Sweet peas are made of this

It’s seed-sowing time at Abriachan. A bit later than normal this year, but most things are in the garden on account of the big freeze.

Various seeds – ornamental thistles (Onopordum acanthium), calendula, lettuce, aubergine, gazanias, cabbages, tomatoes – have been sown into seed trays, watered, covered in plastic and left on the heated germination tray to do their stuff. Some had already germinated. Today we were covering those that needed it with a light layer of compost (and leaving those that germinate better in light). When they’ve germinated these trays will be moved off the heat (but kept covered with plastic) and another batch set off. Too much heat means they will grow faster than their root systems can support. They will also be covered in another layer of compost to ensure good root growth before the stems take off.

Later these seedlings will be pricked out into cells or strips.

Chipping – the practitioner’s word for scarification – is not required for these seeds.

Pots sown with Primula, Daphne, Corylus avellana and some others were left outside over the winter because they germinate better following a period of vernalisation (stratification through exposure to cold then warmth). But the mice got in and had a bit of a feast (they particularly enjoyed the hazelnuts). Then a fall of ice off the greenhouse roof broke the glass cover and smashed some of the pots. Catastrophes happen in horticulture.

Today was a day I have looked forward to since I started going to Abriachan – helping with the sowing of the sweet peas. People come from far and wide (Edinburgh) to get their sweet peas from Abriachan. One of the reasons is that Donald supplies a good range of scented single colour plants as well as multicolour mixes. Another is the quality and vigour of the plants, their propagation and care to ensure they can flourish in this environment.

Planting sweet peas – the watchwords were steady and methodical.

  • Fill a load of 30x 20cm seed trays (we did 25 in total) with Levington’s M2 compost (neatly levelled off to the edge). The trays were new out the box, so there was no need to clean them.
  • Seeds had been bought from Kings and were all Spencer cultivars (apparently the first choice for exhibitors on account of the strong stems, multiple blooms, vivid colour and scent).
  • Sow contents of one 10g packet in each tray – by hand, random but regular.
  • Label tray (stick) with variety, date and colour notes.
  • Store until ready to start them off – cover with a fine layer of compost, first watering with hot (not boiling) water.

I hope I’m there for the pricking out and potting on….

Other things I learned today:

  • Primula and Meconopsis require light to germinate.
  • Auriculas are best propagated by division. Also they apparently attract a particular kind of fanatical specialist growers.
  • For breaking up new ground and generally making light of hard garden work, the Mantis tiller is recommended.

Costing horticultural operations is a bit of a minefield, but there are some clear parameters to take into consideration for plants:

  • Cost of materials (trays, compost, covers, potting up pots, labels)
  • Cost of seed or other propagules
  • Running costs (heat, light)
  • Labour costs (initial propagation, aftercare, potting up, sales)
  • Scarification by chipping is rarely necessary except for the hardest seed coats.
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