Posted: Wednesday 5 June 2013
by Sally Nex
At the moment my garden is busier than the M25 on a Friday afternoon. Trays of seedlings are queuing nose-to-tail to get out of the cold frame...
At the moment my garden is busier than the M25 on a Friday afternoon. Trays of seedlings are queuing nose-to-tail to get out of the cold frame, and are gradually snaking their way out into the garden.
I don't know what I'd do without my cold frame, especially this year. The Seed Club has got me growing all sorts of extra bedding plants, veg, annual flowers and perennials.
Growing bedding from seed is a new concept for me. In the past I always bought plug plants - but never again. The quantity of plants you get when you grow from seed means you can really do bedding ‘to the max’. I've got oodles of Ageratum 'Blue Mink', buckets of baby Antirrhinum 'Tom Thumb Mixed', and an ocean of pretty Salvia 'Blue and White Mixed', all from the Blooms for Bees pack. I can't wait to fill my containers.
Anyway, now my seedlings are big enough to survive the big outdoors, but they needed a little preparation first:
1. Pinching out
This is an old nurseryman's trick to boost flower power, and works brilliantly for zinnias, calendulas, tagetes and antirrhinum. I'll also pinch out my 'Razzmatazz' chillies, because more flowers means more fruit (although I'll just appreciate how pretty they look, my husband is the chilli nut around here).
Once seedlings are 8-10cm tall, they’re ready to pinch out. I remove the growing tip just above a lower pair of leaves, and this will cause it to produce two branches for the price of one. By repeating this a few more times, the plants will be bushier, fatter, and altogether more satisfying.
2. Hardening off
Next stop for my plants is a cosy corner of the cold frame. You don't have to spend a fortune on cold frames - I made mine from scrap wood and some leftover greenhouse glass. But it really is worth getting hold of one, especially in spring when it really earns its keep, hardening off your seedlings.
Getting young plants gradually used to the comparatively harsh conditions in the open garden is essential, otherwise they go into shock and can sulk for weeks. If you don't have a cold frame, move your plants outdoors for gradually longer periods of time each day. I'm being really cautious, what with our stubbornly chilly spring this year (who'd have thought we'd still have night temperatures below 5°C in early summer!).
To harden my young plants off, I load them into the bays of my cold frame, and start with the lids firmly shut. Then, over the next fortnight, I gradually open the lights wider during the day, then start leaving them up at night too. Then if temperatures plummet, I can shut everything up again (adding bubble wrap over the top, just in case).
Once I'm reassured that the seedlings are growing on happily in the cold frame, I'm itching to make way for the next batch, waiting patiently behind them in the queue. It's a slow process, but I'm getting there – though if you've got a better way of keeping the traffic flowing in your garden, do let me know!