It can be very helpful in our colder climate to get a jump on the growing season by starting our seeds indoors.
Seeds are amazing things. They don’t need much to get started. You will need some seed compost, containers, a bit of water and a good location in your home with bright, indirect light.
Seeds come packed with all the nutrients they need to get themselves going, so we don’t need to start with a heavy, nutrient rich soil. In fact, doing so could actually ‘burn’ tender little seedlings. Our seeds will need compost that is light and easy for the new roots to form in and will retain moisture without being too soggy. The basic recipe is 3 parts: one part being a loam (soil) of some sort for nutrients and structure (if using your backyard soil, make sure to pasteurize it first), one part horticulture or builder’s sand to create looseness and drainage, and one part of well rotted leafmould, coconut choir, or heat-treated rice husks to help retain consistent moisture and provide even more spaces for roots to spread.
Whatever seed compost mixture you end up using, please make sure it is peat free. You can read more about the importance of peat to our environment in the Friends of the Earth’s guide: Why peat is good for the climate and nature.
I like to start my seeds off in recycled containers. The possibilities are endless for this, but the more popular options include newspaper pots, toilet paper roll pots, and egg cartons. Benedict Vanheems of Grow Veg has put together an excellent video on these options as well as a short note on how to plant your seeds in them: Seed Sowing Using Recycled Containers.
When planting your seeds you should make sure to add water to your seed compost before planting. The compost should be damp without being soggy with a consistency much like a damp sponge. After planting your seeds, make sure to keep the soil damp to help them germinate.
Lastly, find a location in your house that is bright with indirect sunlight. Make sure it is in a place where you will see your seeds often so you remember to water them!
Myatt’s Fields Park is an amazing community park. It has everything you could possibly want, from sports facilities and playgrounds to peaceful places to wander such as their 19th century bandstand, roundhouse, gardens and paths. But what we love most about it, of course, is their veg garden!
Myatt’s Fields Park has been awarded Green Flag status for its quality green space. The park has also won awards for growing food for local people – and developing habitats for pollinators, like bees. All of this helped along by their expert gardener, Fabrice Baltho.
Growing isn’t just for the spring and summer! To this end, Fabrice and our very own IEL director Marj Landels have put together an excellent series of quick videos with growing tips on what you can grow over the winter. You can find the first of the series as a taster below and the rest you can view on their website here: How can I grow my own food?
Don’t let that sprouting garlic clove go to waste! Yes, that garlic clove can be grown into a lovely full bulb of garlic and winter is the perfect time to plant it.
Watch the video below to see how to plant your garlic and read below to learn more about how to take care of it, harvest it and store it.
As I mentioned in the video above, there are two types of garlic: hardneck garlic and softneck garlic.
Hardneck garlic develops a long flowering stem, called a scape and the cloves circle this stem in a neat single row. They grow well in cold climates and are known to have larger cloves with a tasty mild flavour. Even though they are delicious, we don’t tend to see this type as often in our local shops because they only keep for about 5 to 6 months.
Softneck garlic, on the other hand, is what we mostly see in our grocery stores due to their longer shelf life – about a year. They have more than one row of cloves surrounding the centre of the bulb. These are the kind of garlic bulbs that you might see beautifully plaited together as their ‘necks’ are more flexible. The cloves are usually quite a bit smaller than the hardneck variety and they tend to have a stronger flavour.
Winter is an ideal time to plant softneck garlic cloves as they need a spell of one to two weeks at 0-4C to trigger proper bulb growth. So let’s get them in the ground!
One thing before we start, the RHS specifically warns against planting garlic from your grocery store. This is because there is a possibility they might carry disease. With this in mind, I suggest planting any store bought cloves in a planter rather than in the ground. This will help prevent disease from contaminating your growing space for any neighbouring or future plants. If you have purchased certified disease free ‘seed garlic’, these can be put right into the ground.
Site and Ground
Garlic likes a sunny, warm location in rich, well-drained soil. If you have a bit of fresh compost, work it into the soil before you plant. Also make sure the location you have selected won’t get too wet over the winter.
Planting garlic cloves is very simple. First, separate the cloves from each other, but do not peel them. Generally, you will grow larger bulbs from the largest cloves. If space is at a premium in your garden as it is in mine, I recommend planting just the largest cloves. Now, make a hole for each of your cloves so the the tip of the clove will be about 2.5cm (1in) deep. Space these holes about 5cm (2in) apart. Space them further, 15cm (6in) apart and in rows 30cm (12in) apart if you are planting into the ground instead of a container. Put one clove in each hole with the pointed (or sprouted) end up and cover with about 2.5cm (1in) of soil. That’s it! Like with other plants or seedlings, covering these with horticultural fleece will help prevent birds and foxes from pulling up up your newly planted cloves.
Garlic needs plenty of water during it’s growing season between March and June. That said, make sure not to overwater as high moisture levels and low light can cause leaf rust. Ideally you want the soil wet, but not soggy throughout their growing period. Make sure to keep the garlic planter well weeded because garlic has long, thin, straight leaves that make them vulnerable to being smothered by weeds. Once the green leaves of the garlic stop growing and start to yellow a bit, stop watering. This will keep the bulbs from rotting at the neck.
Harvesting full garlic bulbs requires some patience as it can take up to 7 months for your bulbs to reach maturity. You will know it is time to harvest your garlic when the leaves have turned completely yellow. This will be sometime in July or August, depending on when you planted your bulbs. Harvest your garlic when the weather is dry and gently loosen them out of the soil with a garden fork as they bruise very easily. Shake off the loose soil and leave them out to dry on the surface of the soil for a few hours. Next you will need to dry out (“cure”) your garlic in a protected airy space for about three weeks. Whey they are nice and dry, you can trim the tops and roots off and store them.
You can also harvest garlic shoots while they are still green and enjoy them much like you would chives. Cut off shoots that are about 4 inches tall and make sure to never take more than 1/3 of the plant at a time. Doing this will likely make the bulb smaller. You can always plant those smaller garlic cloves and use them in this way rather than harvesting them as a bulb in the summer.
Store the garlic as whole bulbs as once you remove a clove from a bulb the broken head will only keep for about 3 to 10 days. Light and moisture can cause mould to grow on the garlic. Make sure to put the bulbs in a basket or open paper bag to allow for air to circulate around them. Put them somewhere dark, but at room temperature, like a cupboard or pantry. If you have 10 or more bulbs, plaiting them and hanging them makes an attractive storage solution.
For all of you growing with us this winter, we have put together this video and the following instructions on how to plant your seedlings.
Before you plant your seedlings, give them a very good watering.
2. Prepare the soil:
If you are planting your seedlings in the ground, dig planting holes in the garden bed with a trowel. Make each hole the same depth as the seedling’s container and space the holes according to the type of seedling:
Spring Cabbage: 30 – 40 cm apart Spinach: 20 cm Spring onions: 15 to 20cm Mizuna: 15cm
You can plant them a little closer, but most will grow bigger with more space.
All of these veg will do well in containers (though will grow a bit smaller). As with planting in the garden, dig planting holes with a trowel to the same depth as the seedling’s container. For the cabbages, I recommend growing one cabbage per 40cm diameter by 40cm height pot as they need quite a bit of room. If the cabbage is grown closer it may not make a cabbage head, but you can still harvest and eat the leaves. You can also make a rather attractive edible container by mixing some of the seedlings together (I have done this with my veg as you can see in the instruction video).
These plants will do well in all-purpose potting soil and there is no need to mulch or fertilise them now as they will not require food until spring.
For the Mizuna, carefully ease the seedlings out of the tray they were growing in and gently tease them apart. For all the other seedlings, carefully hold onto the seed leaves of your seedling and use a pencil or chopstick to ease the plant out of the compost, retaining as much root as possible. Always lift your seedlings one at a time and never hold by the stem or roots, as you can easily damage the plant. Carefully slide the seedling into the hole you dug and then gently but firmly push the soil in around it until the seedling is well supported. Do not be tempted to bury the stem to provide more support for these plants as you would with something like a tomato, as that can cause the stem to rot.
Gently water the freshly planted seedlings. Our family likes to use a little watering can we make ourselves out of used milk bottles. We poke several holes with something fine, like at pin, into the lid which makes for a soft spray of water that is gentle on your little plants.
These seedlings will grow slowly over the winter and will be mature, ready for harvest in the spring.
The seedlings would be best positioned in an area protected from wind and the harshest of the winter weather.
Pigeons and foxes love fresh dirt and seedlings! If your seedlings are in an area where birds or foxes might be able to access them, please try and protect the seedlings by covering them with mesh or garden fleece.
An example from one of our members:
You won’t need to worry too much about light needs for the seedlings at the moment, but make sure that in the early spring they will be in a location that will get as much of the spring sunshine as possible.
Good luck to all our growers with their seedlings! We look forward to updating you and our growing community with their progress.
‘Growing our Communities’ is funded by the London Community Foundation
For our winter growing this year we provided four different types of vegetables:
Here is a little information about each including the variety (where there is one), growing habits, and a bit about what they might taste like.
Spring Cabbage (Caraflex F1): Spring cabbages grow slowly over the winter and are harvested from late February through to the beginning of June. They form mild, tender, small heads which are usually conical in shape and loose leafed. They are often also called spring greens or collards.
Spring onions (White Lisbon): Spring onions, also known as scallions or green onions, are harvested when they are very young, before the bulb has had a chance to swell. They are much milder than other onions and the entire onion, both the bulb and the long green tops, is edible. They are very tasty raw or cooked.
Spinach (Giant Winter): Considered to be a superfood by many, spinach is a dark green, leafy vegetable loaded with vitamins and nutrients. It can be grown to produce a crop all year round. Just harvest a few leaves at a time once they are large enough to pick.
Mizuna: Mizuna is a Japanese green leafy vegetable with a distinctive peppery flavour. It grows in bunches from a centre stalk with long stems. The beautiful leaves have lots of sections to them and look slightly feathery or fringed. Mizuna is often used fresh in salads or cooked for stir-fries and the young flowering stems can be cooked like broccoli.