How to plant seeds in a flower pot

How to plant seeds in a flower pot

Planting seeds in pots

Planting seeds in pots

There are 3 main ways of sowing seeds:

  1. Sowing directly into the soil where they will grow.
  2. Sowing them into modules
  3. Sowing them into flowerpots. (or other containers) 

Here we are going to talk about sowing seeds in plant pots, flower pots or containers.

Here are some of the advantages of using pots:

 1. No weeds: You can be certain that the only seeds in the soil are the ones that you want to grow so there is no weeding or competition from weeds. 

2. Portability: Pots are portable and they can be moved around. For example moved into warmer or sunnier places or moved away from the cold if necessary. It is good for young seedlings  to have some air movement to strengthen the stems and also to have some direct sunlight. Plants tend to lean over to face where the light is coming from so you can move them around if light is coming from a narrow source.

3. Preparation: The purpose of growing seeds in pots is to raise small vigorous healthy plants.  When they are eventually planted into their final growing place as healthy robust plants all weeds can be destroyed at the moment of planting. If a mulch is applied immediately after planting our plants will have no competition and very little weeding will be necessary.

Which seeds are not suited to being sown in a flowerpot? 

I don’t plant very big seeds such as broad beans in pots. Some plants hate being transplanted so it is best to sow them where they will grow. Examples of these are root crops such as  carrots and parsnips. However if seedlings are handled very carefully they can be planted in pots. Radishes germinate very quickly and are very vigorous so it is best to plant them in the field. 

What type of soil should be used in the pot? 

The most important part of the soil in the pot is the first 3 cm. I fill up the flower pot with any old garden soil to within about 10cm from the top of the pot. Then I use some commercial potting compost soil from a  garden center to within 1.5cm from the top.  The soil right at the top should be fairly fine without any big lumps and it must be totally sterile. You can make your own seed compost for this purpose by putting some soil in a microwave or heating it up in a pan and then passing it through a sieve.  I tend to buy specialized seed compost from the garden center if they have any.

How to sow the seed? 

The most important factor is the depth that you put the seed. Very small seeds tend to  to be left on the surface and bigger seeds are planted deeper.   It often tells you on a seed packet the depth they should be planted. Some seeds need light to germinate whereas others will germinate in the dark.  Many people say that you should sow the seeds on the surface then cover them with other soil to the recommended depth. I tend to put the seeds on the surface and then mix them in with the end of a pencil so that most of them are more or less the correct depth. 

How long does germination take? 

Normally between 7 days and 3 weeks. The time is very dependent on temperature. Plants that need high temperatures to grow like pepper and aubergines like a high temperature say 20C. Cold tolerant plants such as cabbages will germinate at 8C.  The rate of germination depends on how old the seeds are.  In time the germination rate of a batch of seeds goes down until eventually they are all sterile. Below is a viability chart for common seeds.

  • 1 year: onions, parsnips, parsley, salsify, and spinach
  • 2 years: sweetcorn, peas, beans, chives, okra, dandelion
  • 3 years: carrots, leeks, asparagus, turnips
  • 4 years: peppers, chard, pumpkins, squash, watermelons, basil, artichokes
  • 5 years: most brassicas, beets, tomatoes, aubergine, cucumbers, celery, celeriac, lettuce, endive, chicory

What are common mistakes when planting seeds?
If you look at the pictures of novice gardeners on facebook, the biggest mistake is letting the seedlings go leggy.  Being leggy means having a very long thin stem. This is caused by having insufficient light and maybe being too warm.  A 10cm long seedling with a tiny thin stem and 2 small leaves at the top will most likely die very soon.  As soon as  seeds germinate they need lots of light and if they have been put in a high temperature to germinate they should be put in a cooler place. Seedlings grow stronger if they have some air movement which will make them sway around and strengthen the stems.  People growing plants inside in artificial lights use rotating fans.

The most common problem with seedlings is damping off. This is when the seedlings start to die and rot for no particular reason.  It is caused by  fungus or mould that thrives in cool, wet conditions.   If you have this problem, use sterilized pots or trays with good drainage and use clean new potting soil to prevent damping off. Pots can be sterilized with bleach and soil can be heated in a microwave  or a pot. To get complete sterilization,  you should heat the soil to between 80 and 90C for 30 minutes.  By the way, heated soil smells terrible. 

What to do with the seedlings? 
You have to wait until the seedlings are big enough to be transplanted. Generally speaking, seedlings should be more than 3 centimetres high. Seedlings can be either planted into small pots or modules or planted into the ground. 

Inverna Winter lettuce

Inverna Winter lettuce

The image above is of winter lettuce. It has actually been in the pot for some time. I have already potted up many seedlings from this pot into modules. These seedlings are big enough to be planted into the ground or into little pots. I would normally transplant the seedlings when they are smaller than they are in the photo.  In the background of the photo, you can see plastic modules. Seedlings can be planted into modules to let them get established.

Labels
Don’t forget to label your pots very clearly. You will need a permanent marker. Garden centres sell labels with a special pencil which will not become illegible.  In the past I have made home made  labels out of recycled  plastic bottles.  

How to transplant seedlings?
The only tools I use for this job is my index finger or if the seedlings are small I use a pencil. First I plunge my finger or a knife into the pot  to bring up a clump of seedlings. Then a seedling is pulled away from the clump. I only touch the seedling by the end of one of the leaves.  A hole is made in the place where the seedling is to be planted with a pencil or a finger and the root is lowered in. Afterwards, the soil is very gently  firmed down, then the seedling is watered in with some water from a cup or given a squirt from a spray. The seedling should not be lying down on the soil. The leaves should be in the air. They will take 2 or 3 days to get established. Some of them may die. In that case, just transplant another one from the mother pot.  This is a very pleasant activity on a sunny day. Make sure you listen to music while doing this activity. I find reggae is very suitable. 

Luke Jayne and Ditte transplanting seedlings

Other Comments
The soil that seeds are planted in does not  need any fertilizer. Once the seedlings have been transplanted, they benefit from some nutrients. They seem to like dilute shit tea. Just put some manure in a  bucket of water to soak for a while.  Dilute it with some water and pour over the plants. 

Maravilla Lettuce

Maravilla Lettuce

The image above shows the final product. These lettuce have been recently transplanted from modules. They will quickly expand and completely cover the soil. No weeds will be able to grow. 

Stupice Tomatoes

Stupice Tomatoes

Stupice Tomato

Stupice Tomato

Stupice are one of my favourite tomatoes and possible the most favourite.  I originally bought the seeds several years ago when I was trying to find cold resistant heirloom varieties. I bought several packets of cold tolerant seeds such as “First in the Field” “Arctic” etc but Stupice were the ones that I most liked. There are several reasons why I am a stupice tomato aficionado which I will list below.

Taste: The taste is perfect with just the right contrast  of sweet and acid flavours.

Size:
They are gold ball sized which means that they don’t take ages to pick and process like cherry tomatoes. 

Productivity: They are very prolific and produce vines of several tomatoes.

More Information: Stupice tomatoes originally came from the Czech Republic. I pronounce Stupice as “STEW PIS” but it should be “STU PEACH KA” or “STOO PEET SAY”. Stupice is  naturally disease resistant and tends to suffer less from blight than other tomatoes planted next to it.  It is compact indeterminate (vine) type with potato leaves. The golf ball sized tomatoes  grow in clusters.  They matures in 60-65 days.  They are said to be cold tolerant. 

Bowl of Stupice Tomatoes

Bowl of Stupice Tomatoes

One of the best ways to use these tomatoes is to make a tomato salad. Just cut them into chunks. Add a sprinkle of salt and a good glug of extra virgin olive oil. Wait 20 minutes for the salt to pull out some of the juices and you have a dish fit for heaven. 

You can buy stupice tomatoes here

Solar Drier

A VERY GOOD SOLAR FOOD DRIER

The easiest and most efficient solar food drier possible made from recycled objects.

Solar Drier

View of the Solar Drier

I spent many hours looking on internet for plans on how to make a solar drier. There are hundreds of different designs on pinterest and on homesteading sites. I almost started to make a couple of the most promising ones but fortunately I waited.  I eventually found one that I considered to have the best concept at  Elder Grove Homestead (see link below)  I then realized that I already had all the materials needed to make a solar drier without buying  anything and without building or constructing anything. My version uses a clear  window with most of the heating happening on the bottom corrugated iron  plate which generates a slow hot convectional current of air. 

Materials

A piece of corrugated iron painted black.
Some metal mesh with fairly small holes wired down to panels of an old chicken run.
Some circular sand sieves. (builders use them for sieving sand)
Some old windows.
Some ground which has a slight slope.

Solar Drier with windows

The above photo shows the solar drier in use:

How it works.

The sun shines through the window and heats up the black corrugated iron base. The heat and air is trapped in by the glass. As the solar drier is on a slope, the hot air moves slowly upwards  and then escapes from the top of the window. New air is constantly drawn in from the bottom. The food does not burn because as the temperature gets hotter the air moves faster. If it rains it is no problem the food is protected and it does not need to be brought in. The temperature is too hot for insects and even ants do not stay long.

Efficiency.

We have two or 3 electric food  driers but after a few days using this one I packed them away because this works so much better. In the hot sun of August most things were bone dry in one day. I even used this system to dry a load of comfrey leaves so that I don’t have to put up with the smell of rotting comfrey. I can just add the dried comfrey powder directly to the plants.

Advantages.

The main advantage is that no construction is required. If the drier is not in use you can just pick up the pieces and stack them somewhere. No electricity. No moving parts. A lot of the solar driers you see on internet have one window leading to a whole stack of food trays. Even in hot weather this must be slow. With our design the food is dried very quickly, at first you can even see the moisture condensing  on the window. 

Cost.

If you have to buy the windows it could be quite expensive however old windows are quite easy to get hold of. Other websites say that the mesh should be made out of food grade stainless steel. This is probably correct but I think I will risk it. If you paint the corrugated iron you should probably leave it out for a few days to drive off any volatile chemicals. (I did not actually paint mine) . The builder’s sieves can be bought from any builder’s merchant alternatively you can make some wooden frames and staple mesh onto them.

Notes.

As you can see we have  two options of placing the food. On the sand sieves or on the mesh grids. Either work perfectly but the sieves are easier to load with produce and bring to and from the kitchen. The windows are not connected with hinges they can be lifted up with one hand while the food is slipped in with the other. If they get dirty they can be picked up and blasted with water.

Dried Food

Dried Food

The photo above are some of the dried foods on the kitchen shelf ready to be added to many dishes during the winter months. The Tsunami by the way is a failed attempt to make marmite from wine yeast. In the end I dried it out and decided that it will add some umami taste to some foods (hence the name)  In the year of COVID just the two of us managed to dry a massive amount of food during the summer.

For loads of technical details and useful information go to Elder Grove Homestead You don’t need all the hinges and fancy construction techniques that they use you can just do it like mine on the floor with a few old windows.

Picking and Cooking Sweetcorn

A corncob

Success with growing Sweetcorn
2020 has been a very good year for sweetcorn. It is now mid September and we have been eating fresh sweetcorn regularly since the start of July and we should be eating fresh sweetcorn until at least mid October.

How to grow sweetcorn.
It is now possible to buy super sweet varieties of Sweetcorn seeds at any seed shop. I plant my seeds in a big flower pot or just any container which has soil at least 10cm deep. I put the seeds about 1cm down and about 5 centimeters apart.  I plant them out when the little plants are  about 12 cm high. Sweetcorn does not like the cold so it is best if the average temperature is over 14C when they are planted out. I doubt if they would survive a frost.

This year I made extra effort to fertilize them well using only organic fertilizer. Under each plant I have put a 3 double hand fulls of cow manure and one double handful of chicken manure. I prepared the ground using a small fork. Once they started growing well I put a thick mulch of leaves to suppress the weeds. Sweetcorn grows best in a group of plants rather than a line  so I have planted rectangular groups of about 20 plants.

To be able to harvest sweetcorn over a long periods of time I grow 3 or 4 patches. When one clump of sweetcorn gets well established I plant some more seeds. This year, eating sweetcorn every couple of days for months on end has been heavenly.

When to pick sweetcorn.
Each sweetcorn plant grows 2 or 3 corncobs.  People say that you should  open up a corncob and push your thumbnail into into a kernel. If you see a milky liquid it means they are ready. What happens if they are not ready? You have just ruined a corncob. The best indicator of being ready is when the beards go brown. Each corncob has a lot of strands coming out of the end they eventually turn brown. When almost all of the beard is brown they are ready.

How to cook sweetcorn.
The big problem with sweetcorn is that the fibrous kernels get stuck in your teeth. This problem gets worse as you get older because as you get older there are more gaps in between your teeth. This year we seem to have solved this problem. Either after cooking or before we cut the corncobs into bite sized pieces. The incisors at the front of your mouth cut the kernels of  the corncob without getting stuck in your teeth.

To cook sweetcorn put it in cold water, bring to the boil, simmer for between 10 and 15 minutes. Leave in a water for 5 minutes. We are at 1300 metres high here so water boils at 95C, your cooking time might be less. 

How to store sweetcorn.
If you don’t manage to eat all your sweetcorn fresh then you can leave it to go dry. Just pick the corncobs, take off the outer coverings and put them in a dry airy place. The best way to use dried corn kernels is to make sweetcorn fritters or maize fritters. There are loads of recipes on internet. The other way to store them is by canning/bottling them and the result is the same as canned sweetcorn that you buy in the supermarket. You will need a pressure cooker to get the temperature very high because sweetcorn does not have much natural acid. There are lots of instructional videos on internet.

Sweetcorn cut into pieces

Here is a video of one of our sweetcorn patches.

Baking Bread in a Wood Oven

Pizza Oven Being Lit

We have another page about making cakes in a wood-fired oven here.

Here is a description of how I make bread in a bread oven.

The Heat:

Cooking in a wood fired oven is complicated because unlike an electric or gas oven, you can’t set an exact temperature which will remain constant.The temperature is more like a curve on a graph. The main idea of a wood oven is that the initial fire will cause the walls of the oven to heat up and that heat will be given back into the oven over a period of time. It is also possible to keep a small fire going at the back of the oven to maintain the temperature over a long period of time. This technique would be used for example for a pizza restaurant who have to serve pizzas over several hours. In our case, we just heat the oven up at the start and let it cool down slowly.

If possible, it is best to use the heat for as many things as possible. For example, the oven can be heated up to 450C to make some pizzas at 2pm. At 3.30pm the temperature is just right to make cakes, bread, or roast some butternut squashes for later use. Later on, we can roast some almonds, then use the heat to sterilize some glass jars for tomatoes and when the temperature gets down to 50C, we can even use it to dry some figs overnight. The oven can also be used for smoking fish. It is always best to try to make the best use of the energy that we have used. 

We use a thermometer which came with the oven which has a metal probe and a dial (as you can see in the photo above). It is probably not that accurate because it only measures the temperature at one place in the oven but after a few uses, the thermometer will give you a good, rough indication of the temperature. If you want to know the correct temperature in any part of the oven so that you could follow a recipe, it is best to use a hand-held digital thermometer.

There is an air cut off in the chimney and the door of the oven. Generally speaking, we leave the air vents open in the burning phase and close off the air for cooking. 

There is no substitute for trial and error when using a wood oven. You learn how much wood to use and more or less how the temperature curve will behave by getting a feel for it over time.

Making Bread:

Bread made in a bread oven

Obviously the most important ingredient is the flour. In our case, we buy ready mixed bread flour from Lidl supermarket which has all the necessary ingredients such as dried yeast and nutrients already added. This flour is actually intended for use in bread makers. I mix the dough in a Kenwood mixer with a dough hook for 4 minutes. I have it wetter than they recommend in the instructions on the packet. If you want to knead the dough by hand, then you would have to have a drier mixture. 

I let it rise in the mixer bowl until it has risen quite a lot (1 hour). I then put it in tins and let it rise again for another hour. Make sure you put some oil in the tins to stop it sticking. I always cut up an onion and add it to the dough and I also add some nuts such as walnuts or almonds. It doesn’t make it taste oniony but it seems to make it go stale slower.

Cook for about 45 minutes at 180ÂșC. People say that homemade bread is heavy but the secret is letting it rise enough. If it does not rise, you have either got bad flour with not enough gluten or bad yeast. In a wood-fired bread oven, all these time periods change every single time. If you don’t have any bread tins, roll the dough into balls (the size of a squash ball), put them on a flat baking tray and put them in the oven when they are the size of a cricket ball. It’s not a problem if they stick together as they will pull apart after cooking. When you take the bread out of the oven, knock it out of the tins or it will go soggy. If you can’t easily shake the bread out of the tin, it probably is not ready yet. After taking the bread out of the tin, leave it on a rack with air circulating around until it cools. If there is too much for one day, cut it into slices and put it in the freezer.

We have another page about making cakes in a wood fired oven here.