radio show and podcast that I present.

Tulips, Daffodils, Iris, Crocus, Allium and of course the first bulb I ever purchased and grew at just seven years of age the Hyacinth.

Contact Peter Donegan

Sowing the Right Seeds, originally published in The Tribesman week Monday 5th September

The Gardener

osteospernum

I’ve had an odd week of sorts [last week] in the garden. Well, it’s a little of the usual or, more of the same but it’s been an odd series of tasks that have taken place I suppose.

The weed pulling enthusiasts versus your and my chemical romance aside, it was a case of trying to dodge the showers, in part to kill of some weeds that were growing in lawns. Sticking with that for the moment, this is a very simple theory as to how that all works. There are two shapes the leaf of any plant can have. Narrow, like a grass leaf – or of a more rounded shape, in short. The molecular make up of the chemicals that kill only that of a more rounded leaf in lawns [ie daisy, buttercup etc.] is that it cannot attach itself to the narrow leaf of the grass plant and therefore only takes effect on the weeds ie. the plants we don’t want in our lawns. Problem solved.

If you are intending on doing a little of that be sure to use a hood for your napsack or calibrated sprayer. Better know as a cowel, it prevents wind drift and droplets of the semi selective [translocated herbicide – one has to be very specific] weed killer from hitting other plants and killing them off. Like hens, chemicals aren’t very fussy about what green leaves they have a go at.

The chemical brothers aside [wondering if I can sneak one more band in before the end of this piece….], hedges were cut. A little reticent of nineteen eighties Ireland to an extent, in my opinion, the symetrical boundary plantations did go out of fashion for a while but, it is nice to see them coming somewhat back into fashion. In part, I always had a little of a soft spot for en mass Grisilinia and the like. There was and is something about them that is just that little friendlier than the timber fence or the coldness of a grey and internally angular brick wall.

That aside I know a lot of the hedging in Ireland took a serious beating these winters just past, so now really is the time to start ‘ripping’ them out and getting the soil ready for some new ones to take place. If you are unsure of what type of hedge plant to use – I highly recommend a walk locally with a camera in hand and as you pass the neighbouring hedge and plant types that take your fancy simply snap away. Do remember that this is the year two thousand and eleven and one can buy plants at any height and size that you pretty much wish to, something that was almost unheard of over thirty years ago.

Looking for something a little fancier and a change from the usual that may potentially be considered garden chores. Then how about making something for yourself with your own hands ? Over on The SodShow, Dublin’s only garden radio show as a by the way [and also available in Galway – you can listen online], is starting a new feature running every Friday for the next ten weeks. There I will chat with resident civil engineer John Farrell about everything that is hard landscaping.

This Friday starts with concrete, the basics and how to mix it. Simple for some, complex for others, the idea is to start at the bottom and work our way through anything that concrete could meet in your garden. From putting in a washing line, building a barbeque all the way to garden walls and beyond. Every Friday live at three pm we will guide you through all of the things you maybe thought of building but never did. Of course you can catch the podcast version of The SodShow in iTunes and/ or live on my garden blog.

With a softer version of hard landscaping in mind, this week saw me build some quite large, robust and yet pleasing to the eye raised planters for growing some of your own vegetables, herbs and soft fruits. With the structures built and rubber lining stitched in place, the next phase is to fill them with soil and then it will be a case of choosing the crops and produce to grow for the coming months.

Some seem to have a notion that the clock stops for this gardener come the return of the nippers going back to school. Not on your Nelly Furtado [that’s three bands – although I couldn’t tell you one or any of her/ his songs of the top of my head].

I like the allium family [onions, leeks, chives and the like] but, I’ll browse the seed catalogues in the coming days and see what takes my fancy. Before I do that, I’m going to build a bench into the new part to this garden. This is a place as versus being thought of as labour intensive, I would like to be renowned and considered for being one of retreat, relaxation and escapism. How many can say that about their garden ?

Plant choices of the more outdoor type aside, it is quite funny when you think that just up the road from me pumpkins, grapes, tomatoes and aubergines are growing quite happily in abundance under glass….. maybe, just maybe I need to add a new structure to my garden.

Contact Peter Donegan

The Gardener, originally published in The Tribesman week Monday 22nd August