Seeds can be one of the biggest expenses in a garden, and if you spend time tracking down heirloom or unusual varieties then they may also be very precious. Many gardeners sow seeds indoors, or in pots and trays, to ensure a higher rate of germination than you would expect in the open soil, but even doing this does not always ensure successful germination.
If you have had a germination failure already, or your seeds are just too precious to risk, how can you give your seeds the best possible chance at life? One possible answer is to pre-germinate (or pre-sprout) your seeds. Pre-germinated seeds are kept in very controlled conditions for the first stage of their life – away from pests and diseases and the uncertainties of the weather. Only once they have germinated are they planted out. This technique is commonly used by farmers, but it’s easily done by gardeners as well.
Some of the easiest seeds to pre-germinate are peas and beans – large seeds that are easy to handle. Simply pour your seeds into the bottom of a tumbler or jar and cover them in clean water. Leave them to soak overnight, then drain them in the morning. Each morning, rinse the seeds with fresh water and drain them again – exactly as if you were sprouting seeds for salads and sandwiches. Keep the seeds at the right temperature (for peas and beans, room temperature is usually fine) and after a few days you should see them start to sprout.
The first sign of germination is the emergence of the radicle, the first root. Once most of the seeds have started to germinate then you need to plant them out – but be very careful not to damage the radicle, because the seeds cannot re-grow it if it gets broken. Sow the seeds carefully, but otherwise exactly as you normally would. You’ve given your precious seeds a head start in life – away from the hungry mice and cold, damp soil that might cause them to rot before they can germinate.
For smaller seeds a different technique is needed. Sprinkle seeds onto damp tissue, cover them over and place the tissue inside a plastic bag to keep the moisture in, and then put the bag somewhere warm. The important thing now is not to forget about your seeds. You need to check on them every day, and plant them out once they start to germinate. This is a useful way to test the germination rate of seeds that may be suspect, as well as ensuring germination of precious seeds*.
Again, you need to be careful with the pre-germinated seeds. If they’re spaced out on the tissue then you can snip it up and plant each seed without removing the tissue. Or you could use the whole sheet of tissue as a seed mat, sow it in a tray of compost and transplant the resulting seedlings when they’re large enough.
A useful technique for sowing pre-germinated (or simply very small seeds) is fluid sowing. Here the seeds are suspended in a gel and then ‘piped’ out into their planting rows. It’s easier to get an even spacing this way, and very gentle on pre-germinated seeds. You can make a gel for fluid sowing at home by making up wallpaper paste – but make sure that you use one without added fungicides and chemicals. An icing bag or syringe makes an excellent fluid sowing device.
*If you have older seeds and are not sure whether they will germinate well or not, learn more about seed viability and germination testing
in The Peat-Free Diet.
Posted in Blog on Mar 10, 2014 · ∞
This might look like an exhibit from the British Museum, but in actual fact it’s a modern, fairtrade terracotta plant pot from Traidcraft. Made in Bangladesh, it costs £8 and would certainly liven up the kitchen window sill. I’m going to plant mine up with my new Cha Cha Chive. What would you plant in yours?
This is just one of the lovely items in the Spring 2014 Traidcraft catalogue, which you can view online. We’re coming to the end of Fairtrade Fortnight, so it seems like the perfect time to remind you that fair trade goes beyond bananas and coffee beans and that you can buy some pretty, ethically-sourced items for your home and garden.
I mentioned the coir compost and garden gloves a couple of years ago, and they’re still available. There’s plenty more too, from plant pots and colourful watering cans, to woven bird houses and even disposable barbecues. There’s even a nice big tub made from a recycled tyre.
Traidcraft has been creating opportunities in developing countries for 35 years now, and build long-term supportive relationships with their suppliers. Buy something nice, and help them make a difference :)
Disclosure: the elephant pot was given to me by Traidcraft for review purposes. My opinions are my own!
Posted in Blog on Mar 7, 2014 · ∞
Last modified on Mar 7, 2014
It’s World Book Day, which seems an opportune moment to announce that my new book, Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs has been accepted by Smashwords, and is now available to preview! The official publication date is 1st May 2014.
Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs tells the story of some unusual edible plants and the people who choose to grow them. It’s a guide book to the world of unusual edible plants, whether they are old or new, rarely grown or from somewhere far flung. It looks at the history of plant hunters moving these plants around the world, and tells the stories of modern day enthusiasts, showcasing some of the unusual plants you may encounter as you being your own journey into this intriguing world.
It has been a long time in the making, and I’m thrilled to bits that it will soon be published and available for you to read.
Smashwords distribute the book in various formats, including ePub and Kindle. There’s a PDF version if you don’t have an e-reader, and you can also read online at the Smashwords site. They have a system they call the ‘Meatgrinder’ to transform Word files into ebooks, which has been an interesting experience. There were some quirks that only showed up in one format or another; hopefully now all the odd page breaks and badly-rendered accents have disappeared. Over the next few days it should make its way out on pre-order to Apple, Barnes and Nobel, Sony and other places I probably don’t know about yet! Keep an eye out for it in your favourite ebook store (which doesn’t yet include Amazon, but you can order a Kindle version via Smashwords). During the pre-order period you can get your hands on a copy for $2.99; once the book is published I will be raising the price to $3.99 (still a bargain!).
So hop on over to Smashwords to check the book out, and get your copy hot off the virtual presses on 1st May! In the meantime, I am adding related content to the book’s Facebook page and Twitter. If you’re not a fan of either than you can keep an eye on my linklog.
I’m planning on doing a proper press release in due course, but if you’re a member of the press and you’d like to talk to me about the book (or you’re a blogger and you’d like to host me during my virtual book tour
then drop my PR monkey an email
Posted in Blog on Mar 6, 2014 · ∞
Last modified on Mar 6, 2014
Tags: books & unusual.
This month I am hosting the Berry Go Round, a blog carnival devoted to showcasing blog posts about any aspect of planty goodness. The Berry Go Round…
“… covers all thing botanical. That is, featured articles should just be about plants, from cells & chemistry to plant ecology and communities. Pictures can also be submitted whenever a minimum amount of information is given (such as scientific name, family and the like), and recipes may also be featured if the main ingredient is a plant and provided a decent botanical account follows.”
Since I’m hosting I get to pick the theme :) and as the publication date for Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs draws ever closer, I have chosen Unusual Edible Plants. So if you have a blog post on that topic that you’d like to submit to the carnival – or you have a new post forming in your brain as you read this – then bookmark the submission form now. The closing date for entries is 26th March 2014, and I’ll post a round-up by the end of the month.
If you’re new to the Berry Go Round then check out the February round-up, which is all about botanical warfare :)
Posted in Blog on Mar 4, 2014 · ∞
Tags: unusual & carnival.
It’s March, and so the Plant Nutter’s (Virtual) Book Club has started a new book – The Lost Art of Potato Breeding, by Rebsie Fairholm. If you haven’t had a chance to join in the discussion on Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden, there’s still time to do that, and if you still need to get your hands on this month’s book you can order a copy directly from the publishing company, Skylight Press, or via Amazon UK and Amazon.com.
You can use the comments on this post to record your thoughts about the book as you read it, if you like – the main discussion will open up on 15th April. In the meantime, you can also suggest a title for our next book, which we’ll start reading on 1st May. How about Saffron by Sally Francis, the history of saffron cultivation in England, complete with recipes? Or The Lotus Quest by Mark Griffiths? Or something by the man himself, Charles Darwin?
If your suggestion didn’t get picked in the last vote, feel free to suggest it again! The voting was really, really close :) Just leave a comment with your suggestion(s), and I’ll add them to the vote at the beginning of April.
In the meantime, happy reading!
Posted in Blog on Mar 2, 2014 · ∞
Work on Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs is going well – it now has a foreword, and the whole book is in the same font! I am hoping to be able to transform it into a readable ebook very shortly now; the official publication date is set for 1st May 2014.
In the meantime, my PR Monkey has been beavering away, and has conjured up an author interview for my Smashwords profile. Head over and see what you think. If there’s a question you’d like me to answer then submit it as a comment below, and PR Monkey will see what he can do!
Posted in Blog on Mar 1, 2014 · ∞
I wanted to go to the allotment at the weekend (Saturday was the first (mostly) dry day in yonks!) but was given the opportunity to be an extra in a fun corporate video, and since that involved getting my face painted I did that instead.
So today I have been to the allotment for the first time in ages. The ground is very wet. My sloping plot isn’t doing too badly, but the grass paths around the site are sodden and make for slippery progress. The rhubarb plants are putting forth giant buds, and one is even unfurling a leaf. It was hard to get a good photo because the afternoon sun is still low, and shines in your eyes the whole time.
I sowed the last of my packet of broad bean ‘Karmazyn’, which had a sow by date of June 2011. I know the seeds are just fine, because I sowed some in a container on the windowsill and they all germinated. I didn’t get to the allotment to plant them, and so instead I used them to prove that sprouting broad beans isn’t the best idea! They rapidly grow too tall, and spindly in the nice warm indoors. You don’t get a good return on your space, peas would be much better. I am slightly concerned that my new sowings will be snaffled by mice before they germinate – I haven’t direct sown them into soil before. But I sowed a few extras, and I have seeds of other varieties I can sow later if necessary. I note that my allotment neighbour has broad beans plants growing nicely already….
I also planted 24 Triteleia ‘Queen Fabiola’ corms that have been in my kit bag since last year. I’m not holding out much hope for them still being viable, but they’re not going to get any more viable if they stay in the bag, and the instructions do say they can be planted any time between January and June. It was Rhizowen’s fault that I bought them – he says they’re edible. Oh, I’ve just noticed the packet says “dormant until you plant”, so there may be hope.
And last, but not least, I planted two different sorts of allium bulbils. I know one set are from the walking onions I used to have in the garden – I think they’re ‘Amish’. The other… well, I’m not entirely sure. They must be from something that was growing in the garden, but to be honest there were some alliums I lost track off and I’m not sure what they are. I have labelled them as ‘mystery bulbils’, which will at least remind me that I don’t know what they are. Once they come up it should be possible to have a stab at identifying the species. I didn’t have that many….
The purple sprouting broccoli plants are still very dinky, and one needed tying into its support again, but they’re alive and growing and they haven’t been eaten by anything – or blown away – so I’m taking that as a plus! We’re clearly not going to be short of rhubarb in a few weeks, and the garlic and onions I planted last year seem to be doing very well indeed.
Posted in Blog on Feb 26, 2014 · ∞
I am busy updating the manuscript for Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs, and am making good progress. I am anticipating having it all ready to be published at the beginning of May 2014, and at that point I would like to embark on a virtual book tour.
What’s a virtual book tour?
Publishers with marketing budgets often send their authors off on book tours when their new book is published. It’s a chance to do signings in book stores, give talks or readings and meet some of your audience – who may well then buy a copy of your book.
A virtual book tour is exactly like that, but it doesn’t involve me leaving the house or lugging a crate of books around the country (which would be tricky with an ebook, anyway). Instead of frequenting book shops and church halls, I will popping around blogs and websites and spreading the word about my new book and how wonderful it is.
Which is where you come in. If you have a blog or website, you could host an event for me. On a given day on the tour you could post an interview with me, or host a chat. You could review the book. I can record a reading from the book or write a guest blog for you. If you’re a foodie you could put together a special recipe post, so that people have something to sustain them at the book launch party :)
Of course, you might have a better idea – something that would fit with both the book (which is about unusual edible plants and the people who grow them) and your blog audience.
If you’d like to book a place on my virtual tour, send an email to my PR Monkey with your blog/website address and an idea (if you have one) of the event you’d like to host.
Thank you :)
Posted in Blog on Feb 25, 2014 · ∞
When I started writing a book about the wide variety of unusual edible plants, and the people who choose to grow them, back in 2010, I never thought the project would take so long to come to fruition. Two years ago, when I picked up the manuscript with the intention of finally publishing it, I didn’t realise that a serious upheaval was about to ensure it had to be put to one side yet again.
Now I am determined it will see the light of day. I have started going through the finished manuscript, making the final corrections and any updates required after two years in mothballs. I’m finding it really interesting to go back and read it, having largely forgotten what I wrote! I intend to self-publish it as an ebook, and have applied for my own set of ISBNs.
In the UK, the allocation of ISBNs (which are required for books and ebooks if you want them to be widely distributed, but not if you’re going to handle sales yourself) is handled by the Nielsen UK ISBN Agency. You cannot buy a single ISBN, they are sold in blocks – with the smallest block being 10.
If you are applying for your first batch of ISBNs then there is a registration fee; if you need further batches in future this no longer applies. With VAT, the 2014 price to register as a new publisher and receive 10 ISBNs is £132. (Note that ISBNs are not transferable; they will always be assigned to the publisher name you’ve chosen.)
To apply you will need to have a publisher name (you can use your own, or choose a trading name) and to know some details about the first book you’re going to publish. For ebooks it’s relatively simple as some details (e.g. page sizes and the number of pages) aren’t relevant; you just need to have chosen the book title. You also need to supply the title page and verso for the book – essentially just draft statements of the title, author and publisher details. They don’t have to be the final versions, and the application form gives examples you can copy. Oh, and you need to give an estimated publication date. Nielsen will enter all of these details into their book database for you when they process your application.
Once you’ve submitted your form, your ISBNs will be sent out (by email or post) within 10 working days.
My intention at the moment is to publish the book via Smashwords. In theory, if I supply a correctly-formatted Word document they will do the rest and turn it into the main ebook formats. I estimated that I could have all of this done by the beginning of May. I will keep you posted.
In the meantime, you can find more details about the book on the Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs page.
Posted in Blog on Feb 22, 2014 · ∞
This is the parcel of seeds I received from my Seedy Penpal this week – it includes tree spinach (Chenopodium giganteum), Potimarron squash, Courgette de Nice, Hamburg (root) parsley and scorzonera as well as Tithonia flowers and tree paeonies. The Seedy Penpal exchange, organised by Carl Legge, isn’t a straight swap – I sent a parcel of seeds to a different individual last month. If you fancy becoming a Seedy Penpal yourself, then you can register your interest now; the next swap will take place in August.
Swapping seeds on a one-to-one basis, whether the exchange is mediated by the internet or not, is an entirely different experience than attending a seed swap. It’s seed swap season, with local events springing up all over the country, often in tandem with potato days, where you can buy your seed potatoes for the year.
The Seedy Sunday seed swap in Brighton is arguably the most famous (and potentially the largest) in the UK. I’d always wanted to see it, and so this year I made the trip down to Brighton to have a look… and was bitterly disappointed.
To begin with, there was a queue to buy tickets. Now I don’t have any objection to paying an entrance fee for an event like this, but I hadn’t been expecting one – because it wasn’t mentioned in any of the promotional materials that I saw when I was doing my pre-swap homework.
I couldn’t find much guidance, either, on how the swap itself worked – which kinds of seeds were allowed and which were not, and so on. There was a mention that you could swap seeds for a 50p donation per packet, if you didn’t have any seeds to swap yourself. It wasn’t until I was in the swap and standing by the tables that the rules were explained.
Getting to the seed swap tables was an epic adventure – the hall was heaving. There was no room to move, and nowhere to stand, you simply had to go with the flow and hope it took you where you wanted to go. People were rude (as they often are), shoving and barging.
At the seed swap tables, the seeds were organised into small boxes according to plant family. You have to have some method of organisation, as otherwise the seeds go all over the place and you can’t keep an eye on what’s going on. But as soon as you put the seeds in boxes you limit access to one or two people at a time; the larger the boxes, the longer people take to flip through, make their selections, and move on.
People were impatient. There was more barging and shoving. And when I finally did get a chance to browse, there was nothing of interest left in the boxes. Although I am assured that they began the day with a more interesting selection, but lunch time you would have been hard pressed to find anything other than tomatoes and runner beans.
Moving on from the swap itself, there were some interesting stalls – but again it was hard to get close to them. The Thomas Etty seed stall was tiny, and the queue several people deep. Edulis had a larger table on which to display their plants, and I managed to buy a Cha Cha Chive so that I didn’t leave with nothing. But in less than half an hour I had given up and left.
I don’t have all the answers on how to run a better seed swap – I’ve tried it myself, and it’s difficult to handle crowds. At least the Seedy Sunday helpers probably didn’t have to cope with the constant demands for explanations of “how it works” that you get when you run a seed swap as part of a larger event, or hoards of people turning up who weren’t expecting a seed swap and have nothing to exchange.
If you’re the kind of person who likes hunting through bargain bins and doesn’t mind crowds, then Seedy Sunday might be for you – it runs in February every year. If not, then I’d suggest looking for something a little smaller and closer to home – or swapping on a more individual basis with the online gardening community. And if you’re looking for something in particular, then just ask – many people are happy to swap, or to send out surplus seeds for just the cost of the postage.
How do you swap your seeds?
Posted in Blog on Feb 17, 2014 · ∞
Last modified on Feb 17, 2014
Tags: events & seeds.