Different ways to grow from seed

I don’t know how it’s happened but I seem to have used up all of my pots and seed trays. I don’t feel I’m growing more than last year, in fact it feels like I’m not growing enough for my allotment, yet it must be the opposite. Does anyone else ever get that feeling? To date, although I do cram a lot into the garden and allotment, it always felt there was a little more space to pop that one extra thing in. Not this year, this inn is full.

Going plastic free

Four Zinnia cultivars, Helianthus, parsley and two types of courgette sown in plastic free pots.

I’ve been making efforts to reduce my footprint on our planet for decades; our use of plastic bags now is minimal, I hardly ever eat red meats with 80% of my meals for the last six years being vegetarian if not vegan; I avoid produce transported long distances, we always recycle and I grow as much food on my allotment as possible. Yet there is so much more to do and attacking the plastic junk in gardening is one. I’ve reused all of our plastic pots for over five years now, so continuing to use them makes sense but I’m not adding to the pile. Instead I’m switching back to fibre pots and even toilet rolls. The plastic trays I will eventually replace with metal and I’m also trialling compost blocks. Most of my produce on the allotment is actually sown direct into the ground. This lot of toilet roll grown plants will go out into the ground roll and all. The fibre pots I’ll break apart a bit when I do as sometimes young roots can’t bust through.

Outdoor tomatoes

Tomato seedlings

This year I’m growing three types of cherry tomato rather than the larger types. I thought I’d switch it up this year because I prefer cherry tomatoes. Mine are now hardening off outside which in our microclimate is a simple case of plonking outside permanently. I did bring inside at night for two days but it became pointless as outdoor temps were so high. In my world, I don’t necessarily do everything perfectly – despite knowing how to – I look for ways to cut time without affecting the crop.

Brassicas

I grow various brassicas sown in pots at home (I use peat free compost for everything), this year including kale, brussels, kohlrabi, cabbage, cauliflower and others. They’ve loved the heat of the last week and it won’t be long before I plant them out. I’ll wait until they’re a bit stockier this year and will really water them in well as I lost a lot last year in the drought.

Aubergines

I went with a mix of patio aubergines this year and the different cultivars in the pack certainly reflect in the different sized plants! I had great success last year on the patio and the allotment with an outdoor aubergine which I hope to repeat with these.

Chillis

This photo doesn’t do my chilli babies justice as they’re proving to be stocky plants with vitality. I have three cultivars this year on the go. Two I’ll keep at home, the other four I’ll probably test their chances on the allotment. I also have a seedling of Physalis though, now I’m come to think about it, I’m not sure where I’ve put it!

Ricinus

Not everyone’s cup of tea but our garden wouldn’t be right without a dose of deadly poisonous tropical looking Ricinus communis. They grow wonderfully easily and I find if left to their own devices will certainly produce an abundance of seed and even self-seed here in Clapham. The seeds can fire off on long distances so are best collected before this happens to contain the plant where you want it to grow.

Begonia and Solenostemon

The Begonia rex leaf cuttings I took last year are growing really well since repotting – I can’t believe how big they’ve grown in such a short space of time! Also behind them are rooted cuttings of Solenostemon I ordered. If that sounds like cheating, it’s because they just don’t overwinter well in our flat. So, to reassure you, I have also taken cuttings from these little plants when I pinched them out to bush up while also expanding the number of plants we have.

Knautia macedonica

Award for least exciting photo goes to the above image – but I am excited because the Knautia macedonica seeds I stratified in the fridge are germinating in good numbers. Note the use of cling film to cover the tray, this is something I intend to replace with glass soon to remove the need for yet more plastic waste.

Opuntia

One of my cuttings of an opuntia is taking nicely and even grew a new pad.

Leonotis nepetifolia

Leonotis nepetifolia is a perennial in warmer countries but here the frost kills it. As an annual it grows incredibly quickly and these little seedlings come from seeds I collected from my own plants a couple of years ago. Remaining viable for longer than I’d expect for such small seeds. I’ll repot these and grow them on until about a foot tall before planting out on my mini prairie.

Penstemon

I’ve grown Penstemon before but never from seed so I’m excited to see my batches of two cultivars doing well. They’ve been a little slow since potting on from a seed tray but they’ll get there. This is one half of the batch.

Helichrysum

New to me this year is growing Helichrysum from seed. Chris and I saw them in the Mediterranean biome of the Eden project once and I’ve been wanting to grow them ever since. Just as well I love them as they’ve germinated in massive numbers! More than I will need. As I’ve run out of pots I’m now hardening them off as is and will plant from this state direct into the ground. As I say, not perfect but certainly time saving…

Cleome

The eagle eyed among you will notice that in the same tray as the Helichrysum are some different seedlings belonging to the annual Cleome. While the Helichysum are for the allotment, these are for our garden – not that I’ll need this many. I’ll let them grow a little bigger before potting on.

Rudbeckia

Every time I’ve grown Rudbeckia from seed I’ve been really pleased at the germination success. This year is no exception with these little badgers destined for my new meadow experiment on the allotment. Like the Helichrysum I’m probably going to be a bad plant parent and harden them off in this massively overcrowded tray and then plant out direct from it. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again! 😀

Basil

So this is weird, last year this same packet of seed had terrible germination so this year I tipped the whole pack in and, well, you can see what’s happened. What was different? Who knows. But it sure looks like I have a lot of purple basil coming my way from my allotment’s herb bed. Normal green basil is at the other end and only three of those germinated. Did the purple ones suck the life force out of the green ones?!

I love growing plants from seed, buying plug plants is fine and I do that too, but nothing beats the fun of seeing the first specks of green when a seed germinates. There are other points in the growing from seed cycle that I also love; the moment when a plant is just large enough that you know it’s not going to succumb to damping off; when you first put a seedling out to start hardening off and you visibly see it become tougher and a darker green; when it finally gets planted out; when a plant is so established you know there’s no stopping it; and of course when it starts multiplying naturally.

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Jack Wallington

I'm an RHS qualified garden designer living in Clapham, London who loves growing plants and designing with them. Follow me on Twitter.

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2 thoughts on “Different ways to grow from seed

  1. There has to be some secret to germinating Ricinus. I’ve tried for years and failed miserably. My plastic pots are now coming up to 20 years old as are my heavy-duty plastic seed tray covers so I think I’m doing OK with the reuse bit. I won’t use sheet glass to cover things as, when it breaks, it’s landfill fodder around here. Plus I have a cat that can open every door in the house and insists on jumping onto everything which poses a risk. And, of course, cling-film is recyclable – just scrunch it up and drop it into a carrier bag recycling point at the local supermarket.

    1. Thanks John, I didn’t know that about cling film. I’ll keep using that then for similar reasons, as well as lack of storage for glass.

      Ricinus I soak overnight, put into pots of compost and then leave on a sunny windowsill in the house. Where are you germinating yours? A client of mine once tried to grow them in a potting shed and I think it was just too cold a start as they didn’t survive.

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