Growing vegetables from seed and plug plants

By Andy McIndoe

It is now getting on for three weeks since I set up my VegTrug down on the vegetable plot. The weather has been quite cold, but as spring progresses warmer conditions should speed up growth rate.

I’m delighted to say that my beetroot have already germinated. The seedlings are gem like: red or gold according to the colour of the roots; these are a mixed variety which is ideal as baby roots.

Beetroot seedlings

My radish seeds are also well through. Despite my efforts to sow more thinly these do still look rather crowded and I might do a bit of careful thinning.

If they are too crowded, or get dry at the roots they tend to bolt, in other words produce flowers and seeds, rather than crispy swollen roots. There are no signs of my broad beans yet; those that I sowed in biodegradable pots indoors are through and developing nicely.

Radish seedlings

Now I started sowing in short rows across the VegTrug. However Vegtrug recommend that you sow lengthwise, keeping the salad leaves to the side of the VegTrug, where the compost is shallower, leaving the central strip for rootcrops and larger subjects where the compost is deep.

This of course is totally logical, but it hadn’t occurred to this impatient gardener who is keen to get on with it. Anyway I’ve sown my next two crops lengthwise.

A row of quick maturing salad leaf mix along the front of the VegTrug, then a round rooted carrot called ‘Rondo’ closer to the centre. This variety is ideal for container gardening and is hopefully quick to mature.

Carrot 'Rondo' - suttons

There are no signs of Carrot ‘Rondo’ yet; carrot seeds can be quite slow to grow and might like warmer temperatures. Gardening friends of mine all wait until April before sowing their carrots.

I’ve bought some cell grown plants of Rainbow Chard. This is a useful vegetable, a bit like perpetual spinach. You can grow it as a winter vegetable, but I’m growing it as a summer crop.

The plants have yellow or red leaf stalks and veins, so they look attractive.

Picked young you can use it in salads. It is probably best shredded and cooked quickly in a wok as a delicious green vegetable. I find it easier and much longer lasting than spinach.

Cell grown rainbow chard

The chard is in one of those packs of small, deep plugs. It can be quite tricky to get the delicate young plants out of the cells without damaging them.

Squeeze the cells from below before you attempt to extract the plants. Then gently ease them out of the cells: if you pull the seedlings they may break.

Sqeezing cells to loosen plugs

I have one of those narrow bladed trowels, shaped like a long knife that I find really useful for jobs like this. The whole point of cell-grown plants is to avoid root disturbance, so there is no transplanting check.

These chard plants are really well rooted, so I’m expecting fast results when they are planted in a line at the back of the VegTrug.

Removing chard from cell

I planted the chard plugs about 10cm, 4ins apart. It’s a lot closer than I would plant in the open ground, but there are fewer and I intend to pick regularly.

After planting I watered them in with a weak organic vegetable fertiliser. I imagine they had run out of nutrients in the cell pack so this should get them off to a good start.

Chard plugs planted

Down in my small VegTrug close to the house the salad leaves have developed well. As I expected they are overcrowded, so I carefully thinned them by pulling out a few seedlings along the row. These are large enough to use, so I snipped off the roots and added them to a salad: my first picking!

The rocket I sowed is a bit slow. This was the seed I sowed into a drill of seed compost to see if that encouraged better germination and early growth; it did not.

The multi-purpose compost with added John Innes which I chose because it is suitable for seed sowing has given much better results with everything else.

Spicy salad mix

My first few spicy salad leaves really did liven up some shop bought little gem lettuce. Of course part of it is the satisfaction of eating your own produce but these certainly tasted a lot more than the usual bags of ready washed “wild rocket” that you buy from the supermarket.

Recommended course

Self-Sufficient Veg Gardening taught by Sally Nex

Learn self-sufficient veg gardening and plant planning with horticulturalist Sally Nex.

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Andy McIndoe

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