GIY Weekly Column – April 7th 2019

Though a slight cold snap has returned this week, the spring has been good to us so far. In GROW HQ, our head grower Richard has a spring in his step, and is delighted with how dry the ground is, particularly when you compare that to the conditions last year.  At home this week, I made some good progress in the veg patch and now have the onion sets, new potatoes, peas and broad beans sown outside. With colder night time temperatures returning, I have a fleece on the onion sets just in case.  It also keeps the pigeons away.  The garlic crop is doing well, and I still have leeks, celeriac, carrots and sprouting broccoli in the ground from last year.

The broad beans which I sowed in late February have emerged from the soil now in the veg patch.  I didn’t get around to sowing over-wintering ones last October, which is a pity because they certainly benefit from being sown like that.  Over-wintered broad beans are ready a little earlier, and less inclined to have problems with blackfly which are a considerable pest for the plant.  Pinching off the tops of the plants is considered a treatment for this since the blackfly enter on the softest leaves on the plant.  The ladybird is an important predator for blackfly so they can sometimes sort the problem out for you.  Have you noticed there are loads of ladybirds around this year?

This year I am growing dwarf varieties of broad beans which hopefully won’t need supports.  These are the little time-savings that make me happy.  All broad beans are entirely efficient, taking the nutrients they need from the air.  They don’t therefore need much nutrition added to the soil, just a handful of seaweed dust. Youngest Child helped out with sowing the peas.  I sowed just one row about 3m long, in a 15cm wide/5cm deep trench and she sowed the peas along the trench in a zig zag.  We will sow another row in about a month.

In the potting shed, things are hotting up.  I’ve tomatoes at various stages of development, that will require pricking out in to module trays in the week ahead.  A tray of beetroot sowed in February is now ready for planting out in to the tunnel. I also sowed by celery and celeriac this week.  Both of these seeds need light for germination, so the tiny seed is just sprinkled on to the surface of shallow trays of seed compost. You can cover over with a layer of fleece just to stop water evaporating off the surface.  In about a month’s time, I will be transplanting the little seedlings in to module trays.  


The Basics – Potting Compost 

Potting compost is the medium that is used to sow seeds in.  Potting compost is completely different to compost that you might make yourself in the garden from rotting plant matter.  I always found this rather confusing when I started growing.  For starters, potting compost is a sterile medium which means you know there are no weed seeds in it.  It also retains moisture very effectively which is important for your seeds.  

Interestingly, unlike your homemade garden compost, potting compost is very low in nutrients so it is only ever used for starting seeds off.  If you intend to grow a plant to maturity in a pot, it will need to be transplanted in to a medium that has more nutrients in it (e.g. a mix of garden compost and soil etc).  Seeds do not need to be sown in a medium that is rich in nutrients since they already have all the nutrients they need for germination.  

It’s worth buying good quality potting compost – ideally one that is approved for use in organic production and peat-free.  I’ve bought cheap compost over the years and I am almost always disappointed with the results.