After hosting a garden workshop this weekend for a local community group, it was interesting to ask a local grower what was his top tip for growing seed. 'Heat' he said, without hesitation, 'unless seed have heat to get them going, nothing else will matter'.
Hmmm ... fair enough.
This is similar to a question I asked dad last month about bringing on early seed potatoes and other crops. 'No' he said, 'I like to grow crops when the soil is warm and you get good results without having to fuss too much'.
So you can see the connection, in order to get things going and growing, we need heat and warmth.
When that's something that's not present, have to either provide it artificially or wait. I come in the former category, as regular readers of this blog will know (even if things don't work out). I have a small glasshouse, and a greenhouse, with both designed to create a protective environment from the elements. Add to this, my heated propagator and my temporary cold frames just for extra space. Before both houses were donated to me, I used to use any available windowsill space and a number of temporary cardboard cold frames, as per Geoff Hamilton.
Now that I have this extra protected space, I do try to make the most of it, which brings me around to pricking out seedlings. You see, sowing seed is just the start of the process -set up your tray, put in compost mix, level it, water it, add seed and cover (or not). Place into warmth et viola - Houston we have lift off!
But what happens next?
Well, once the seedlings germinate, any glass or propagator covers need to be removed over a period of days. All going well the young seedlings will produce a pair or two of true leaves. At this point the seedlings can be transplanted from the seed tray into individual pots. Do this gently as you don't want to damage these new plants.
Firstly though, prepare the pots by filling with a nice blend of moist compost, lightly firm it and then make a hole in the centre with your finger. I use a spoon to scoop out a cluster of new seedlings. I then tease out a single seedling, holding it by one of its seed leaves. You'll find the root and soil will come away too. Drop the seedling into the hole in the pot to the same level it was in the seed tray, and tuck it in with compost.
Place the newly pricked out seedling back into a protected growing area, spray it lightly with luke warm water and leave it to grow on. Repeat this process until all seedlings are pricked out.
Very quickly, what was one packet of seed will quickly become dozens of plants with the promise of a blaze of summer colour.
Perfect. Happy gardening.