As I write this, it is almost Easter. The month is passing rapidly, and we will soon be in the middle of April. April is the month of great change in the garden, and in nature, and the biggest factor driving this change is sex – the urge to reproduce. It is happening all around us!
Birds that survived the winter months have gradually built up their body reserves and now, having found a mate spend the increasing daylight hours building nests, laying eggs and rearing the next generation of sparrows, blackbirds and robins.
Our ever-present geese have taken flight and set off on their momentous journey, thousands of miles to the still-frozen north to find their mates, lay their eggs and raise their brood of goslings. Ospreys have left the sunny shores of West Africa and flown across the Sahara Desert, the Mediterranean Sea and crossed Britain from south to north to return to the exact tree where their nest is situated, waiting for their mate to complete a similar journey, fraught with hazards and all totally driven by sex and the need to procreate.
In the garden, fruit trees are erupting into blossom, dandelions are bursting open with their day-glow yellow flowers and as if from nowhere, bumble bees and honey bees appear, going from flower to flower, gathering the pollen that feeds their young but which also creates the necessary fertilisation of the fruit blossom to create the apple, plum or cherry in a few months’ time.
Grow on your Window
Gardeners, whilst not necessarily driven by sex, still experience the urge to create new plants as the garden awakens and, up and down the country, we are busy planting seeds to grow lettuces, onions, carrots, tomatoes and other tasty foods that will grow during the summer for a rich harvest.
It’s a common misbelief that you can only grow these plants if you have a large garden, a greenhouse or an allotment but I thought I would show you how easy it is to grow some delicious food using a few common household objects and a bright, warm windowsill. You might want to do this with your children. Start them young and they might develop the habits of a lifetime.
All you will need is a small bag of general-purpose compost, some egg boxes, clean eggshells, juice cartons, seeds, sprouting potatoes and a warm place to start everything growing plus a bright, sheltered spot for them to grow to maturity.
You can fill egg boxes with compost and plant some seeds or little seedlings directly in them. Wash out some eggshells, let them dry, fill them with a spoonful of compost and use them as little seed trays, ideal for a couple of lettuce seeds.
The beauty of growing in an egg shell is that once the seedling is ready to be planted out in the garden, you just lift the whole thing, plant and egg shell, give the shell a gentle squeeze to crack it slightly and then plant it in the pot or ground.
The eggshell will provide your growing plant with minerals and calcium. This is quite a fun way to start off sunflowers, but remember, these will grow quite tall and need a lot of feeding, so make sure you plant them out where they have room to grow.
If you do a lot of cooking, you might want to grow some herbs in your kitchen. If you don’t want to raise them from seed, you can usually buy potted herbs in the supermarket. If you look closely, you’ll notice that there are often several small herb plants grouped together in the pot, particularly with basil. Because they are closely planted, they often die off before you get a chance to use them all. However, if you thin them out a bit and transplant some of the young plants they should last longer.
Juice Carton Growing
Take your juice carton. Rinse it well and cut the top side off the carton. You should now have a rectangular box. Carefully puncture the sides and bottom of the carton using a sharp object e.g. scissors. Fill it with compost, gently pressed into place and you are ready to start planting.
To thin the herb plants, slip your fingers among the plants, turn the pot upside down and carefully tip the whole thing out into your hand, then placing the clump on a table, carefully prise some of the smaller plants out from the larger group, making sure that they have a reasonable amount of soil around their root, and transplant them into a waiting juice carton full of compost.
Make sure that you plant the roots quite deep and firm the soil around the stem. You can test if it is properly planted by gently trying to lift the plant out of the soil, it should not come out. This way you should have a much longer lasting supply of fresh herbs. You can do this with basil, parsley and chives.
If you’re lucky, there may be lettuce plants with roots on them as well and you can plant them up in juice containers as well.
Alternatively, if you have a wide, sunny window ledge, you could grow a selection of edible plants and herbs in a large window box. Keep your eyes open as you will most probably see tomato plants and herbs for sale in your local supermarket in coming weeks. When planting a window box, put the taller plants in the middle or nearer the back and try to fill the box with young plants about the same age that will grow together as they mature. This way they get a chance to establish their roots at the same time without any one plant gaining an advantage. You could try tomatoes, basil, parsley, chives, thyme and nasturtiums in one window box, or you could grow some borage to add to a glass of something cool. Make sure you keep it well watered especially on windy days.
Old Potato, New Potato, 3 Potato, More!
And what about those potatoes that have started to sprout in your vegetable basket? Place them in an egg box for a couple of weeks to give the ‘sprouts’ a chance to develop to a reasonable size. This is called ‘chitting’. By letting the shoots develop, the potato will grow much quicker once you plant it. Whatever your container, an old tub, a redundant tyre or a large pot, make sure it has drainage holes. Use good compost, and water them well once they are growing.
If possible, try to build up the main stem of the plant by regularly piling up the compost around the stem. This will make it grow taller and will increase the amount of potatoes you have for the pot.
For more information on growing potatoes in containers click here.
Finally, take some dried peas and soak them for about 4 hours or overnight then place them on a compost filled tray (can be any recycled container so long as it has drainage holes). Cover with a light layer of compost, water and cover with some polythene. Remove the polythene once they have started to grow and don’t let them dry out. After about 10-14 days the peas should be growing, and you can cut them to give you pea-shoots for salads – Click here for further instructions.
You may be more interested in growing flowers rather than veg, so you can use any of the above ideas as containers to start off your flowers. Many of us have bought a lot of toilet paper recently and you can make good use of the left-over cardboard tubes to grow sweet peas as they like to grow long roots when they first start to grow. Make sure you close over the bottom end of the tube by folding it inwards before you fill it with compost.
I couldn’t let Easter pass without sharing some of our wonderful daffodils with you. Stay Safe!
Why not go onto our Facebook page, where we will be posting links to other websites and videos full of ideas about growing food at home and you can tell us about some of the weird and wonderful containers you are using to grow your food.
Once you get started, your imagination will run riot especially if you are driven by the urge to procreate!
Here are some websites for further information if you need it: