Posts Tagged ‘Sowing Seeds’

Plant your onion and shallot sets early on pots

It’s early March which means its time for me to plant my onions, shallots and garlic. I have tried to grow my onions from seed but haven’t had much success. I tend to grow a few rows of white onions, usually Stuttgarter and a couple of rows of red onions, along with a row of French Shallots. I’ve been cooking with them through the winter and the TV chefs are right, the flavour is superb! The variety I’m growing this year is called  Shallot Jermor. I’ll let you know how we get on with them later in the year.

Unfortunately Suttons sent me Onion Sturon instead of Stuttgarter which I’ve never grown before so not sure how they will perform.

Along with the onions I always have a go at growing a few garlic bulbs as the flavour seems so much more intense than shop bought ones.

Planting Garlic Bulbs

I start my sets and bulbs off in small pots mainly to stop the blooming birds from pulling them out of the ground, but also I find they produce a stronger root system which gets them off to a good start.

The compost is my own mix of sieved compost from last years compost heap, mixed in equal parts with vermiculite and John Innes seed compost.

No special treatment, I just press the sets in until they disappear below the surface and give them a light watering in and put them on the bench in the Polytunnel. They should start to grow away in about 10 days.

And then towards the end of August (with a little help from mother nature of course) they should ready for harvesting.

Onions drying in the sun

Some of last years crop of onions

Well it’s March 4th and the sun has been shining which makes all the difference. I’ve been moving a few plants around today along with a couple of apple trees that need to make way for a new summer house were planning for the summer, but more on that later.

I’ve also been busily planting my vegetable seeds over the weekend. I’ve planted my beets  4 seeds to a pot using my home made seed compost mix. If you’d like to find out more about making your own seed compost we made a short video at the weekend explaining all.

How to make your own seed compost video is here.

Spring is in the air!   🙂

Best wishes

The Rural Gardener

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My Weekend Project

Yesterdays weather was just awful, we had snow in the morning and sleet and rain in the afternoon, a really messy day.  So I decided to head into the workshop and make me a portable potting bench. It’s basically a table top version of the bigger version we have in the polytunnel.

It holds enough compost to fill about 3 trays at a time, or up to 15 small pots.

The design is fairly standard  made from two identical Side Pieces, a Back and a Bottom all cut from a sheet of ply we had left over from the house build.

If you want to make your own portable potting bench you’re going to need:

  • ½” plywood
  • ½ – ¾ inch screws
  • Screw driver
  • Medium Grade Sandpaper
  • Set Square

You can make it any size you want really, but we found if you keep it to roughly 30 inches wide and 18 inches deep the bench is light enough to carry around. (See plan below)

Plans For A Potting Bench


Start by laying out the plywood on a flat surface and cut out one of the Side pieces. Then when you have the first one cut, trace an outline for the other Side piece onto the plywood.

The important thing is to make sure the cut lines are nice and square, otherwise the back and bottom won’t fit so well, so use a Carpenters square if you have one.

Take the sandpaper and smooth off the edges, or you’ll pick up some nasty splinters.

Then measure and cut the base to size and again sand off any sharp edges.

Now fix the sides to the base using some screws. You could use pins, or nails but it won’t last as long.

Position the sides and back onto a piece plywood large enough for the bottom and mark and cut to size. Screw the back to the sides and you’re done! You can also add a little handle and fix it to the back for carrying it around.

Finally give the whole thing a smooth with the sandpaper and you have a neat little portable potting bench! Whole thing took about an hour to make and have to say it looks alright and works really well at keeping the compost together.

As soon as it was finished I just couldn’t wait any longer, I just had to put it to use and plant a few seeds. I know it’s early but every year I wish I’d sown my slow growing seeds earlier so I’ve made my first sowing of Celeriac, Thyme, Leeks, Peppers and Kohl Rabi.

I plan to raise the Kohl Rabi in the polytunnel for some early crops.

My seed mix is typically 50/50 John Innes Seed Compost and Vermiculite. I use a fair bit of Vermiculite in my compost mix to avoid the seedlings from damping off.

While I had the tools out I also made a small tamper out of a scrap piece of plywood and an old cupboard handle. I sprinkle fine seeds on the top of the compost and gently firm them in with a little pressure on the tamper.

How Top It's made using 2 identical side pieces, a piece for the back, and a piece for the bottom all cut from the ply.

There you have it, a very handy little potting bench which I’m sure will get a lot more use this year!

Turning out to be quite a productive weekend after all. 🙂

Best wishes,

The Rural Gardener

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I’m not sure is the short answer,  but the weather was so lovely at the weekend I thought I had to plant something.  I have to say the digging came as a bit of a shock to the system as it’s been a while since I did any heavy lifting in the garden, but the sense of satisfaction when it’s all done is unsurpassed in my view.

So I grabbed my wellies and planted 4 rows of Charlotte, my preferred second early potato, which I grew last year and had an amazing crop (and a gorgeous taste!).

Last years second early potato crop

Last years second early potato crop 'Charlotte'

Also planted the first of my broad beans, a few rows of Stuttgarter onion sets, and 2 rows of ‘Large White’ garlic.  As I was having a bit of an Alium weekend I thought I’d also sow a pot of leek seeds, which should be ready to plant out in about 4-6 weeks.

Last year I planted my onions and garlic in March, but I’d read somewhere they can be planted anytime after New Years day (as long as you can get onto the soil). This year I’ve also decided to have a go at growing a few shallots for pickling. I’ve never grown shallots before so looking forward to seeing how they do.

For my onion bed I prep the ground with a little chicken manure and bone meal, then I walk all over the soil so the sets sit tight in the ground, which helps them to set strong roots.  I space the sets about 8 inches apart in rows 8 inches apart.

For my potatoes I prepare a shallow trench, about a spades width across and a couple of inches deep, into which I put a thin layer of compost. The compost does two things, it keeps the tubers reasonably dry so they don’t rot in the ground, and it retains moisture in the Spring and Summer when the ground tends to dry out.

I plant each potato about 12-18 inches apart as I like to give them plenty of room to grow into nice big fat potatoes.

I won’t be planting my second early’s until mid March, so in the mean time I’ve laid them out in egg trays in a cool dark place (shed)  to kick start the tubers into growth.  If you’ve never heard of  ‘chitting’, it’s basically kick starting the potato tubers into growth so when you come to plant the potatoes they get away a bit quicker. I find they don’t produce any more potatoes, they just crop a bit earlier.

Spring tulip bulbs at Blackbirds
First of the Spring bulbs emerging in the Poly Tunnel

Well, the days are starting to get little longer, the roses are slowly starting to burst into growth and the Clematis Armandii are starting to bud up nicely.  It really does feel like Spring is just around the corner!

I wonder what I should plant next weekend?

Best wishes


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Growing your own plants from cuttings is one of the most rewarding aspects of gardening and much easier than you might think. It’s also a great way to make a bit of extra cash to perhaps fund another project in the garden!

Here at Blackbirds we have a fairly large garden and we can’t  afford to buy all the plants we’re going to need, so we propagate as many as we can ourselves using the same method my father taught me over 20 years ago.

We have grown plants from cuttings in the past, and been very successful using this method, so I thought I would share it with you.

plant cuttings

First, I need to share something really important that will ensure you enjoy success with your cuttings.

As soon as you detach a cutting from the parent plant it starts to lose moisture and very likely wilt. So my first tip is try to get your cutting into a rooting medium as soon as possible after it has been taken. If you can’t pop the cutting/s into a plastic bag with a little water, and then when you come to plant them, water them in and try to maintain some humidity around the cutting.  The tried and tested method is to place a plastic bag loosely over the top of the pot and fasten with an elastic band.

This one tip will increase your chances of success 10 – fold.

Plant cuttings have a built-in desire to survive and providing you plant them into a free draining compost mix and keep them at a reasonable temperature, not too hot and not too cold, softwood cuttings will produce roots in around 3-4 weeks. It does take longer for hardwood cuttings, but the process is pretty much the same, you just have to wait longer.

I tend to use sharp sand for my cuttings, but a mix of 50 parts compost to 50 parts sharp sand works just as well and provides a small amount of fertilizer for when the cutting starts to grow roots.

Another important thing to remember is, if your cuttings are to root they will need to kept moist (not wet). Professional growers use automated mist sprayers hooked up to a timer that deliver a light spray every 10-20 minutes, but a plastic hand held sprayer works just as well.

At Blackbirds we’re lucky to have a sprinkler system in the Polytunnel, but you don’t need anything that fancy to make this work. Before we had the polytunnel we managed to root hundreds of cuttings every summer using nothing more than sharp sand, a plastic pot and a pot of hormone rooting powder.

What should I use to root my cuttings?

A simple 3″ plant pot with a plastic bag, or cut down plastic bottle to preserve moisture  is all you need. Simply fill the pot with your cutting mix to about a quarter of an inch below the top, and plant the cuttings around the edge. I usually get around 5-6 cuttings in one pot, but it really depends on what type of cutting it is. 

As we plan to produce a fair few cuttings this year we’ve built a propagating table out of some 4 x 2 timbers left over from the house build. We plan to build a cold frame outside one day,  but as we lucky enough to have the Polytunnel we’ve allocated half for raising cuttings and growing plants.

Softwood Cuttings Bench

Softwood and Semi Hardwood cuttings growing away


The design is pretty basic. The legs are made from lengths of 4″ x 2″ nailed together at right angles and the rails (cross pieces) are made from 4″ x 1″ fixed to the inside of the legs with 2″ screws.

The base of the table is made from scrap pieces of plywood fixed to 4 1/2 ” x 1 1/2″ planks to make up the sides. The top sits on the frame and isn’t fixed, as the weight of the sand holds it in place. We’ve also added some plastic sheet to the inside to protect the wood, and drilled a few holes in the base so the water can run away. It’s really important that the cuttings don’t sit in water or they will rot off.

Planting medium

There are lots of advice out there on what to use to root your cuttings in and I’ve no idea if any one method is better than another as I’ve had success with both. I tend to use sharp sand as it’s readily available, but the snag with sharp sand is you need to get them into a more substantial growing medium as soon as they have produced roots, whereas if you plant in a compost/sand mix they can grow on for some time without planting on.

To raise the plants for our new Back Garden Nursery venture I’m going to use sharp sand as I can get a plentiful supply at the local quarry,  and it’s cheap! I’m also planning to conduct a low tech experiment and try growing a few cuttings in  50/50 mix of Perlite and John Innes Number 1 potting compost,  and a few in sharp sand, then publish the results.

Although it’s not absolutely necessary it’s worth dipping your cuttings in hormone rooting compound to encourage root formation. This year I’m going to use a liquid organic rooting compound which I’m assured works really well. Nothing fancy required, just prepare the cuttings and dip a bunch in the compound, then dib them in. (Not sure if ‘dib’ is a real word?)

box-cuttings sitting in Organic rooting compound

Next time ….. in Part 2 of Propagating Pants For Free I’ll go into a little more detail about how easy it is to take your own  stem cuttings from your favourite plants and I’ll also share a few secrets that will help increase your chances of success.

Back soon!


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It’s about this time of the year when the winter blues can really start to kick in for us …  which I’ve concluded has to be down to the lack of sunlight and abundance of rainfall we’ve had in Hampshire.  So …  in a bid to kick the winter blues I’ve started sowing seeds for the coming season and I have to say what an effect seeing a few green leaves can have on your spirits!

The first seeds are Sweet Peas which I sowed in late January having first soaked the seeds for 24 hrs.  I’m really pleased with the results as pretty much all the seeds germinated and are now growing on well in the poly tunnel.

Try soaking Sweet Pea seed 24hrs prior to planting.

I’ve also planted various vegetables Tomatoes, Aubergines, Celeriac, Leeks, Peppers, Runner Beans (Always start mine off in pots), Broad Beans, Basil and planted some Nicotania seeds I saved from a couple of years ago .. not sure if they’ll grow as they take an absolute age to germinate.

Sow your Broad Beans now for an early crop.

Peppers will be ready to 'prick out' into larger pots soon.

Runner beans ... managed to save the seeds from last year so this year they've cost us almost nothing to grow.

I tend to start most of my seeds off on the window sill to maintain the temperature needed for germination.  As soon as they are strong enough I transfer them to the Poly tunnel. They can become a bit ‘leggy’ if they are left on the window sill for too long in a bid to find the light.  To counteract this I place a strip of silver foil behind the pots as this helps to bounce the light back onto the seedlings. Not 100% successful but it does help.

Next week I plan to plant my early potatoes and finally get some onion sets into the ground .. weather permitting of course.



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