gardening at home with sarah | top seed sowing systems at perch hill

Sarah discusses the top seed sowing systems used at Perch Hill.

One of my really great pleasures in life is sowing seed, I love the thing of just bringing that tiny bit of what looks like dirt into life and turning it into this wonderful, abundant food and flowers, I just really love it, and here we’ve experimented with lots of different systems of sowing seed, and what seed and varieties suit which system, and the first, and commonest, the one most people do is sowing into a seed tray, and obviously you just put in your compost, scatter your seeds as far apart as you possibly can. We actually don’t use that that much here, and the reason is you then have to prick these out, so if you’re growing one hundred or even two hundred different varieties it becomes very time consuming. But we do use it for certain things, and one of the things actually is tomatoes because what we find with things that almost you might germinate or get into growth on blotting paper, they really benefit from quite a small amount of growing medium, and that really helps them germinate rather than rot, and tomatoes which come from a tropical climate really seem to suit it.

The next system that we use really a lot here is the Jiffy, and what we’ve got here is a tray of Jiffys and when you rehydrate them, they absorb water and they end up looking like a little chocolate brownie with a dimple in the top. That really suits things where you don’t, they don’t thrive on root disturbance, and the two classic examples that we always use them for is zinnias and basil.

The next system is sowing into the seed’s own individual pot, and not surprisingly that tends to suit the bigger seeds, things like courgettes, squash, sweetcorn quite often I would sow into these, and what I’ve got here which I’ve been sowing today is sunflowers, and I’m literally sowing one seed into each pot, and they germinate and in about a months time I knock them out of the pot and out they go into the garden.

Over here is another thing we use a lot, particularly for legumes, so sweet peas and all the beans, so broad beans, French beans and runner beans, and I really wanted to do an experiment with a bean that is sort of famously quite tricky to germinate, which is ‘Blue Lake’ Climbing and it tends to rot off quite easily, so on exactly the same day, I can tell you I mean I think it was a month ago I sowed these into a rootrainer set, and these into these 9cm pots, and you can see what an incredible difference I’ve got in germination rates, and with this literally there’s not a single blank, and I don’t really know what that is, apart from maybe it’s the improved drainage which means they don’t rot off, but legumes really thrive in rootrainers, and I’ll just show you why by opening up this one, which is, a rootrainer is not only long and thin, which I think is what helps prevent them rotting off, the bigger seed, which of course beans are big seeds and so are sweet peas, but also they’ve got these channels down the side, and so when the bean here germinates it sends down initially one tap root which breaks off, it’s called air pruning, and you then get lateral rootlet formation. They then get to the edge of the pot and are directed straight to the bottom of the pot and you can see that so clearly here these vertical lines, and that means you’re getting a root ball forming more quickly, so sown only a month ago these are ready to go out now, and if you compare that to the blanks that I’ve got here, and if I pick up one, first of all I’d always look underneath to see if there’s any white roots and there aren’t any. So I’d then have a rummage, and literally it’s just disappeared, it’s just not in here any more, it’s just rotted off, and that’s what I tend to find happens if I sow them in any other way than this. And then the other thing is the ones that have germinated if we just look at the difference in root structure, so can you see, they’re sort of slightly willy nilly and you haven’t got nearly such a brilliant root ball, and yet they were sown on the same day, and so that really for me is just like I’ll never not not use a rootrainer for them ever again, it’s just absolutely clear.

Another thing that I really love using for sowing to save a lot of time, is a gutterpipe, and I just want to show you why they’re so time saving, which is this is a lettuce here, and lettuces you want to end up, this is a cut-and-come-again lettuce, a Green Oak Leaf, and I want to end up with these spaced about 10-12 inches, so up to about 30cm. Now, that means I’m not going to leave them in the relationship that they’ve germinated in here, what I’m going to do is I’m going to go between one and two, push that out into its final planting position in the garden, then move along 30cm, push out two, move along 30cm, now these two are very close together, but I can still get between that one and that one without disturbing the root of this one, push that one out, and then that one, and so on. So there’s no pricking out and no potting on, so it’s incredibly time saving, and time is money and so that’s why I love those.

And then this is another gutter, which is a 2m length, and this is a whole row of beetroot, and I just want to show you why this suits beetroot so well. So you can see here already germinating, little clutches of seedlings, and that’s because beetroot is a multi-germ seed, i.e. it has a little sort of clump of seeds in one big, almost it looks like a kind of tiny mini walnut, and so if you sow one of those, it’s more like a little bit of cork actually, into each of these positions, spaced about that far apart, then what you want to do is to leave them in that relationship to each other, put your hand about sort of 45cm down, and then push that first lot of seedlings out. Then you move a bit further up, and these are just sliding straight out into the garden, that one’s concertinering so I’ll just go a bit nearer, push that out, and then get to here, push that out. Now, it’s just so quick so you just swoosh, swoosh them out into the garden, and then when you’re harvesting, you then go and harvest this one, this one and this one the first time around, and then you can go back and harvest this one, this one and this one about a month later, and it’s left that room to grow on, and so it really really suits the gutter really suits beetroot sowing, and other things too, I mean we sow chard and chicory and lots of other things into gutters. So that really is it, a resume of seed sowing systems.

you might like