Tiny seeds reap tasty rewards
THERE’S no question about the wonderful benefits of long, sunny days and rapidly increasing temperatures. Growth is now almost frantic and seeds sown over the next few weeks germinate with astonishing speed.
Carrot seed is a perfect example. It has a false reputation of slow germination and occasional failure. In fact, the greatest cause of poor or erratic germination is sowing the seeds too early.
Normally, carrot seed takes about 15 days to germinate, but when sown in cold soils in late winter or early spring it can take twice as long – and it is during this crucial period when seeds either rot or are attacked by soil pests.
The lucky people are those with well- drained sandy, coastal soils. They can get their carrot crop going well ahead of most of us and can even get year- round supplies.
Sow a row or two this week and the warm soil will ensure seedlings will be up by the end of next week. That means plenty of delicious, finger- length carrots will be on the dining table by early January, with regular picking for the rest of summer.
I should add the next best time for winter carrot crops is about the end of January. They will be a good size by April, providing non- stop supplies right through winter.
Keep in mind carrots are nothing more than the fat tap- roots of biennials that store enough food so they can seed the following spring.
Fortunately, we are able to move in and harvest these nutritious roots before they bolt.
Carrots have a low need for fertilisers or even organic matter. In short, it is a mistake to dig in lots of manure or compost because the main roots become diverted by over- rich soil and fork wastefully in all directions.
I’ve never used any fertilisers when preparing a carrot or other root- crop bed. The best soil is that which was fertilised a year or so ago to grow greedy vegetables such as leaf vegetables and sweet corn.
Carrot seed is very small, so is best mixed with fine, dry sand before sowing. After the bed has been dug and raked level, it is a simple task to press a garden stake or rake handle into the soft surface to leave shallow grooves about one- third of a metre apart.
The sand- seed combination is then poured along these grooves and watered. No backfilling is needed.
Keep the seed- bed moist during the germination period. That means extra watering a couple of times every day if necessary and always a final one just before dark.
Parsnip seed is sown like carrot seed and in the same unfertilised soil, but there are a couple of differences.
Always use fresh parsnip seed. Sealed packets from last spring should be chucked out. Fresh seed takes at least 20 days before germination.
The other major root vegetable is beetroot, which can be sown in the same bed with carrots and parsnips. Beetroot seed is bigger and is, in fact, a cluster of seeds.
I always water newly sown beetroot seed with a heavily diluted boron solution.
This micro- nutrient is needed, especially by beetroot plants. One heaped teaspoonful of boron mixed into 10 litres of water is plenty. The plants don’t need another dose.
These three, common root vegetables are all highly nutritious and crammed with valuable minerals and vitamins. All are best grown from seed, so don’t waste your money on expensive seedlings.
Even a few square metres of sunny, well- drained soil are big enough to provide most families with all the carrots, parsnips and beetroot they need for most of the year.