Ladies (and gentlemen) who harvest their lunch

Last week it was time for all the seedlings we’ve been growing to be collected by our friend Bish for the St Michael’s School Kaleen Fete (Friday 25 October from 5 to 8 pm). So what better time to have her and our other gardening friends over for lunch.

Almost all of the seedlings for the fete.
Almost all of the seedlings for the fete.

We ate a very tasty quiche of asparagus and home cured bacon, with some tasty cheese added and six of our ‘girls’ glorious eggs. There was a leafy cos lettuce, rocket, parsley and tarragon salad with an Asian dressing; Hugh F-W’s always reliable potato salad with wilted sorrel and this time extra spring peas; and J bought along a radish salad from her plot and a lovely bouquet of Lady Huntingfield roses for the table. (Lady Huntingfield, named after the wife of a Governor of Victoria, is an Alister Clark rose).

Lunch is served!
Lunch is served!

And just when you thought you’d had enough TB brought out his lime flan that was made with our Red Centre Desert Lime/Mandarin cross. The pineapple, kiwi fruit and mandarin are all ‘ring ins’, not from a Canberra garden alas.

Dessert featuring Desert Lime flan with fruit (none of which came from our garden).
Dessert featuring Desert Lime flan with fruit (none of which came from our garden).

For post-lunch sport we played pack Bish’s car full of plants. She certainly had the latest in mobile nurseries for her drive home!

Morning Routine

Our morning routine is getting longer with the longer days. Apart from feeding the cat and the chickens and rescuing the odd Wattlebird that has got stuck inside the chickens netted annex – our seedlings are needing greater attention.

The most delicate seeds are on the brewers heater pad in the laundry overnight, the marginally tougher ones are on top of the washing machine. Hardier trays of plants, including my transplanted tomatoes and our Ha-ogen melon seedlings are in the garden shed. 

Our Ha-ogen melon seedlings, off to a good start and hopefully a sucessful season

Ha-ogen

All these seedlings need to be deployed out to their day-time positions. Depending on the temperature, the more mature hardy seedlings sit on the garden table. The more delicate spend their day inside the warmer and more humid polyhouse.

In the polyhouse, seedlings being grown for the school fete

Fete

We are making good progress with seedlings being grown for our friend Bish’s school fete (her children’s that is). We’re growing blue and pink popping corn, Golden Bantam sweet corn, some Warrigal Greens and lots of snow peas. St Michaels at Kaleen 26 October 5.30 to 7.30, be there early for the interesting heirlooms! 

Transplant Operation

In early August we got our latest bunch of seeds (Eden Seeds) for the new season including several new tomato varieties – Thai Pink Egg and Lecasse di Apulia, Japanese White eggplant and a pumpkin to grow specifically for pepitas, Styrian Hulless.

TB got the tomatoes and eggplants started on the heater pad, bought at from our local brew shop. One hint for helping your young seedlings, is that once they have two leaves above ground give them a dilute watering of plant food, liquid manure etc, every few days as the seed-raising mixes don’t have much nutrient in them. This will help them develop strongly. The Thai Pink Egg seeds have shot very well. The Lecasse di Apulia and the eggplants have not had a good strike rate so far, but we will try some more as the weather improves.

Tomato_seedlings

So this week it was time to transplant these little beauties out of their seed-raising mix and into individual containers. Here’s how to do it:

Get everything sorted and write the name of the seedlings on your pots before you start (obvious but every so often I still manage to convince myself I’ll remember which seedling is which – I never do).

Tomsetup

Fill each pot with new potting mix

Tomsoil

and drill a deep whole with some sort of dibber, in this case a bit of dowell. You may be surprised at how long the seedling’s roots are even at this stage.

Tomhole

When you put the seedling into its new pot bury the plant so that only about a centimetre of the stem remains above ground. This encourages root formation and will help you plants develop sturdy stems. Do the same everytime you pot your tomatoes on and again when you plant them out into the garden.

Tompot

Give all your seedlings a good water with diluted seaweed emulsion or weed tea to help them overcome transplant shock.

Tomatpotwater

Now for Canberra residents please repeat after me: I will not plant my tomato seedlings out until after the danger of frost has passed. That’s late October or even early November, unless you have a specially protected area to put them.

 

Early Days – caring for seedlings

Having grown your seeds or bought some seedlings from a nursery you’ll be wanting to get them out of their pots and into the ground. Before planting get the ground ready and make sure the seedling pots are thoroughly watered. this will help the roots settle in their new home and lessen any potential damage in getting the plants out of the pot. Gently remove the seedlings from their pots and if there are several in one pot carefully tease the plants apart. Try not to damage the roots. If you have bought seedlings from a nursery check the packaging for the distance needed between each plant. A rule of thumb for many veg is to leave 20 cms between plants, but allow more space for plants that grow big and bushy. Try not to leave seedlings sitting around in the sun while you are planting them as they will dry out very quickly.

Lettuce

Young chicory and lettuce seedlings

Most seedlings will wilt after being transplanted. We always give our seedlings a drink of weak weed or comfrey ‘tea’ (the standard description is that your liquid mix should be mixed with enough water to a very pale brown colour like a cup of very weak tea). If you don’t have vats of this smelly stuff hidden in your garden you can use a very dilute solution of Charlie Carp or a seaweed tonic. This will help get your plants off to a good start. Its important to make sure that you water your seedlings in well and then give them a top up drink every day for the next few days after planting. They should start standing upright very quickly. Look for new shoots and leaves as a sign that your plant has fully settled in.

Now there is nothing that snails and even slaters like to eat so much as tender young seedlings. Whether you use snail bait or not is up to you (if you do, follow the safety instructions and use as sparingly as possible). One of the things we do to help our young plants is make a barrier around our seedlings. We make these by cutting milk cartons or even the plastic milk containers into sections. While this will not stop a determined snail they do seem to work remarkable well in most cases. These barriers also act as a mini windbreak and help produce a ‘micro-climate’ that gives seedlings a bit more of a chance. Once the plants have grown a bit larger – they are less attractive to snails as they grow up – you can easily remove the barrier.

Squash

An Italian squash seedling from the variety called “wrinkled from Friuli”

A final step we take is to mulch the surface of the garden beds, using either sugar cane mulch or pea straw (which we get from the nursery). I would generally not use grass clippings unless they were completely dry, because when they are wet they will rot down and are likely to take nutrients away from your plants. Having bare soil around seedlings is a throwback to older Australian (read European) gardening practices which really aren’t relevant to gardening in our climate. Just make sure you keep the mulch away from direct contact with your plants. This will help avoid any potential fungal problems, but for my money also it makes it more difficult for snails and slaters to sneak up on your plants.