Sunday, September 24, 2017

Small starts


Last week, for just a few moments I almost succumbed to a ridiculous thought, but common sense intervened and I changed my mind. 

What was the ridiculous thought? I momentarily felt guilty about starting off some new crops from seedlings, and for just a minute or two headed for the seed stands at the garden centre, instead of wandering outdoors to where all the seedlings were.

Fortunately, a cluster of sensible brain cells rallied and told me to stop being a fool, go buy those nice, healthy seedlings and save yourself four weeks of fussing over seeds in punnets. And that's what I did. I bought a punnet of four Lebanese zucchini seedlings, and a punnet of four Lebanese cucumber seedlings. And now they're planted and they look great.

Growing crops from seed is fun, but you should never feel it is compulsory. I enjoy doing it partly because of the pleasure of growing something from seed, and also partly because the only way to grow rare or unusual varieties is to start them from seed. Your basic average garden centre has an extremely limited range of seedling varieties to choose from, while an Internet full of online seed catalogues has hundreds, sometimes thousands, more seeds to choose from.

Fortunately for me, I like the smaller, light green Lebanese zucchini very much, and there was a perfectly healthy punnet of four of the things just begging to be planted. As many people like to say these days, it was a no-brainer.

Planted 60cm apart into soil enriched with compost and chicken poo. A layer of mulch, some seaweed solution to water them in, and the job was done in no time.


However, the next photo shows a bunch of baby seeds coming up, and that's because this is the best way to grow some plants. This one is yet another crop of chervil, a delicate herb that looks a bit like downsized parsley, with a lightly aniseedy flavour that goes beautifully with vegetables such as zucchini.

Chervil is a relative of parsley, and like parsley it prefers to start life in the garden as a seed sown directly where it will spend its life. Chervil, parsley and several other common vegie and herb crops absolutely hate being transplanted from a starter pot to the ground. It can be done, and is regularly done, but the plants are rarely happy about it.

Speaking of plants which are related to each other, this Lebanese cucumber seedling does look remarkably similar to the zucchini seedling at the top of this page, and that's because both plants are cucurbits. There are almost a thousand cucurbit species, and the best known other cucurbits to ordinary gardeners are all the pumpkins, melons and gourds. 

Cucumbers like to twine and climb, so I have used five slender bamboo stakes to form a teepee for the cucumbers to climb up. The bamboo stakes were quite long, and they all poke about 15 inches (38 cm) down into the soil. The first really windy day will test how strong the structure is, I guess.

I have planted all four seedlings, which is too many, so I plan to let them race up the teepee, and whichever seems the healthiest plant will be the one that remains.

And so here we have some small starts, two from easy-peasy seedlings, and one crop from seed. It certainly is much less work than getting all three crops started from seed ... a much more sensible way for an old gardener to go about a bit of amateur backyard farming.