Planting tips for onion, tomato and cauliflower seedlings

We have only grown onions (and shallots) from sets in the past, usually planted individually in October for overwintering (our current batch of overwintered onions are on the left above). This spring we are growing onions from seed, and planting out in clusters.

The onion seeds were sown four or five to a paper pot/loo roll insert and when a couple of inches high, the contents plugged into a hole in the designated outside bed. The onions should push apart as they grow. The more onions in a cluster the smaller they will be, but they can be thinned as they grow (taking up outside onions for use as spring onions) resulting in bigger onions at the end of their growing time. We sowed around 200 red and 200 white onion seeds in late February and early March respectively. The white onion seedlings fared a bit better – possibly because we used loo roll inserts as pots which do not dry out to the extent that the compostable paper pots do (next time we will probably use modules). Also they had slightly warmer conditions for their initial development.

We will use this cluster-planting method for spring onions and leeks also. Doing leeks this way will likely result in stalks that are more green than white, but that’s ok with us.

We have planted out ten tomato plants in the polytunnel (four ‘mortgage lifter’, three ‘Japanese black trifele’ and three ‘yellow perfection’ varieties). Those without accessible crop bars above them have been given a bamboo companion for later support. Those within range of the crop bars/wiring (six of the ten) each had a string buried under the root ball and secured to the bar/wire above. The string has some slack to aid it being gently wrapped around the lower stem of the plants for support as they grow.

We planted out summer cauliflower seedlings in the polytunnel, making homemade ‘brassica collars’ to put around them to protect them from the cabbage root fly which attacks brassicas by laying eggs in the soil at the base of the plant, so the larvae then eat their way through the stem and destroy the plant. The cauliflower seedlings may have been a bit young going into the ground, so we will keep a close eye on them. We have not attempted to grow cauliflower before, and they are notoriously tricky, so the cabbage root fly may be the least of our worries.

In other news

Having had a mixed germination experience in our sunroom, we have opted to place some seed pots next to our hot water tank to give them exposure to consistent heat. The seed pots include two varieties of basil (Italian and Thai), which both need around 20 degrees celsius for germination. Cucumber seeds (our last germination attempt failed) and peppers (which did germinate in our sunroom, but it was slow going). Once they have (hopefully) germinated, all can be moved into the sunroom, with extra heat given in the form of cloches as necessary.

A new stalker has started appearing on the kitchen windowsill and even tried to stroll in the back door the other day to demand food. Carrots, that had been left in just-germinated form outside all winter in pots, have started to grow since being moved into the polytunnel. Presumably the roots will remain small. And we have a raft of seedlings, including peas, mange tout and brussell sprouts, ready to go out, once this early-April cold snap has past. Sadly it looks as though our french climbing bean seedlings, planted out a couple of weeks ago under cloches, and some of seedlings in the corner of the polytunnel have sustained frost damage over the last two nights were the temperature plunged below freezing.

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