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Wally Richards
Wally Richardshttp://www.gardenews.co.nz
Wally Richards has been a gardening columnist for over 30 years. Check his websites - for gardening news and tips visit www.gardenews.co.nz. For mail order products visit www.0800466464.co.nz. Wally also has a gardening problem help line on 0800 466 464.

Gardening with Wally Richards: Early season start

Winter gardening opinion

Each year in the winter I have been chaffing at the bit to get an early start to the new season because the earlier you can get started the earlier you can harvest the first tomatoes, cucumbers etc.

To enable you to do this now year need a glasshouse or a sunny conservatory, a heat pad then you can get started.

We are now just [4] days from the shortest day on the 21st June, after which slowly the day light hours will extend and that is what plants want, increasing days of sunlight.

The first thing to do is to select what seeds you are going to buy and grow for the early season.

You have a range of seeds in garden shops, mail order through the likes of Egmont Seeds and Kings Seeds.

Starting with tomato seeds you need to pick a type that will set fruit in the cooler temperatures of spring when they reach flowering stage.

Egmont seeds has ‘Heirloom Russian Red’ which is not a tall growing plant more a bush type with medium size fruit.

Kings Seeds also has Russian Red plus Tomato Sub Arctic Plenty a special tomato bred for the US Greenland Military bases to endure extremely cold climates.

Produces concentrated clusters of small, good flavored, red fruit that ripen almost simultaneously.

A very small plant ideal for a pot with a compact habit and can grow on a sunny window sill.

I purchase a plant of this a couple of seasons ago and it is responding well to the cold in one of my glasshouses with small ripe fruit each week.

Once you have established a plant then from ripe fruit collect seed to use in the future.

Another one that I have enjoyed and had success with early in season and late season is cucumber Iznik Mini F1 Hybrid which produces shiny finger cucumbers with smooth skin and intense taste.

A very early maturing plant that is littered with 10cm long fruit well before other varieties.

The plant is Parthenocarpic meaning it does not require pollination to set the fruit which is great for growing in a glasshouse.

It can therefore produce high yields even under adverse conditions and without bee activity.

Ideal for pot growing and some support is needed as they grow about 3 metres long growing up to near top of glass then along wires fruiting as they grow.

They do need a bit of heat so even in a glasshouse dont be too much of a hurry to germinate and get them going;

likely August would be a good time to get them away except for those living in warmer areas then now or soon would be fine.

The seeds are available from Egmont Seeds on line. (There are only 5 seeds in the packet).

To germinate seeds this time of the year you really need a heat pad which is going to cost you about $50.00 this is a small outlay as I have heat pads which are over 30 years old and still going strong.

Some garden centres will have heating pads for sale otherwise you should be able to find a pad on line.

Brew shops are another possible source of heat pads.

I always place a thickness of polystyrene under the heat pad as this drives all the heat upwards.

Seeds can be grown in peat pots, small punnets (half punnets) cell punnets or small pots using a sieved purchased compost such as Daltons.

The reason to sieve is to remove the big bits and end up with a nice fine product.

I prefer to have just one seed per pot/small punnet and if you only have five seeds in a purchased packet such as the cucumbers above you don’t want to have to try and separate the seedlings for planting.

Fill the container ¾ full with sieved compost and moisten down with sprays of Magic Botanic Liquid (MBL) diluted at 20mls per litre of water.

Place one seed in the middle of the pot and spray that with MBL to wet the seed.

Cover with a little more of the mix and spray that also.

I like to set this up in the kitchen on a table in front of the window, not that light is important but so I don’t forget it as with a heat pad you need to spray the mix two or three times a day as the heat will dry it out.

First thing in the morning, last thing at night and once in the middle of the day.

The MBL help speed up germination. I do not like the propagation units with covers over them as too much humidity can cause fungal diseases and you may forget to spray thinking the moisture is trapped inside.

In Nature no one comes along and sticks a plastic cover over where seeds are going to germinate.

As soon as you see movement and the first embryo leaves have lifted and opened then your seedling and container goes out into your glasshouse to sit on a bench.

This is very important as to obtain a good seedling you must have it sitting where it is going to get light from overhead such as inside the glasshouse on a bench.

Light through a window on the sill will make the seedling stretch to the light, weaken and likely die.

The seedling will need to be moistened still, just enough moisture to moisten mix to stop it from drying out completely.

Too much water and a cold night will cause loses.

As the plant grows and obtains more true leaves, being in the small container or punnet it will need increased amounts of water and also start applying a liquid plant food which is ideal for both hydroponics and medium grown plants such as Wallys Plant Food used at only 10mils per litre of water.

I like to add a little of the MBL to the same litre say 5 mls.

Wallys Liquid Fish Fertiliser is also another nice food for baby plants.

Give a little drink of the mix as the growing medium starts to look dry.

It is best to do this during the morning or early afternoon so the mix is not so damp as evening approaches.

The combination of the liquids is a super food and it will certainly get your plants growing.

Have the made up solution in a bottle that you can shake prior to using each time.

If you do not have a glasshouse then you can still get an early start by germinating seeds of tomatoes, capsicums and chili types.

These you grow on and pot up into larger containers as they fill the previous container.

I remember an elderly gardener who made a trolley and placed his young plants in containers on it.

On nice days he would wheel the trolley out of the garage into the sun and then later in afternoon wheel the trolley back into the garage for the night.

As they say; where there is a will there is a way.

Keep warm.

Image credit: Devi Puspita Amartha Yahya

Products mentioned are from Wallys Range of products and can be found in some garden shops or by Mail Order on www.0800466464.co.nz

Problems ring me at: Phone 0800 466464
Garden Pages and News at www.gardenews.co.nz
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