Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Suddenly, nothing much happened


I know that on many occasions I have sung the praises of growing plants from seed, because it's very satisfying fun to do so, but in the interests of fairness and balance, let me kick off this little posting about seeds from the other, grumblier end of the paddock.

Seeds can be frustrating things to work with at times, for various reasons, and out here in Amateur Land I am coming face-to-face with some of those frustrations. Let me explain...

First the good news. The coriander seeds have sprouted. (What's that organic looking brown packet of coriander seeds doing floating in mid-air? Have I discovered levitating seeds? No, it's worse than that. I have discovered Photoshop, and how to make all sorts of dastardly changes to simple, innocent garden photos.) Anyway, back to the seeds...
These are seeds I saved from my coriander plants last year, and they're sprouting at the rate of about 60% good 'uns, 40% duds. Not a bad germination rate for an amateur seed-saver. In fact I'm quite proud of the little dears. I have plenty of seeds left over, and I'll be sowing another batch a month or two from now, as coriander is a much better winter crop here in Sydney than it is a summer crop. Lasts for months in winter, does coriander.

However, that's the first frustration I have with seeds: germination rates. I won't bother showing you the boring little paper pots I have filled with brown potting mix, and no parsley seedlings where there should be parsley seedlings. How about a germination rate of 0%? I know parsley seeds are super-slow to germinate - around three to four weeks is average – but I'm up to five weeks now and not a sausage. Not one! So, all I can do is start again (with a completely different packet of seeds, of course). Next slide please, projectionist!

In the top right corner of this pic you can see the packet of the Shirley poppy seeds which I scattered here about five days ago. My Pammy loves poppies, and in previous years I have grown Iceland poppies for her. This year I'm trying Shirleys, which several keen gardeners have strongly recommended for their better colours. The trick with Shirley poppies is that you really do have to grow them from seed, as they hate being transplanted as seedlings. No worries, I can do that. But that's where I have encountered a few more seed-raising issues. See those bamboo skewers poking up out of the ground? They're to stop the pigeons and doves enjoying a dust bath. Any spare patch of bare, dry earth and they're down there spreading their wings (probably trying to get rid of lice, if the truth be known) and making a mess of my neat seed-sowings. They terminated an earlier sowing of parsley seeds with precisely that habit, and so for my Shirleys and other seeds I'm onto them this time.

This levitating seed packet of parsnips represents another plant which hates being transplanted and must be grown from seed. I'm having another go at parsnips this year, as my home-growns from two years ago were the sweetest, tastiest, tenderest parsnips I have ever enjoyed. While I know it's the cliche to claim that everything home-grown tastes better than the shop-bought stuff, I really haven't found that to be invariably the case. With tomatoes, definitely yes; parsnips, most assuredly yes; freshly harvested herbs, yes; English spinach, yes; potatoes, yes; citrus yes; garlic, yes.

But for vegies such as carrots, leafy greens, beetroot, shallots, cucumbers, eggplants, silver beet, beans and broccoli the real advantage to me is their tenderness and fresh quality, plus the knowledge that they really, truly have been grown organically. This latter group have never tasted especially superior to the high quality shop-bought, fresh equivalent. I just know mine are healthier. But my home-grown parsnips were a revelation in flavour and tenderness. I want to eat them again!

Besides, parsnips aren't a bad looking plant, either. Very nicely green and leafy, and they are part of the garden for a number of months as they slowly grow through the winter. The only problem with getting parsnips started is that even the seed packets suggest you sow the seed thickly, as germination rates are a bit iffy. I can live with that. And I've done the bamboo skewer trick to keep the doves and pigeons away, too.

Here's an evening meal's worth of parsnips harvested last time round. One interesting little snippet about my parsnips is that here in Australia at least there aren't all that many varieties to choose from. By far the most popular variety is 'Hollow Crown', and it has been around for generations. It's a bona fide Heritage or Heirloom vegie, but all the major seed suppliers have it too, and it's not marketed as such. The best Yates Seeds (the biggest seed company in Australia) can do is call it a 'traditional favourite'.

So I don't really have much to grumble about with my seeds. I just hope all that heavy rain we had over the weekend hasn't washed the teeny weeny little poppyseeds away, but the soil there doesn't look too disturbed. I should be seeing some action there maybe next weekend if I'm lucky. But with the parsnip seeds, I'll have to wait. They're every bit as slow as parsley seeds to get going, taking three to four weeks to come up.

And that's both the best and the worst bit about seeds: the waiting!


11 comments:

Chandramouli S said...

I'm worse at waiting - the impatient one, that I am, but I have no choice when it comes to seeds, but it's great to seed sprouts and them sprouts growing into plants, flowering (and fruiting)! Nice post - looking green.

Annanas said...

Hi, I really enjoy parsnips too, but if I ever find them they are too expensive to buy at the shops, I didn't know they grew well in hot climates. It would be nice to grow them in my garden, what time of year do you sow them, and do they need any special treatment in countries with warm climates?
Thanks!!

Jamie said...

Hi Chandramouli. Yep it is great when they sprout!

Annanas: you're right that parsnips do better in cooler climates, but you can grow them in a temeperate spot like Sydney. The time to sow seed in a warm climate is at the end of your summer, or the very beginning of the autumn. The seeds take a long time to sprout, then the parsnips slowly grow through the winter. I won't be harvesting mine until July or August.

Sue O said...

I grew parsnips a couple of years ago and they were one of the most successful crops that year. I didn't grow them last year because we got kind of sick of them! I like the baby ones roasted, have you tried them that way?
I still have some seeds from last time and am thinking of giving them another go this year.

Jamie said...

Hi Sue: roasted, mashed, turned into puree – I like them done all different ways. Here in Australia, where we eat a lot of lamb, people like to slip the parsnips under the lamb as it bakes. I prefer them roasted myself, but I like them best cut into large chunks and roasted along with other vegies at the same time (eg, potatoes, eschallots, pumpkin, onion).

Melinda said...

Hi Jamie,

Welcome back to blogging after your break. I was wanting to ask some advice about careers in the horticulture industry and related fields. My questions are a little long-winded for a comment. I recall you had a garden amateur email at some point? Only if you don't mind sharing your opinion on embarking on horticultural careers. Thanks...

Jamie said...

Melinda
My email address is in my 'complete profile' near the top right section of the page. Not sure if I can help though. I've been winging it all these years, you know.

Annanas said...

Hi Jamie, thanks for your help, I think I'll try to grow them next autumn. If only I find some seeds in the garden centers here... :)

Life In A Pink Fibro said...

I do love those levitating seed packets... I'm hopeless with seeds. TOO SLOW. And most of the time they do nothing, so I'm clearly doing something wrong. Sigh.

SydneyGardener said...

haha re the photoshopping.. GOOD WORK!

also from Sydney, hoping to launch my own blog soon. youve just reinspired me - hubby and me do vegies, roses, lavendar, natives, trees and BEES!.

SydneyGardener said...

oh and forgot to ask..just got my huge package full of seed goodies including Coriander. anything i need to do special for coriander in pots. i had reasonable success last year in the garden, but moving some things to pots as well just for fun.. what is your recommended potting mixture for coriander?