Photos by David Vallis
This workshop, held on Sunday 20th March, was the first to be held in the poly-tunnel of the Tayport Community Garden. In the absence of Andrew and Teresa, it was led by Mark and Jessie with lots of interjections from the audience, who related their own experience and tips. As the ground outside wasn’t yet ready for sowing, the workshop concentrated on indoor techniques.
We started off with a crib sheet, based on notes taken by Jessie at a practical teaching session at the Royal Botanic gardens in Edinburgh, which briefly described the principles of seed sowing, including the correct preparation of the seed where appropriate (download it here). Some seeds, particularly those with a hard coat, need soaking before sowing, or scarification (sanding down the coat to let water in), or chilling. But many seeds can be sown without pre-treatment, so we dived right into how to prepare pots and trays for sowing.
In the poly-tunnel we were provided with peat-free multipurpose compost which, as the name suggests, can be used for most things, including sowing seeds. However, other composts are available, including dedicated seed compost, which doesn’t contain much plant food, since seeds have their own store of nutrients. The Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh use a mixture of 70% John Innes Number 1 (seed compost) mixed with 30% coir. Commercial seed compost is prone to drying out but can be used as a top layer over a deeper layer of more water-retentive compost. However, in the workshop, we stuck to the multipurpose compost.
Mark showed us all how to make paper pots using a toilet roll inner tube and some folded newspaper (here is a video showing a similar method). These could be filled with compost and stacked in sixes in a recycled supermarket plastic tray: those that had contained mushrooms are the idea size. Commercial devices to make paper pots are available and Margaret showed us her wooden pot-maker, which she’d been using for years to good effect. Paper pots are one way of using recycled materials, but other household items can be used, including those little plastic trays so many vegetables come in these days, and yoghurt or similar pots can be turned into plant pots with the addition of a few holes in the bottom. Of course, commercial pots of various types can be purchased and Mark showed us some very useful-looking root-trainer pots which fold together and stack into a tray. These pots are deep but narrow and the internal ridges encourage root formation. The roots grow through the open bottom and this further encourages root formation in the pot. Once the plant is ready to be planted out, the pots can be simply folded out, which minimises root disturbance. Root-trainer pots are quite expensive to buy but last for years and are ideal for sowing the seeds of plants that form a tap root, such as peas and beans.
Jessie showed us the method she’d been taught to correctly fill seed trays. Details can be found in the crib sheet but essentially the steps are as follows: fill the seed tray loosely until heaped up, level off with a flat piece of wood, tap the tray to settle the compost, then tamp down gently with a wooden tamper to about half an inch below the rim. The same method can be used for pots. This makes lots of mess, so a potting tray is a useful addition to your garden equipment.
Sowing and watering:
Again, the various methods of sowing are described in the crib-sheet, but we are all keen to get our hands dirty so set too making pots and filling trays then choosing seeds to sow. Participants were invited to sow two trays or pots of one particular seed, one for themselves and one for the garden. A large number of packets of seeds were available for sowing, but quite a few people had brought along seeds to ‘swap’. It was interesting to see what other people had been growing and to be able to quiz them on this variety or that and we all went away with a few seeds of something new and interesting to sow. Janice had also brought along some pre-germinated broad beans (germinated in damp newspaper) which were ready for planting, so some of those went off to new homes.
The workshop ended with the usual cup of tea, but this time the water was boiled in the Community Garden’s very own Kelly Kettle, which was very efficient. Lots of cakes were provided by Jessie, Janice, Margaret and others; carrot cake, chocolate cup-cakes, beetroot cupcakes, and gluten-free apple muffins to name but a few.
We are currently working on the workshop schedule for spring and summer (suggestions welcome:) – keep your eye on our workshop page for updates!