Early March 2017
It’s Sunday morning in early March. A lively breeze is cooling down the gardens as grey clouds blow over, hurrying Westward. They provide welcome shade to my vegetable crops and sun warmed soil. Cloud cover is forecast this week and mid-week two days of rain are expected.
Excellent! Perfect weather for my last transplanting that I'll be doing in this garden. I have mature seedlings ready to plant out and have been waiting and hoping for this sort of weather. The reason being is that plants work much like a water pump, drawing water in through the roots and transpiring it out of the leaves. Even minor damage to roots during transplanting reduces the roots’ capacity to absorb soil water, and in hot summer conditions, the amount of water released through leaves can be greater than that taken in. The balance between water taken in and water released can be the difference between life and death for seedlings. Thoroughly watering gardens and the seedlings in their trays before planting will help prevent wilting; however, even with this, it is still essential for the plant roots to be in optimal condition when you transplant them so the plants can uptake as much water as they need.
After planting is complete I water the seedlings again, this time just a light watering to ‘bed them in.’ This settles the soil (and water) around the roots where air pockets may otherwise be.
So, why do I, as a market gardener, raise and transplant seedlings rather than directly sowing seeds into gardens? Following are some of the reasons:
- When the seedlings are at their most vulnerable they are protected in my glass-house and shade-house. They are up off the ground away from slug and snails, and birds and white butterflies can’t get in. Also, I can keep a close eye on them and make sure they’re not drying out (or being over watered.)
- When direct seeding, the soil is bare and exposed for around eight weeks until seedlings are big enough to form a protective canopy over the soil. Until seedlings are ready for transplanting, a prior crop can be left in to protect the soil, such as a green manure crop. Also, transplanting allows more time for an increased number of crops to be grown in each garden annually.
- Less water is used to get seedlings established (it takes less water to thoroughly moisten seed trays than whole gardens.)
- Complete, evenly spaced garden crop coverage. Direct seeding often results in ‘patchy’ germination patterns, meaning that some parts of the bed are without crops. On the other hand, seed sown too thickly requires “thinning out” of excess sprouts so the vegetables do not crowd each other.
- Good sized transplants covering whole garden beds quickly out compete weeds, so less weeding is required.
When I do occasionally sow seeds directly into gardens, I sow the seeds of larger plants such as pumpkins, courgettes and climbing beans, which are more competitive against weeds than, say, salad greens or beetroot, for example.
I especially enjoy transplanting ‘wild’ vegetable seedlings or ‘volunteers’ that pop up around the gardens according to their own preference of location. I prefer to let them grow in place, but where this isn’t convenient, I water the roots well and then carefully dig them out along with as much soil is required to protect the roots, and plant them into a designated garden bed.
This is one of the advantages of using the open-pollinated, old heirloom varieties of seeds which, when left to go to seed, naturally ‘self-select’, producing offspring with genetic characteristics that make them grow well in my particular garden environment. This process of working with natural self-selection that takes place over many years to become noticeable is one which I intend to address in a future blog.
There are many lessons to be learned from my experiences and helpful knowledge and skills I can share with you, BUT you phase, which I'll tell you about in my next blog. need to use a critical eye when assessing what is useful to you and only take and apply what is relevant and practical for your unique situation.