Archive for the ‘Seed sowing’ Category


Every garden needs a gaffer - Arthur the cat supervises seed sowing from the comfort of his bed atop a bag of old leaves.

Last week I mentioned that with a small garden, sowing most seeds in small pots or seed trays with a view to transplanting the seedlings to open soil in a few weeks is my preference. However, some vegetable seedlings do not thrive if transplanted. Root vegetables especially prefer to be sown directly where they are to grow to maturity.

A terracotta large pot suits my garden as a place to grow carrots. I use my largest pot which is about 50cm across and 50 cm high. Placing it in the middle of the brassica patch, I put a few stones in the base to help water to drain out at the bottom. Then I fill it with the finest soil I have. This soil grew beetroot last year so there is no fresh compost in it and hardly any large stones. Once almost full, I scatter a couple of dozen seeds spaced about 3 -4 cm across the soil surface. I cover the seedbed with a skim of soil, pat it down with the palm of my hand and then water through the rose spout of a watering can.

The carrot variety I used this year was ‘Amsterdam Forcing 2’. March to August is the period to sow this variety. In August, I might try sowing some seeds in the greenhouse for a late harvest. With 800 in the average packet, I will not run out of carrot seed in my small garden for a while.


Meanwhile, the radish seedbeds are windowboxes each filled with soil from the patch growing cabbage and kale this year, as radish is also a brassica like them. Only growing the brassica family in the same soil once every 4 years hopefully will prevent me having to deal with the bane of the brassica vegetables, clubroot disease. Rotating each veg family around a 4 year rotation has spared me any serious plant diseases so far, buíochas le Dia.

Last year, I sowed a well known radish variety ‘French Breakfast’ from Madeleine Mc Keever, the West Cork  organic seed producer This year, I am trying a heritage radish variety which originated in the 1890’s ‘Scarlet Globe‘ which I bought from in Scarriff, Co. Clare.

Each week from now to October, I will make a sowing of a couple of dozen radish seeds in a vacant window box each week. In about 5 weeks, the seed I sowed today will have become mature radish. Once those radish are harvested that week and their windowbox seedbed is cleared, I can handfork the soil over and sow, with fresh radish seed’ that windowbox anew – and so on week by week. The peppery crunchiness of a freshly harvested radish is impossible to find in a shop bought radish which was probably Dutch grown. One more reason to G.I.Y.  ( Grow It Yourself) and get involved with



On 'Ireland AM' (TV3) with Aidan Cooney sowing pea seeds.

Since last spring, (thanks to my Fingal Green friends who contributed towards the cost of a new greenhouse for my 50th birthday!), I now have a great sowing and potting shed as well. The shelves on each side of the greenhouse are at just the right height to support a plank between them, which I use as a work top for sowing seed and potting up plants. I can work away there blissfully sheltered from the April showers.

I an sowing the bulk of the seed varieties around now, but in early June, I will be back to do a later sowing of runner bean, lettuce, oriental greens, basil, coriander, beetroot etc. The benefits of a greenhouse or polytunnel are many, but extending the season and growing more tender crops are benefits to which I look forward.

My friend Lorcan kindly called in with his camera the other day while I was sowing some seeds. The following video clip saves me saying much more on the subject for the moment.


The growing season is moving up a gear, temperatures are rising, daylight hours are stretching and growing rates are accelerating. The seedtrays have done their job. Now is the time to plant out those seedlings in their potting compost modules. This means the least possible disturbance of the young root balls.

The seedlings have been hardened off. Pots and windowbox are lined up filled with good soil. Watering can, trowel and small fork are at hand.  I am planting the salad rocket plants side by side with the not so edible flowering plants. The likes of Nicotiana (Affinis), Night-Scented Stock, Calendula, Nasturtium and Gypsophilia will add pleasant aromas, a splash of colour  and welcome food for the pollinating insects, including the honey bees I have been minding up the road in a friend’s orchard.

Some of these plants also have interesting backgrounds. Nicotiana, for example, was named after Jean Nicot, a French consul in Portugal, who introduced the tobacco plant to Portugal and France in the 16th century. Although related to the big tobacco leaf plant, the variety ‘Affinis’ looks more like a rockery plant but I’ll see how it grows in the weeks ahead.


A few seeds every week get sown, mainly radish outdoors each Sunday in a window box to ensure a few are available for harvest each week  from April to November. Every couple of days, I would lay a few mung bean seeds in a ‘sprouter’ on the kitchen windowsill so I always have some fresh bean sprouts at the ready for the sandwiches and salad. Some lettuce seeds went in in February and other sowings will be made from time to time up to September, again to extend  availability and avoid gluts.

However each spring the kitchen garden requires what could be called the ‘BIG SOW’. This is when the bulk of annual flowers, veg and herb seeds are sown under glass and as they fill out in the seedtrays, out they go to grow on outdoors. Last year, the ‘BIG SOW’ was done on the 21st March, but with the shocking cold winter and late spring (not to mention other distractions in my life!), the ‘BIG SOW’ this year took place last Sunday evening 18th April. However Mother Nature can be kind hearted (volcanoes aside!) and seedlings have a way of putting on a spurt of growth as temperatures rise so all in all no need to panic if you still have to sow seeds this spring. Just read the instructions on the seed packets and get sowing.

Every gardener develops a system which suits the local situation. For what it is worth this is my system. My lean-to greenhouse (the one which looks like a phone box!) has five removeable shelves. Each shelf fits two seedtrays. Each seedtray fits 24 cubes of organic potting compost. Each cube is a growing module for a seedling to develop. I hope to grow 2 types of seed variety in each seedtray – so 12 seedlings of each variety is my optimum yield. Therefore, with 10 seedtrays on 5 shelves, I have just enough space to sow 20 different varieties of flowers, veg and herbs. So here goes……

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Only a garden with a greenhouse or at least south facing windows can make any decent headway in seed propogation right now. With strong daytime sunshine, the growing spaces under glass (or plastic) dry out surprisingly quickly. It seems strange to be out watering when the weather is so cold. My ‘telephone box’ sized greenhouse is doing a good job of producing cut and come again lettuce, while seedlings of spinach, lettuce and sweet pea are about 2cm high. The tomato seeds which were sown at the same time have failed to germinate. Tomatoes need Mediterranean spring temperatures of 12 – 16 degrees centigrade to get going. In Ireland this mean either (1) waiting until later in spring or (2) heating your seedtray or greenhouse or (3) a very quick blast of heat on the tomato seeds. This last option was explained by a professional grower to me. There was a practise of putting tomato seeds on a metal tray. The grill in the kitchen was turned on. The tray was quickly ‘shown’ the grill and withdrawn before any seeds were burned and thereby killed. The blast of heat however worked by cracking the seed husk and aiding germination. I take my hat off to professional growers and the ingenuity they bring to their craft. Meanwhile as a kitchen gardener, I will start my tomato seeds again now that daytime temperatures are barely on double figures. Second time lucky I hope.


No doubt I’ll be told that early February is too early for sowing seed with temperatures still low and flurries of snow here and there. I realise I’m taking a calculated risk but the seed packets in question do say to sow from February onwards. However, February 2009 was a little warmer than February 2010 so far.

Nevertheless, if my impatience is punished I can make further sowings in March. So I have nothing to lose and maybe a slightly earlier harvest to gain. Rather than repeating myself, I hope the video clip below  says it all. Lettuce, tomato, sweetpea and lobelia seeds are now sown and sitting on my windowsill in their 3 inch pots. Their very presence seems to herald in milder and brighter days.


The ‘Indian summer’ has arrived and high pressure from mid-week on is good news for harvesting and sowing. I open up the seed catalogues therefore and order seeds for autumn sowing such as: 1. Radar – autumn onion sets, 2. autumn shallots, 3. garlic, 4. Aquadulce – broad beans, 5. cress, 6. mustard.

Seeing these sets and seeds becoming established before winter will ensure the spring growth will begin sooner and give me garden produce earlier in 2010. I’m experimenting with growing radish and lettuce in the ‘telephone box’ sized greenhouse by placing window boxes on shelves against a south facing wall under glass. I know David Langan in Rush as a professional grower is able to produce Irish butterhead lettuce for 52 weeks of the year growing under glass, so we’ll see what I can produce in a 2 foot square glass ‘telephone box’.

I hope this spell of fine weather will encourage gardeners with lawns to turn the sod and put in a few onion sets as a start to a new kitchen garden. To further encourage food growing at the Electric Picnic last weekend in Stradbally, Co. Laois, I was speaking on a panels with other growers and Bord Bia about appreciating Irish fresh produce and supporting Irish farmers in the interests of Irish food security. I also handed out a few Radar autumn onion sets to anyone who undertook to sow them when they got home.

Next weekend, I’ll have some time on Sunday hopefully to lift the remainder of my own few mature onions which I will then leave lying on paper indoors to dry before tying them and hanging them in the shed for use over the winter. Juicing garden apples continues and I am giving away bottles as I fill them. An apple juice connoisseur I work with in the Dept of Ag tells me this year the juice is not as sweet as last year which he prefers. Nature provides, I just dispense!

With the onions lifted, I will compost that area, cover it with old carpet and have it ready to sow the broad bean seeds in November. Where the beetroot was will also be enriched with compost and some wood ash  in readiness for the new onion sets and shallot sets to be planted in September. I’ll leave the garlic cloves until early December before sowing in colder weather which they seem to like to get started.

Meanwhile, off to Waterford Institute of Technology on Saturday to launch a fantastic new initiative to organise, help and develop kitchen gardens in homes, schools and institutions throughout Ireland. Michael Kelly, the writer and Irish Times journalist the man who planted the seed of what I hope will become as well known as the GAA in every county in Ireland. Michael who wrote ‘Trading Paces’ also has a good website worth checking out if you Google his name.