For fresh food, just add wa­ter

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - HOME - Peter Cun­dall

IRE­CEIVED a bit of a shock in our veg­etable patch a cou­ple of weeks ago, but it was a nice one. Only fi ve days ear­lier I had sowed bush bean seeds and given them a good, sin­gle wa­ter­ing. The whole lot were up and al­ready un­furl­ing their fi rst leaves. I could hardly be­lieve my eyes. The rea­son why they ger­mi­nated so rapidly was the won­der­fully warm soil at this time of the year.

In most parts of Tas­ma­nia there is still time to sow a crop of bush beans. This week I’ll sow more root- crop seeds, this time car­rots, beetroot, parsnips and sil­ver­beet.

Most will have grown and ma­tured by late April to pro­vide non- stop win­ter and spring eat­ing.

Best of all is the warm soil start, es­pe­cially for the car­rots.

Last Jan­uary the car­rots seeds I sowed took less than a week to ger­mi­nate, but I still had to keep the bed con­stantly moist by wa­ter­ing ev­ery morn­ing, af­ter­noon and evening.

That’s be­cause car­rot seeds are too small to be able to store mois­ture. If they are al­lowed to dry out af­ter they have started to ger­mi­nate they will die.

On the other hand, big seeds, such as beans, pump­kins and sweet corn be­come tiny reser­voirs af­ter an ini­tial wa­ter­ing. This is enough to carry them right through to com­plete ger­mi­na­tion. It is also a rea­son why the most com­mon cause of fail­ure with big seeds is over- wa­ter­ing.

As for the sil­ver­beet, that’s to en­sure fresh, disease- free plants by au­tumn. Our ex­ist­ing plants were started in spring and are still in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion, pro­vid­ing all the tasty, ten­der leaves we can eat.

How­ever, th­ese same plants will be too old by April and be full of rust.

And they won’t last the win­ter any­way, be­cause they’ll be bolt­ing to seed by Au­gust. Bet­ter to start a new row of sil­ver­beet now that will re­main in good con­di­tion un­til next Septem­ber.

My ear­lier sow­ings of the root- veg­eta­bles was late last Oc­to­ber. The soil was still cool, so the car­rot seed ger­mi­nated er­rat­i­cally.

In fact a few seedlings were still emerg­ing a month later. As for the parsnip seed, it turned out to be a dis­as­ter be­cause very few seedlings emerged.

This was de­spite the op­ti­mistic use- by date on the packet be­ing some­time next year. I sus­pect the real ger­mi­na­tion fail­ure was be­cause the seed was too old.

Parsnip seeds are no­to­ri­ous for los­ing vi­a­bil­ity, which is why it is vi­tally im­por­tant to al­ways try to sow the fresh­est seed.

I im­me­di­ately sowed another lot, but this time I used my own seeds, har­vested from last sum­mer’s bolted parsnips. They came up like grass in 16 days.

Only the orig­i­nal beetroot seeds ger­mi­nated strongly. In fact, the plants thrived so well that most are al­ready big enough for har­vest­ing.

Seeds are funny things re­ally. In a way they are noth­ing more than bits of trapped life, wait­ing to be lib­er­ated by warmth and mois­ture and, in some cases, light.

The seeds that ger­mi­nate most rapidly from my own ex­pe­ri­ence are radishes.

They are up and mov­ing only three days af­ter be­ing sown. And at this time of the year, we can be eat­ing de­li­cious, spicy radishes only three to four weeks af­ter sow­ing. No won­der they are such a mar­vel­lous way of in­tro­duc­ing small chil­dren to veg­etable grow­ing.

Some seeds need to go through a fer­men­ta­tion process to be­come ex­tra- vi­able. Toma­toes are a good ex­am­ple. I al­ways like to save the best seeds, which means I choose the tasti­est- look­ing toma­toes I can fi nd.

Then I al­low them to slowly rot un­til they col­lapse and fi nally be­come cov­ered with a grey, furry mould.

This slimy lot is dumped into a large glass of wa­ter, stirred and left for a few days.

The scummy stuff fl oats to the sur­face while the heav­ier seeds set­tle on the bot­tom. It is an easy task to sep­a­rate them and spread the seeds on ab­sorbent pa­per to dry out for long stor­age.

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