Saturday is the day we prepare for sowing on Monday. We have a plan for the whole season, then for the month and then for the week. The packets for each week are separately bagged so it is easy to see what is needed for the coming week. This Monday is a quiet one with only three varieties scheduled - Dwarf French Bean "French Horticultural" from the Heritage Seed Library, Campion collected during one of our local walks, and Cranesbill collected last September when we were walking the Yorkshire Wolds Way. We will use two quarter trays and, for the beans, a margarine tub to give them extra depth. We've filled them with sowing compost which is predominantly sieved leaf mould. The seeds don't need anything richer (what they need is within the seed) until they are established and we prick them out/pot them on. We've brought the trays in to the conservatory so the compost can have a couple of days to warm up ready for sowing day. And we've prepared the labels too.
We also reviewed the tomato trays to see if we need to resow any as germination has been variable. Of the seventeen varieties we sowed, there are now only two that haven't shown signs - Zlatava and Tigerella. We decided to give them another week before re-sowing.
Fifty years ago when I was working in Manchester, the Chairman of the Local Board of Directors, universally known as "The Hon. Tom", used to interview every new member of staff. "Where do you live?" he asked the young lad. "On an estate sir." "Oh - what's the shooting like?"
So rather than let you make assumptions about our estate, I am posting a couple of images today. There is a flat bit and a steep bank, where the railway sidings and the embankment respectively used to be. We cleared the brambles, willow herb and most of the wild raspberries off the bank and are steadily planting it up to stop it sliding down. We also put in a sort of path up the bank (crampons sometimes required), and made a large island bed, two side beds and just a few weeks ago added a triangular bed to give us four square metres of extra growing space, just in case. You will note quite a lot of canes already in place ready for tomatoes, climbing beans etc in due time.
We have also been adjusting our growing plan to enable us to cope with a larger than expected range of Heritage seeds. Many of the flowers have had to be deferred for a future year so we have room for exciting new things like "Aunt Madge" and "The Soldier".
So today, we have been working on our "Estate"; tomorrow we will be preparing for Monday's scheduled seed sowing.
A Frosty start so inside work propagating succulents was a good move. But why is SCG growing succulents? We have found they are a good way of learning about vegetative propagation, they are plants volunteers can take home and grow on a window ledge, and they are popular with visitors and generate donations.
The crassula had been living in the spare bathroom and had got rather leggy, so when we moved it a couple of weeks ago, bits fell off. We simply trimmed them, dried them for a couple of days and planted them up. They seem to be growing fine and we have collected some more "bits" to try to grow on.
The stapelia (corpse or carrion flower) cuttings had dried off well and we planted them up - it's now just a matter of waiting to see. The image below also shows one of last year's cuttings and also the seedlings grown from the first seed pods that appeared last year. The seeds were attached to fluffy "dandelion" heads, one seed per head, and we were delighted with the germination rate. We have nearly 50 small plantlets. However, these have been growing nearly four months so it is going to be some time before they become impressive!
We had also dried off some kalanchoe cuttings and these were ready to plant. Some of the "parent" plants are in flower to encourage us. We have now enclosed them in a plastic bag equivalent where they will stay until they show they are growing.
The last of the day was the Zebra Haworthia. We split off the "pups" and replanted them and the "parent", watered the soil once and will now leave to see if they grow. We have a spare parent in reserve. A satisfying day and outside the butterflies had replaced the frost.
On 16th March, we sowed seed for seventeen types of tomato. We ran out of space on our heated seed tray, so twelve varieties were simply sown in trays, covered with a propagator lid and put in the "sun" in the conservatory. The value of "nurture" is clear from the image - good germination for all of the ones from the heated seed tray, virtually nothing to be seen yet in the other trays (though I think one may be trying to poke through this afternoon).
The same day (Mondays are our sowing day) we sowed three varieties of tall Heritage peas - Magnum Bonum, Stephens and a new one, Telephone. All in identical sowing media, all kept on the same bench in the conservatory, but again the second image tells a story. Almost 100% germination for Telephone, and barely a sign for the others. So the difference here is not nurture, but nature - a genetic difference.
All fairly obvious, but nice to see it evidenced.
We are due to start propagating our succulents so today we took cuttings from the stapelia and the kalanchoe. They'll need to dry for a couple of days so on Thursday we will pot them up and also propagate the crassula and the haworthia and check on the stapelia seedlings. We have prepared a potting mix with extra sand and filled enough pots ready for the day. We will let you know how it goes!
The other focus for today was the mirabilis jalapa, the four o'clock flower. It is a half hardy perennial and the ones we overwintered inside are just starting to show buds. But we sowed some saved seeds as a precaution a couple of weeks ago, and they germinated well. But they had no idea about social distancing so today we potted them up and gave them more space.
As a break from growing, John held the ladder while Gil fixed a gutter, and then John painted the fence (at least the side we see from the house), pausing from time to time to watch our first butterflies - several tortoiseshell and one peacock.
After three years working as Growers on the Serpentine site, we, John & Gil are confined to home as at risk aged people. But before we moved out, we collected the majority of the Heritage seeds so we could continue sowing and growing at our home. So far we have been setting up - adding extra tables to our conservatory, creating more growing space from part of our lawn, and replanning what we will grow where in this changing world. We hope to use this blog to keep you in touch with how things are going and no doubt there will be successes, challenges and failures as we go. We will also be learning how to blog (another stretch for us aged people!)
John & Gil Boardman, Growers at Serpentine now keeping SCG things going and growing from home.