Tips for success (Spring 7)

Rocket can suffer from flea beetle attack in hot weather. Timing of attacks varies, but can occur any time from mid-spring to late summer. The beetles make pinprick holes in leaves, spoiling the appearance (but not the flavour). Plants grown in containers should not be allowed to dry out. Grow under fine mesh to prevent flea beetle attack. Extra tip, flea beetles are controlled effectively with sticky yellow traps, used with a mesh you get 100% control.

Scrap wood suitable for walking on can often be found at sawmills, builders’ merchants, and in skips! Builders can sometimes have old scaffolding boards no longer needed. They are perfect for walking on at ground level.
Seed-sowing in clay soil requires care. This soil tends to remain cold and wet longer than sandy soils. It is also prone to compaction. Seeds can rot in these conditions. Here are some helpful ideas:

  1. Avoid treading on the area to be used. Either create beds so you can work from either side, or walk on planks to spread your weight. Cover the seed-sowing area with horticultural fleece to warm the soil up. The covers should go down in early February, ready for seed sowing at the end of the month.
  2. Before sowing seeds, dig the area thoroughly. Use a fork for this task. Spades tend to create large solid lumps.
    Rake well, levelling as best you can and breaking up any lumps with a rake.
  3. Make your shallow seed drill slightly deeper than is required.
  4. Now line the base with enough potting compost to bring the drill depth to the correct level. This will provide better conditions for seed germination.
  5. Sow the seeds thinly, depth according to packet instructions.
  6. Cover seeds with a mixture of your clay soil and potting compost. Mixture should be 50:50 by volume.
    If wet weather is forecast after seed-sowing, cover the area with clear plastic until seeds have germinated. This will help retain warmth and prevent water-logging at a crucial time.
  7. Remove plastic after germination and replace with fleece until seedlings are growing strongly. Use small lengths of bamboo canes to prop fleece up off the soil.

Lifting transplants ready for sale just requires common sense. You should have sown thinly enough so that you can count the plants.

  1. Use a trowel or hand fork to dig the plants out in clumps. Try not to break the roots off.
  2. Shake off excess soil, but leave enough around the plants’ roots to retain moisture. They must not dry out between lifting and selling.
  3. Decide how many plants you’ll have in a ‘pack’. This is often 12, or 20. But be prepared to provide smaller quantities for people with small gardens.
  4. Wrap newspaper around the muddy roots, leaving the green tops showing – a bit like a bunch of flowers.
  5. Stand the wrapped packs in a large container and sprinkle with water to retain freshness.
  6. Label clearly as before.
  7. Have plenty of plastic carrier bags for customers to carry away their damp and muddy transplants.

Pricking Out

Once seeds have germinated, in their trays or small pots, they are usually transplanted into larger pots. They can be pricked out (transplanted) individually, if they are going to develop into large plants (such as Pelargonium, Gazania, Tomato). If they are small plants (such as Lobelia and Busy Lizzie), they can be pricked out in small batches.
These will then develop into good clumps that will make an impact wherever they are finally planted.
Potting on – some plants need to be transplanted more than once. These are usually the larger plants (Pelargonium, Gazania, Tomato, Peppers, Aubergine). As they have quite a long growing time inside, they will run out of space in a small pot. It is usual to pot on (transplant) twice. The final pot used (15cm or 20cm) is large enough to allow the plant to develop an extensive root system before being planted outside.

Equipment needed

  • Fresh potting compost
  • Horticultural grit – (medium)
  • Range of pots, trays, module trays – well-scrubbed if necessary
  • Blunt pencils/thin plant sticks/old forks

Method

Step one: Seedlings prefer good drainage. Mixing grit and potting compost together guarantees seedlings won’t sit in soggy, packed compost.
Mix grit thoroughly with potting compost – parts by volume: 1part grit to 2 parts potting compost. This will provide a good mix for seedling development. The easiest way to make the mix is to use a small bucket, or large bowl as the measuring container. Put a large plastic sheet on the floor, and tip the potting compost and the grit onto it. Now you can easily mix the two materials together, using either hands or small garden tools.

Step two: Fill the empty trays and pots with your compost/grit mix. Shake and tap containers to settle it down well. Firm gently – it should be neither too open or loose, nor packed solid.
Stand the newly filled containers in a dish/sink of slightly warm water for about five minutes. Seedlings need to go into a moist environment. Remove from the water and allow to drain well until drips have more or less ceased.

Step three
: Using your implements, make some holes in the settled compost/grit mix, ready to receive the seedlings. Holes should be deep enough to take the plants’ roots. Lift one little seedling out to see what you need to aim for.
Seedlings of large plants can be pricked out singly, if you have small pots. Or you can put two or three into a larger size pot, and pot on again once the seedlings have developed.
Small plants, where single plants make little impact, can be grouped together in fours, fives or sixes. They will develop happily together. When planted out finally, they will bush up nicely.

Step four: Now you’re ready!
Gently insert your implements under the seedlings – try to get right under the roots. Lift out a clump, including the compost, and put it onto your work surface. Now – using your fingers and only holding the seedling’s leaves, gently pull the tiny plants apart. If you’re planting in clumps, the Lobelia for example, there is no need to separate each plant. Just hold a small number of plants together, and insert into the new pot. Always hold the leaves, never the stems.

Make a suitable sized hole to take the seedling(s), and re-plant in the new pot.
Firm seedling(s) in gently, no ramming! This is the time when you discover if the potting compost is too loose. If it is, the seedling(s) will have too much air round the roots. Just firm everything down gently, and carry on. Label your pots/trays and place in a light, warm place for the seedlings to settle in. Install your reflective backings once more. Sunny windowsills can be a bit too bright for seedlings. Spring sunshine can scorch baby leaves. Tables out of direct sunlight are better than windowsills in full sun.