March 2012

The temptation to write a whole article on spring seed sowing is immense. If you have been put off the garden by the dismal winter weather then there is nothing more heartening than sowing the seeds now for summer veg. and flowers. The days are lengthening beautifully (my chickens going to bed later and later!). If you sowed broad beans in pots earlier then they can go out now but be careful. There are many new varieties that appear to be less hardy.

But if, like me, you are a good traditional Aqua Dulce fan then they will be fine, hardened off and put out now. Mine have been in for a couple of weeks. Equally you can try some lettuce seed directly sown but I prefer again to raise good plants in pots first. Early carrots can be sown together with turnips, spring onions radish, beetroot and peas. Having said that, I don’t grow peas. The main reason is space and wind. They need protection and support and I think the Lincolnshire growers produce peas just as good and professionally frozen to save me the bother. I may rethink that idea, read on…

The size of your plot really determines what you should be growing for maximum benefit. Many gardens are too small to accommodate a kitchen plot but if you want a few veg try growing some in pots or even better (and cheaper) incorporate them within the ordinary flower borders. Many veg are attractive in

a border and there is the added bonus of confusing many of the pests who don’t think to look for their favourite veg amongst the flowers. You will have to leave a space at the front of the border so that you can harvest with ease.

Now I did say that I might resist the temptation to go on about seed sowing and to a certain extent I am going to because I want to raise the issue of our dire economic climate, as if we don’t read and hear enough about it!

Talking with a pal of mine recently who is an economist within a major City bank he said exactly what many of us are thinking and dreading. Things are still going to get worse before they get better and if you are my generation or previous, you will remember uncomfortable economic times, huge interest rates, rising prices and inflation. There is no doubt that these times are significantly different in many respects but the effects on our daily lives are being felt and will continue to be so.

In my line of work that brings me back to seed sowing and growing some of your own. A medium cauliflower in the supermarket is now more than 80p; you can grow 15 of your own for that from seed. Cherry tomatoes last summer were selling at £6.90 per kilo. For that price spent on seed you could supply many households. Pots of supermarket herbs that wilt on your window sill start at £1.45, that’s at least four pots if you grow your own on the window sill.

There are huge savings to be made by growing your own and food is not going to get any cheaper. How many times do I hear’ it’s too much bother, I haven’t got time’ Food is actually is and is going to be very significantly more expensive and whilst we may have had a veg. plot for the enhanced flavours and pleasures of home grown food I do believe it may become an economic priority when we realise how much can be saved.

Now I am not suggesting we all go out and dig up flower beds for veg production as they did during the war (good idea though), but actual

ly when it comes to seed sowing and plant propagation those costs are also rising rapidly. If you look at it from my point of view I am running a small scale Nursery, 70% of what we sell is grown here but costs have still escalated. The best composts, whatever their makeup have to travel miles by diesel truck, the pots are made from petro chemicals, an oil derivative and if I want plants available in time for your garden then I have to have some heat and light. Chemical fertilisers too have risen easily by 30% and the organic premium is no less.

Even my chicken food prices have escalated. All animal feed is rising in price and if you have looked at the shortage of animal feed worldwide then that is having a huge impact on meat prices next year. Put all of that together with the VAT rise and the increase in mail order availability you will see why on the larger scale so many garden centres are going out of business. A small example, two years ago I sold mature 12ft cordylines for £30, this year they will be £70.

None of my comments here have any political motivation whatsoever, whatever the colour or creed of a government they are faced with the same problems. I think what I am saying is that the cost of your gardening is rising substantially and anything you can do to produce your own flowers, fruit and veg. has to be a good investment and a saving on household outgoings. There is equally nothing more satisfying than cooking and eating home produce and filling your vases full of garden flowers rather than those flown in from heaven knows where.

On a lighter note, despite what I have said above, I always buy a stock of wholesale begonia tubers and get them going in January on a shallow bed of compost with a little heat below as they seem to take so long to get going. They are labelled carefully for colour and form. Any begonias left from last year are always stored in their pots on their side so that they don’t get watered inadvertently. They too are carefully labelled so that the colours are clear for this year’s displays.

I take them out of their pots in Jan/Feb, knock off the old compost and place them again on a shallow tray to get them going, each one labelled. I had two bread baskets full of last years, carefully prepared and labelled and sitting on an old wooden bench in the tunnel. My husband very kindly appeared in the tunnel clutching a mug of tea for me, he turned round sharply, (we know not why) and crash; two trays of begonias in a heap on the floor and over twenty labels with them in the heap. Now I have new labels to write. ‘Miscellaneous begonias, bargain price, unknown colour and form!!’ Bless him, the tea was very welcome!

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