How To Create A Cutting Garden. Step Three. ‘How and when to sow up your cutting garden.’
So far we have looked at where to site your cutting garden (Step one) and how to prepare your beds (step two). Continuing on with this mindblowingly obvious attempt to persuade you to buy my flower seeds I shall be discussing how to sow up, and when to sow up, your cutting garden.
I have had many discussions with flower farmers all over the UK and there are generally two methods used by all of them…and most use a bit of both.
Method One. Seed modules.
Some growers like the social enterprise that is ‘Organic Blooms’ use ONLY this method…nothing is direct sown.
*In order to use this method you need a greenhouse…or one of those cheap polly jobs from the garden centre is fine. A windowsill is OK but not ideal…as it won’t get anywhere near as much light.
*Get hold of some standard size seed trays and some seed modules. Some growers start using very small modules and then pot up the seedlings. I myself prefer to use larger modules…ones with 15 modules per seed tray. This gives the seedlings just enough room to allow me to keep them undercover for six weeks before I plant them out and means I can avoid potting up…which bores me to tears.
*Simply fill your trays with either sieved homemade compost or buy some from the garden centre….try and avoid peat based products as they are way uncool and VERY last year. Check out Carbon-gold…expensive but good. It doesn’t pay to skimp at this point. Give the tray a sharp bang down on your bench, this will firm up the compost and remove any air pockets…I often put another module tray on top of the one I’ve filled and press down gently…this does the trick too. Don’t squash it down like you’re using a printing press.
*Big seeds can be sown one or two per module…for tiny seeds just put a pinch in the middle of the module. Cover lightly with compost. Water with a misting jobbie if you have one…or water from the bottom by resting the modules in a seed tray that has a little water in the bottom. NB when you buy your seed trays you will see some have holes…and some don’t. Shop around for trays as some garden centres will charge you a fortune.
*Most seeds need to be in the dark to germinate…this is usually achieved by covering the seed with your compost…but some folk like to cover the tray with an empty compost bag…this will help keep the moisture in too..BUT make sure that as soon as the seedlings emerge, you remove the bag as at this point the little darlings have changed their minds and want some light.
*Many growers use propagators…I don’t…most of my customers don’t have them, so I won’t discuss using them here.
*One purpose of starting your seeds off in modules is that you can sow earlier. This is important for tender plants (Plants that are freaked out by frost) and also for plants that you want to flower that bit earlier than if you sowed outside.
*I do just about ALL of my module sowing in the 10 days after the spring equinox. (23rd March)…leaving it until the beginning of April is sensible. Much earlier and it will be too cold and more importantly the light levels too low…this will make your seedling stretch out for light and become weak…(this is known as being ‘leggy’…in a bad way)
*Let your seedlings grow on…keep them watered and chat to them about the neighbours and their swinging habits. Do this for six weeks. This will take you to mid May…at this point for the most of the UK the frosts will have ended…probably not up north and in Scotland however. Check the weather forecast for frost. Your indoor reared seedlings are not very tough…they have been mollycoddled in your warm greenhouse…a frost will kill ’em.
*Your seedlings will need hardening off…this means leaving them out side during the day and bringing them in at night. This needs to be done for a week. A cheap polly affair from the garden centre is great for this as you can simply leave the door open during the day and then shut it at night….
*Clear your beds and make sure they are weed free. If you do this in early April you can hoe off any new weeds as they arrive…this way you will have all but eliminated them by mid May and your life will be a whole lot easier.
*Check your spacings when you plant out…most plants will need to be about a foot apart…but some like Ricinus will need more.
Method Two. Direct Sowing.
*The first rule of direct sowing is never to talk about direct sowing.
*The second rule of direct sowing is not to sow too early. This leads to disappointment…and maybe despair. Don’t be fooled by a few sunny days March…the soil temperature needs to rise to about 7 degrees for your seeds to germinate. For most of us in the UK this is about mid April…but if the weather is cold and wet, leave it until the end of the month…or into May. Sowing into cold wet soil doesn’t work…end of story. Watch out for when our native weeds start growing…they know their stuff…if their seeds aren’t germinating then why would yours? I do bang on about this but to be honest I am covering my back, as the biggest reason for the failure of seeds that folk have bought off me is that they sowed them too early. I don’t want unhappy customers. Many hardy annuals can also be sown in Autumn.
*As we discussed in Step One…beds should be about a metre wide. I sow in three lines each about a foot apart (Sorry for mixing my imperial and metric)
*First make a tight line of string along your bed where you want your row to be….then scrape a stick along it to make a SHALLOW drill. Then water this drill. After this you can sow your seeds…sow thinly…it took me three years to realise just how thinly you can sow. Cover your seed drill with preferably dry soil…as this is warmer…and your seeds will feel all cosy. Label and date your row…this makes your neighbours think you know what your doing.
*After a few weeks you can thin out your seedlings to the desired space. Keep them watered if you hit a dry spell…and keep your bed free from weeds.
Method Three. Meadow Sowing.
*This method involves casting seeds willy nilly around your patch whilst singing songs about rainbows and kittens…it is really easy to do and has almost nil chance of working unless your patch is completely weed free. I have used this method in my Autumn sown bed which is 2 metres by 20 metres…we shall see how it works out.
*Unless you require a cutting meadow (and why wouldn’t you) I would stick with method one and two.
Tune in tomorrow for the final step ‘Harvesting and conditioning your cut flowers’.
PS Please visit my flower seed shop.