There are few things so delicate as a newly emerged seedling. Even a misfired watering can be catastrophic to their feeble stalks.
I will be responsible for nurturing over two hundred over the coming weeks ahead of their transfer to the allotment.
It is pleasing to see them come up, for many don’t even get that far. Whether they weren’t viable, were planted badly, or the varying temperatures in the grow-house proved too much, I don’t know.
But their empty cells shall be refilled mercilessly.
The hardest challenge comes from timing the seedlings’ eventual journey to the plot.
Too early and they will face too much of a change, like taking a toddler from baby pool to raging sea.
Too late and the seedlings will have fully taken root in their cell and their growth will be stunted in their final position.
A third way, albeit more labour intensive, is to “pot on” and keep the seedlings undercover, this time in the greenhouse on the plot, in slightly larger pots.
This gives them a better chance but still no guarantee of survival, for birds and small furry creatures will happily feast upon newly planted anything. I will do this for the most valuable plants such as tomatoes, courgette and artichoke but the salads and sweetcorn will have a rougher time of it.
There is, as with all life on earth, a touch of luck involved. Last year I got lucky as almost everything put in the ground, whether as seed or as transplanted seedling, took off and grew to maturity.
There were some major exceptions though and these rattled my confidence.
The largest failure was the pea. A seemingly easy plant to grow, happily transforming from seed to shoot in a few weeks. They were in the ground and trained up their bespoke cane-and-string structure a week later. All looked good.
Then…. attacks from all sides! Evidence of slug and snail on the leaves; rooks swooping down like small fighter jets from the rowan tree, in my full view, to lift
shoots clean out of the ground; mice digging some of the remaining shoots up.
I protected them with fresh holly which helped a little, but growth of the remaining plants didn’t ever recover.
Eventually, in August, there were some flowers, a rare moment of triumph for it is the flowers that become the pods. But numbers were limited, the number of peas podded and cooked in the dozens, rather than the 1000’s hoped for.
So, this year there shall be no peas on plot 53. Instead, we shall try a quicker growing mangetout (“eat all”) where there are two advantages.
Firstly, they will mature sooner with less time to be attacked, although they will also be provided a higher level of protection – thinking lasers and robotic sentry guns.
Secondly, unlike peas which require patience and timing to get a pod full of peas, you can pick mangetout pods at any size and they should be delicious.
Some of the mangetout seeds are emerging as I write this. They are weak and vulnerable, but we shall be prepared for the many battles that lie ahead!
Keeping the Plot: A journal of growing and cooking Scottish produce – Late March 2019