Spring planting: time to get your hands in the soil

It occurred to me the other day, in a moment of anticipation so great I began to dance, that daylight savings is only one month away. As lovely as snuggling up by the fire with a glass of red wine while watching the horizontal rain is, it's only as the days grow longer that we realise the beneficial affect living closer to nature has on us. During the winter months we spend our evenings watching the same episode of Friends we've seen three millions times. Our minds are concerned with our day-jobs, errands that need running and bills to be paid. As the days inch taller, first by seconds then by minutes and hours, we're able to have an early dinner and then head out into the garden. Oliver's job is as busy as ever, I'm still working on re-writes for my next novel, the errands still need running, but we don't go to bed worrying about the day to come. Instead, we fall asleep at peace, satisfied with what we've achieved in the twilight hours. 

We planted around three hundred of these radicchio seedlings on the weekend.

We planted around three hundred of these radicchio seedlings on the weekend.

If you're at all interested in growing your own vegetables, as we do, then now is the perfect time to get your hands in the soil to ensure you're eating fresh, flavoursome produce come the summertime. Because we still lead relatively busy lives we've enlisted the help of a contract grower to germinate many of our seedlings and prepare them to a stage where they are ready to plant out into the veggie patch. This week we received a delivery of around three hundred radicchio seedlings and about the same number of collards, San Tropea onions and purple sprouting broccoli. Collards have been a winning crop for us this year. They're a staple of southern U.S. cooking and Belle's Hot Chicken on Gertrude street in Fitzroy have taken pretty much our entire harvest. It's wonderful to be able to pull a strong seedling from the punnet and bury the roots in the soil knowing they're developed enough to stand life outside a greenhouse. It makes our lives a lot easier, although, in saying that, sowing our own seeds for germination is still one of our favourite jobs on the farm. 

Our contract seedling growers spend most of their time growing flowers for the nursery trade.

Our contract seedling growers spend most of their time growing flowers for the nursery trade.

The woman behind the collards - me!

The woman behind the collards - me!

Of course, we sow all our own sow-direct crops such as carrots, turnips and radishes and we're becoming cleverer with space. We planted two rows of broccoli seedlings on the weekend but since they won't be ready to harvest for close to three months, we also planted a row of radishes down the centre of the broccoli as they'll be ready to harvest in only four weeks leaving space for the broccoli to inhabit as it grows. Even though we're very happy with our contract seedling grower we still like to grow some seedlings ourselves. This year we've focused on tomatoes, zucchini and cucumbers. We do all our seed-raising in the dilapidated glasshouses we inherited with the property. They're hail damaged and the wood is rotting but they also provide a fantastic outlook over our property. It's a wonderful place to stand and take in all we've achieved in the two short years we've been here. Since the job of sowing seeds doesn't require much brain-power, it's also a great place to contemplate and plan all the jobs to come.

Tiny radish seeds to be sown directly into the prepared patch.

Tiny radish seeds to be sown directly into the prepared patch.

There's something very relaxing about plunging your hands into light, airy potting mix and filling up punnets; making a small indentation in the soil for a tiny seed to nestle in and then covering them over with more potting mix before giving them all a good watering. Whether you have a large veggie patch or a tiny balcony, now is the time to have a go at growing your own food from seed. The seeds don't need a lot of sun before they germinate but they do need warmth. We've discovered an old framed window left by the previous owner and have covered our punnets with it. It's been a very successful mini greenhouse actually and we've have a fantastic rate of germination. But if you just want to grow a couple of tomato plants in pots on your balcony then you could even cover your punnets with the top half of a milk bottle. It's that simple. In less than two weeks the first leaves will burst through the potting mix and you'll marvel at the amount of energy contained in that one tiny seed. Happy growing.

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