Second sowing in February

Sowing continued today with a couple of the more tricky seeds – parsley and celeriac – along with some leeks and lettuce. Parsley is somewhat erratic in germination. Although it does not mind the cold, it will germinate better in warm conditions. We sowed four small pots with plenty of seed to allow for failures and placed them in a propagator alongside our peppers which are set at 22°C, which should be good for germinating the parsley. Once germinated we can move them to a more sensible location as they do not need much heat to grow on. We picked Gigante di Napoli – Giant of Naples – which is a large flat leaved sort, well regarded for its flavour. We have various options once they are up and running: we can prick some out into individual modules or small pots to grow on, we can thin them a little, if needed, and allow them to grow on in the pots, and we could bring one or two into the kitchen.

Celeriac is even more finicky than parsley. Germination is often slow and patchy. It is one of those seeds that really needs light for germination so covering with a thick layer of compost is a bad idea. After tamping down the compost and giving it a good watering, I simply broadcast the seed across the surface and tamped it down once more so as to ensure good contact between the seed and the compost, and left it uncovered. It might have been a good idea to start these a couple of weeks ago, but hopefully if germination does happen to be poor, I might still have time to set some more before it is too late. In theory celeriac can be sown through March, but even when they have developed into good sized seedlings, their growth is slow and they need a long season to produce roots of reasonable girth. It is all too easy to end up with runty celeriac. Though we sowed the classic variety Giant Prague, giant is often not what one produces, but in a good season the results can be excellent, with the crop available from late autumn and standing through the winter or storing well if lifted.

Leeks were started in a deep tray, in the usual way, with seed broadcast across the surface. These will be allowed to grow on until substantial enough to be transplanted. Our most common variety is Musselburgh, which has always done well for us. This year, just for a change, we are growing an old French variety – Carentan. Sometimes I will transplant twice; first, when the seedlings are sturdy but well short of the ideal pencil thickness for planting out, and then the final move to holes in the bed where they are to grow on to maturity. Leeks do seem to transplant well and the additional move allows the best seedlings to be selected and moved to positions that are better spaced and in a little more soil. I will probably do this again this year as it has worked well for us in the past.

Finally, to the lettuce. We are using a mixed lettuce selection from Seeds of Italy, intended for spring and autumn sowing. We prepared a good sized tray, filled with moist compost and broadcast seed across surface before topping up with further compost. Seedlings will be thinned as needed, but the idea is to keep this tray as a cut-and-come-again crop. This allows several pickings to be made and a succession of trays could be prepared to provide a regular selection of young leaves for the salad. Further lettuce, for growing on to mature plants, will be sown soon.

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