I’ve spent much of yesterday standing under the apple tree in the back garden where I have my outdoor potting bench, sowing seeds. Some are for cropping in autumn, others will be for winter and spring harvests. There is a list of everything I’m sowing at the end of this blog post.
 Almost all are for outdoor growing, just a few will be popped into gaps in the polytunnel. I sow most of the polytunnel seeds for over wintering in September for an October planting.

First of all I picked everything that was ready in the polytunnel before it got too warm to be comfortable in there. These are Rugby Pink Plum from Pennard Plants. I’ve not grown them before and hadn’t intended to this year, but found a packet of the seeds on the floor of the Garden Press Event earlier this year, all trodden on and forlorn, so I rescued them – aren’t they lovely? They taste good too.

I picked cucumbers, aubergines and lots of tomatoes. The green leaves behind the trug are melons, which are not ripe yet but some must nearly be. To find out, I have to get on my knees and sniff the melons. Very glad no one can see me…!

Preserving Summer Abundance!

This morning it is pouring down, good for indoor jobs. I’ve sliced 10 tiers worth of tomatoes for the dehydrator (it is a Stockli one) using tomatoes harvested earlier this week – I grow a lot of plants because I do a lot of preserving, nothing is wasted. These tomatoes store well in glass jars in the cupboard for a year or more, great for adding deep tomatoey flavours to soups, stews, pates, breads and other meals – and for making tomato powder (see my book The Creative Kitchen for recipes).

I also can (bottle), make chutneys, spiced jams and other tomato preserves.

This trug makes me very happy!

I keep my seeds in my office, the room where I work, which overlooks the back garden. All of the seeds are stored in small boxes in two large drawers of what was once my brother’s changing station when he was a baby (he is now in his 40s).

I have 2 benches in the greenhouse plus a temporary one made from an old folding table which currently has the onions and shallots drying on it. They are ready to be bunched up for storing.

The other benches are covered with capillary matting to help reduce watering, it is not attractive but really does make a difference.

The greenhouse windows are that strange colour because they are so old, I can’t get them any cleaner. They let a lot more light through than it looks in this photo.

I gathered together everything I needed inside the greenhouse because although the sky was blue, the forecast was for showers and I didn’t want to risk getting my seed packets soggy. That weed is not supposed to be there!

A trug and blue crate of seeds, labels (all are old and being reused), permanent markers, my garden specs and an empty crate to put the seed packets in once they have been sown. I find this really helps me not to get muddled up when I’m doing a big seed sowing session.

Some of my seeds are home saved, such as this Grenoble Red lettuce seed .

Just outside the greenhouse is the apple tree potting bench (an old table) where I placed the potting composts, compost scoop, various sowing trays, a rag for wiping sticky fingers, the sowing tray (this enables me to return any spills to the compost sack, reducing waste) and my new watering can. I have a really lovely red metal Haws watering can which I usually use for sowing, but today I was trying out the car watering can I bought recently from Screw Fix. It was around £11 and works really well – the rose is not as delicate as the Haws can so I needed to be careful not to drown the seedlings, but I will mostly be using it for watering in transplants so that’s fine.

The wood and metal compost scoop is from Burgon and Ball and was gifted. Super-useful for sowing, but an old mug does the same job.

Why a car watering can? I’m not anticipating sudden watering emergencies on the A303! Rather, it’s really useful to have one for use when planting in my work gardens and also at the allotment. I keep some old plastic ones there, but the roses seem to wander off, so having one in my car is handy.

As I’ve explained in previous blog posts, I maximise space and minimise compost use by sowing as many different varieties as possible in one tray, into indentations made by my finger. There are 14 different kinds of seeds in this tray.

Here’s the same tray with a sprinkle of compost on top.

I’m using Dalefoot wool compost for seeds for all of these sowings. It’s peat free and certified organic. Dalefoot gifted me a range of their composts to try out. It’s light to handle, holds moisture well and so far this year has been great for the seedlings.

Earlier this year I also tried Fertile Fibre seed compost, a veganic option which is very good. Light to handle (that is important for me) and excellent germination and moisture retention.

All of the seeds sown in trays are pricked out into modules of different sizes, depending on the type of plant. For example lettuces will be pricked out into 60 small cell modules where as the brassicas, which are planted as larger transplants, are pricked out into larger 40 cell module trays (such as the old second hand polystyrene ones in the photo below).

Some seeds are multi sown directly into modules and are planted out in little clumps to grow on with their friends: spring onions, beetroot, spinach, dill, rocket, mustards. See No Dig Organic Home and Garden for more information about multi sowing or Charles Dowding’s you tube video.

We’re coming up to a peak preserving time when I get through a lot of herbs. I find it helps to have several trays of herb micro leaves which I can cut quickly – such as this tray of thickly sown dill, which will be pickled with cucumbers!

I’ll get several cuts from this tray before it dies back. This works well for most herbs.

I have sown a lot of seeds – they are not just for home use, many will go to my work kitchen garden at Roth Bar and Grill., that’s why! (In case you thought I had suddenly taken on several fields to grow everything in!!)

Once the seedlings start to germinate I’ll spread enviromesh over the top to keep butterflies off. It’s amazing how quickly baby caterpillars can wipe out a whole season’s worth of brassica seedlings in a greenhouse (I speak from experience…) As this is undercover and protected from the weather and less likely to degrade, this is one of the few times that I’d say it’s ok to use cheaper enviromesh or lengths of fine net curtain.

As the sky darkened, it felt like a race against time to finish my gardening jobs. Next – sowing potatoes for harvesting late December onwards. Marshalls kindly sent me a seed potato growing kit to try out: I chose Maris Peer potatoes.

It came with 16 seed potatoes, 3 reusable potato sacks and some potato fertiliser – that isn’t the kind of thing I use, I much prefer to use natural fertilisers (compost, homemade plant feeds etc) but one of my neighbours does so I’ll give it to them.

As well as the Maris Peer, I added 3 Ratte (left over in a paper bag from spring plantings) and 3 Charlotte, fairly recently harvested from the allotment. I chose 3 greenish potatoes that weren’t good to eat – we shall see what happens. I have 3 potato grow bags which I’ve been using for several years now, plus an up cycled seed compost bag (with drainage holes cut into the bottom) and a large plant pot. Eight pots of potatoes in all.

Each bag has a different kind of compost in:  Dalefoot Veg compost, Dalefoot Wool compost for pots, homemade compost  (veganic), used compost (a mixture of different composts) and  Fertile Fibre potting compost.

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Top tip if you are reusing compost that has already been used for seedlings etc – check it for slugs! This cheerful chap was slithering merrily along, not an ideal companion for growing potatoes.

Once I’ve stored the onions in my house the potato sacks will go into the back of the greenhouse. This is to help reduce the risk of blight – fingers crossed!

As the tubers shoot, I’ll be adding more compost and feeding with homemade plant feeds as necessary – not the Dalefoot though as that compost come with enough nutrients for this season.

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There are a few seeds still to sow this week including spring cabbages and these onions for overwintering – the advice from Real Seeds is very specific “August 18th” so who am I to argue with that? They’ll be sown on Sunday.

Happy sowing!

Seeds I’ve sown so far:

Dwarf French Beans
Lettuce including Grenoble Red, Marvel of Four Seasons and Maravilla de Verona
Florence Fennel
Spinach
Kale including Dazzling Blue and Cavolo Nero
Pak Choi
Endive
Chicories
Chinese Cabbage
Edible marigolds
Spring and bunching onions
Beetroot
Chervil
Dill
Parsley
Anise
Celery Leaf
Coriander
Land Cress
Tatsoi
Japanese greens
Wasabi rocket
Wild rocket
Rocket
Orach
Celtuce
Mispoona
Mustards

26 comments

    1. Thanks Jane. I’m sowing carrots in the polytunnel September/early October (they start cropping March/April) I do that every year. Also will be trying out an outdoor sowing of short carrots this weekend but as I don’t know how they’ll go didn’t add them to the list – we shall see!

  1. Inspiring and informative as always Steph – and very real. I just lost a crop of young brassicas due to negligence over cabbage whites. I’m planning a row of short carrots too, and onions from seed – on 18th, who knew! At least, that’s one sowing date I haven’t missed yet. I also really, really need an outside sowing area next year…

    1. Yes, it has been a difficult year – I’ve had much more trouble with flea beetles than ever before. The wind blew the mesh off in some bad weather and in they hopped….
      Best of luck with your sowings

  2. Superb blog Steph, thanks for the tips and advice. I saw on your list leaf celery. Is this different from Par-cel? I find it’s much more celery like than parsley, but I love adding it to stews/soups etc.

    1. Thank you Gabor. I think they are different plants but could be mistaken. It’s a useful herb, grows all winter with some protection. Happy in pots too

    1. Dwarf French beans, not climbing and it depends where you live. I’m in South Somerset. They are for gaps in the polytunnel, greenhouse and also outside, I’ll give them some protection in October.

  3. Really informative. Great ideas for what to sow now. A question – is the coriander being sown for next year? Inside or out? Thanks for a great blog – I have signed up!

    1. Thank you Louise, glad you like the blog. The coriander is for planting outside – it’s surprising how long into the winter it will last. I’ll be sowing again around 11th September for planting in the polytunnel. I’m a big coriander fan!

  4. Thanks for the inspiration! It sounds like gardening is going super well for you at the moment. Best of luck for the rest of summer and the coming autumn.

  5. Inspired by your gorgeous tomatoes and also the boullion powder in your cookbook, I ordered a (cheap) dehydrator. The instructions are awful,eg cherries, make core dry before going nuclear!!??!! No temperatures and v vague timings (eg 6-38 hours). Do you take the skins off the tomatoes before you dehydrate them, it’s hard to tell from the photo. How thick approx do you slice them and how long do they usually take at what temp? I know your Stockli will probably be a different power to my 250W. Have you ever tried drying courgettes or are they a waste of time. I have the proverbial glut. Tempted to try the soup in your book…. and muffins…

    1. Hi Jan, those instructions do sound vague. My tomatoes were at 70 ˚C and took between 8 and 12 hours – some were rather large slices. I don’t skin them and slice a few mm thick with a sharp knife.

      During dehydrating, I switch the trays around so that the bottom ones end up at the top etc.

      Sometimes I just chop cherry tomatoes in half and dehydrate like that.

      The Stockli is 600W.

      HTH 🙂

  6. Thanks Steph, thought I’d try a cheap one first as I don’t know how much use it will get and it may end up languishing at the back of a cupboard. Do you find you use yours a lot or just occasionally when you have a glut? As someone stole our greenhouse, the only thing we have a glut of is courgettes. Not sure if they’d be worth doing though. Have you tried?
    Jan

    1. I use mine quite a lot but do grow rather a lot too. I do dehydrate courgettes, they are useful to add to winter sauces and stews etc. Perhaps see if you can borrow someone’s locally rather than buy, and see how you get on with it?

  7. This is a lovely and inspiring post, so thank you Steph. I’m dashing into the garden in the cool of the morning to get sowing, pyjamas optional! 😊 I really appreciate your sharing and each year I try to get better with my growing/sowing, and it helps to know you are a busy Mum too.xx

    May I just ask what variety of beetroot you sow now?

    1. Thank you, I am so glad you enjoy the blog. I have all three children home this weekend!

      I sowed 8 different beetroot varieties to do a trial, the best one for this time of year is Cylindra.

  8. Thank you so much…hopefully extra hands to help in the garden?! My eldest has just been picking rowan berries from his naming tree…jelly planned x

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