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It’s seed time!

Karen Hall

Karen Hall

June 5, 2012

So it’s June, and officially winter – and I am feeling slightly guilty when I admit that for one reason or another I have hardly even wandered through my garden lately. After months and months of feverish gardening activity, I find that during the weeks leading into winter I hardly feel likeventuring into the garden at all. Fortunately, there really is little to do, apart from perhaps attempting to assist the fallen leaves find their way onto the garden beds rather than randomly cloaking the lawns in piles so thick they kill the grass beneath.

It’s not as if the days drag. In fact, since we closed (which is a month ago now) there has hardly been time to draw breath. Stocktaking and packing up our shop stock so that it isn’t exposed to the cold and damp of winter takes about a week – at a leisurely pace. Because I am somewhat obsessive, I usually take care of that job the moment our ‘Closed for Winter’ sign goes out.

The last four weeks or so have been spent dealing with a medical issue that my son has been coping with and also setting up house number two in town, so I feel as if I have been on an emotional and physical roller-coaster. Anyone with children knows that when one is sick, everything else becomes completely irrelevant. As my son slowly improves and the town house becomes another home I can start to breath normally again. The adrenalin I have been functioning on is slowly leaving my system and I can sense that it’s time to consider other things again now.

One job I have been delaying (because I just couldn’t concentrate properly to do it) is placing my seed order. We grow a lot of our plants from seed and without a doubt, the best and most viable seed comes from our own garden. I am hoping we are not too late to spend a day collecting late season seeds; it was yet another job that got relegated to unimportant status. Regardless, it just wouldn’t do to only grow what we already have, so each year I pour over catalogues and eventually decide on a selection of seed that we usually order in from the UK. Tasmania’s climate means that we can grow cold hardy varieties with ease, and UK companies stock an enviable range.

Once we have made our selection and waited for the seeds to clear quarantine and arrive, the sowing process is very straightforward. We pride ourselves on the fact that our seeds are grown tough right from the start – they are sown in winter into our own seed-sowing mix, tamped down and then covered with a thin layer of grit to help prevent liverwort forming. We place them in our little seed-sowing house (a posh name for a small shadehouse) and wait for nature to do its thing. Germination can take anywhere from two weeks to two years (and even beyond) – we don’t hurry it along in any way even though I’m sure we could. The pots freeze solid in winter and yet tiny seedlings emerge. It’s a pretty incredible process.

I wish the seed we bought would germinate as well as that we collect. I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on seed saving – in all honesty, its bit hit and miss. There have been many a time when a bag I thought was overflowing with viable seed turned out to be a bag of useless husks. At times it is nigh on impossible to work out what is seed and what is not, so often a bag of whatever you collect will produce a few seedlings anyhow. But either way, if you collect seed from your own plants, they most often germinate like cress. I fear this is more a matter of freshness rather than skill, but either way, it is very gratifying when a pot of mix becomes a pot of tiny seedlings right before your eyes.

A seedling grown in the open – exposed to all the vagaries of a cold climate – will grow up to be a much hardier plant, capable of withstanding just about anything that’s thrown at it. Even the coldest morning – when the frost stands out from tree branches like rose thorns – is handled with ease. Division is an almost instant method of increasing your plant stock, but few tasks are as full of wonder as witnessing a shadehouse full of seemingly empty pots become a small sea of green over the course of a few months, ready to be pricked out and transplanted into individual tubes. The process can be a long one, but very rewarding.

And I had better hop to it, if I am going to get to experience this at all this year.

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8 years ago

i love the winter sowing approach and im gonna try it this winter! Would you mind sharing the recipe for your seed-sowing mix?
Best regards from Stockholm, Sweden

Karen Hall
Karen Hall
8 years ago
Reply to  Laura

Hello Laura – we make our seed sowing mix using 4 buckets of composted fine pine bark, 1 bucket of vermiculite, 1 bucket of coarse river sand, 1 tablespoon dolomite, 3 tablespoons slow release fertiliser osmocote, 2 tablespoons blood and bone, and 1/2 tablespoon of iron sulphate. We mix this in a cement mixer but you could do it on a large tarpaulin with a shovel. We cover the pots with a layer of coarse gravel after sowing the seed. Good luck!