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This month in the garden - 2021

March in the garden

Activity in the garden is accelerating, to the sounds of the birds and the bees. There is plenty of potting on to do if you are growing from seed, and lots of seeds still to be sown.

Beans can be direct sown now: climbing French beans, soya, runner beans and chick peas, as can beetroot, carrots, radish, spinach, parsnips, turnip and peas. Peanuts, okra and sweetcorn can be direct sown in warmer areas, but otherwise wait a month if the temperatures take a dip. Meanwhile, start sprouting sweet potato slips by suspending a sweet potato in a glass of water, held in place by toothpicks gently inserted in the flesh, the way you would with an avocado stone. Continue sowing tomatoes, peppers and aubergines in trays and get started on cucumbers, pumpkins, courgettes, melons, water melons and basil.

The next most disappointing thing to your carrots not germinating at all is when they germinate really well but in big clumps, giving you lots of densley packed tiny carrots. Now is a good time to weed them and thin them out at the same time - they should be big enough that you won't pull them out with the weeds. Two good sized carrots are so much more satisfying than 20 straggly ones. Also, beware of Queen Anne's Lace (wild carrot) which looks deceptively similar to carrots and often lurks amongst them. To check, scratch the soil away around the base of the plant and look for a thin white root rather than a juicy orange (or purple) carrot. Pull them out - they will compete with your carrots for space and nutrients and (for seed savers) the wild carrot will cross-pollinate your seeds and eventually erode your carrot seed quality.

SEEeD (Semillas Espanolas Ecologicas en Deposito) has recently launched an appeal for growers to save tomato seeds for the bank. Our tomato seed stocks are now very low after the huge popularity of the seed bank seeds during the lockdown last March. Back in 2014 one of SEEeD's founder members donated 200 varieties of tomatoes to the bank. Although all those varieties have been grown and enjoyed by local gardeners, seeds have not been returned for many of them. The seeds that are left are now seven years old, and coming to the end of their viability. If we want to save these varieties for our collection, they need to be grown, saved and returned this year.

Saving tomato seeds is very easy. Most varieties of tomato do not cross pollinate. Only the very tiny currant tomatoes cross with other currants, and beef tomatoes cross with other beef varieties. It's easy to see which plants will cross. Standard tomato plants have flowers with a closed pistil whereas beef tomatoes have much larger flowers with an open aspect and the male parts clearly protruding from the centre of the flower. Once you have established that you are growing only one beef variety, you can save seeds from that variety and from all your standard tomatoes without worrying about cross pollination. To extract the seeds from ripe to over ripe fruits, cut the tomato in half horizontally, squeeze the seeds into a glass and top up with water. Tomato seeds are encased in a gelatinous sac to inhibit germination so that they will not germinate when they fall from the plants in the autumn. This coating will ferment in the glass of water and after a few days a scum will appear on the surface. The viable seeds will sink to the bottom and the light non-viable seeds will join the scummy layer. Pour this off and rinse the remaining seeds with clean water, then spread them on a saucer to dry, out of direct sunlight. If you would like to help save our tomato collection, please get in touch with the seedbank at seedbank@seeed.es.

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