There… can you hear it? That faint crunching, creaking noise? Perhaps a teeny tiny little grunt of effort as those paper-thin cotyledons break at last from their woody prison and spread wide to greet the world?
Yes, seed sowing has started at last, which always makes me come over all poetical. I have an unfortunate habit of anthropomorphising my plants, which is never a good thing as seedlings really are quite different from babies (no projectile poo, for a start, which is always a bonus).
But when I see a tomato seedling push its way bravely through the soil it’s hard not to imagine it stretching in relief and reaching up to the sky in sheer celebration of the joy of being alive.
Oops, doing it again. Sorry.
To get back to sensible, practical belts-and-braces stuff as we earthy veg gardeners ought, things are changing a little this year on the seed-sowing front. First, I am experimenting with new ways of sowing.
Having had bad experiences with module trays – too prone to getting rootbound when faced with my erratic potting on ‘routines’ – I had reverted to sowing in traditional seed trays in the wake of my RHS Level 3 a few years ago, which sternly instructs you to employ the labour-intensive method of seed tray, prick out (into seed trays again but at wider spacings) and then prick out again into pots. Takes ages, and I was never entirely sure that the general root damage inflicted on the seedlings as you move them around didn’t set them back more than is strictly necessary.
So I’ve made the leap this year into the mysterious world of Jiffy-7s. This isn’t, as it may sound, something you’d find wrapped in plain packaging in family planning clinics, but a pellet of compost wrapped in a fine gauze. These days you don’t have to buy peat-based ones – never been a fan of peat, even before they realised how much environmental damage you’re doing by using it – as they have coir ones instead.
Jiffy-7s are the propagation method of choice for most professional nurserymen and women – and they know a thing or two about growing plants. So I’ve long wanted to have a go. The basic principle is the same as saved loo roll inners, only smaller and less messy.
You chuck a handful of Jiffy-7s into a bucket of water and let them soak for five minutes. Then stand them in a seed tray – half a seed tray holds 24 Jiffy-7s – and sink a seed into the little opening at the top (this is the fiddly bit: I used the end of a pencil which seemed to work OK).
I’ve used them for anything I would normally sow one or two to a module – so tomatoes, cucumbers, melons and cape gooseberries so far. I’ll do the brassicas in them too I think.
I’ve had pretty good results so far with the tomatoes and have even got to the potting on stage, which is where Jiffy-7s really score. The roots grow straight through the gauze – you can see them white and fine, sticking out of the edges – and you just pop the whole thing in a 7.5cm pot and backfill with compost, like potting on a plug plant. Job done, and not a single root so much as disturbed let alone broken.
Well, even after all the years I’ve been growing veggies you still discover new and better ways to do things. I’m just kicking myself I didn’t try this before!