For fresh food, just add water
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.