The excitement and exhaling of breath as seeds have germinated this year feels stronger than previously. It has been a long winter and my intention to keep my food budget low, and still enjoy meals, means that there is a bit more pressure on me to grow and find food. I sow seeds early and then nurse them in the house until the frosts have finished. I live in the North of the UK and the temperature is still dropping very low here. This gives me a longer growing season. Some things I grow in the greenhouse, like lettuce, but when I know that there will be a frost I put them in a transparent storage box with the lid on to give them added protection.
WHAT IS PRICKING OUT?
I start a lot of seeds off in fruit packaging eg. the plastic containers that grapes come in at the supermarket, and many of them have got to the stage were they need pricking out and potting on to larger containers now. Pricking out is the term used for transferring seedlings growing together into their own pots.
HOW DO KNOW WHEN TO PRICK OUT AND POT ON?
I pick out my seedlings when they get their first ‘true’ leaves. This is not the initial 2 leaves that you see when they first emerge, but the ones that come afterwards. It is best not to wait until the plants get too large as there is more chance of damaging the roots, and the plants will find it harder to adapt to their new environment.
WHAT SIZE CONTAINER SHOULD I USE?
I always pot seedlings and young plants into containers or pots that are smallish to start with, and then keep repotting into larger and larger pots as they get bigger. This not only means that they take up less space, but it also helps them have stronger roots. For smaller seedlings I will use plug trays, but for larger plants like courgettes and tomatoes, I will use small individual pots. Recycled plastic yoghurt pots or drinking cups are fine as long as they have holes put in the bottom. You don’t have to buy lots of little pots or plug trays. I didn’t have any for years until I was given some. I use the six packs that plants from the garden centres come in when friends give me them as well.
HOW DO I MAKE SURE THAT I DO NOT DAMAGE THE PLANT?
I fill my pots or plugs with compost or potting mix. At this time of year (Easter) I will warm the compost a bit by putting it in an old ice cream tub on my window sill or in my conservatory a few days before using it. The compost wants to be moist but not so that you can wring moisture from it. I then make a hole in the middle of the pot of compost with my finger or a pencil. To get the seedling out of the container they are in, I hold the seedling by a leaf (not the stem in case I damage it) and use the pencil or a lolly stick to gently ease the seedlings out by digging into the soil at the side of the seedling and then lifting it up underneath. You may need to tease some seedlings apart but try to leave some old compost on them if possible. I then feed the roots into the hole that I have made and gently firm the compost around the seedling. Do this quickly as you do not want the seedlings to dry out.
If my seedlings are leggy, as some of my tomatoes are this year, I bury them up to the top leaves to strengthen the stems. Once transplanted I water gently with a watering can with a rose fitted so that I do not damage the seedling. I keep my seedlings moist whilst they grow but am careful not to over water. I tend to water them with water that has warmed in the sun at this time of year as cold water can shock them. Sometimes the seedlings will look a bit wilted for a day or so after being pricked out as they adapt to their new environment. Don’t worry, they will soon perk up.
The seedlings in the picture are all peppers that have been grown from a pepper bought in a supermarket and eaten. Proper gardeners will tell you not to do this as they may change from the original plant but I have done it for years with good results and it keeps my costs down. I also have some heirloom pepper seeds that I bought about 10 years ago and I will save the seeds from those plants to use the following year.