February Round-up

It’s been a fairly wet, warm and windy February – we had a short cold snap but it didn’t really stick here in Scotland.  The bulbs I planted have all started to come up – even the tulips, which I thought I wouldn’t see for another month or so.

As per my own sowing calendar, found here, I’ve already started getting my seeds in for a large number of plants.  Balancing window space at this time of year can be a problem so I wanted to get things moving along – even if it does mean some young plants are a little spindlier than I’d like.

As well as the burgeoning pile of seeds, I also have my potatoes in the window to chit.  This year I’m growing Arran Victory and Epicure again, and trying Kestrel.  Much as I loved my Salad Blue potatoes I think Andy was a little weirded out by blue mash and gnocchi I made with them so I went for more traditionally coloured ones this year.  The Arran Victory potatoes have a lovely red skin, but they have a ‘normal’ creamy interior.  They also make amazing mash and roast potatoes!  Epicure performed well for me last year and is a great tasting first early.  I was born in Ayrshire and I grew up eating them as they are the seed used for ‘Ayrshire new potatoes’ –  so I may be a little biased ;)

This little sliver of ground between the path and wall has always looked slightly drab at this time of year.  The foxgloves have gone a ways to helping brighten it up in summer but at the moment, as you can see, they’re just fresh little rosettes.  The crocuses peeping up between them couldn’t have worked better – they contrast well with the bright, young foxgloves in a delicate way.

Some other splashes or colour are just starting to show now, too – the ‘Victorian Lace’ primrose is one I’m particularly happy to see.  I got it last year, rescued from a reduced price shelf,  just before I went into hospital.  Andy did a sterling job of watering all my plants whilst I was in for the unexpectedly long stay but this little primrose happened to have been left in the hallway for later planting – behind a door and not easily visible… and so it was forgotten.  When I got home it was a sad, wilted thing but I knew primroses were made of sterner stuff so I popped it in the ground and watered it well – it thrived, putting on a lot of leaf, and is now rewarding our neglect with it’s funky, distinctive little flowers.

 The not-quite-so-colourful last picture is also something I’m quite chuffed with – it’s open pollinated viola seed from the garden.  I’ve never grown my own from seed but decided this year that I had to give it a go – I realised I should be able to grow my own bedding a lot more cheaply (and with more variety) than if I bought it.  Even if it doesn’t work out superbly, it’s more experience with growing a wider range of plants!  I’m trying out viola, as mentioned, lobelia (both cascading and mounding types), french marigolds, coleus and aquilegia and, possibly, some poached-egg plant if I can find the space.

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African Violet Seedlings Update

First post on my hybrids can be found here.

It’s now fifteen weeks, around four months, since my AV hybrid seed was sown.  The picture below shows the first seedling which germinated.  If you look at the leaves at 2/8 o’clock you’ll see they have a distinct serrated edge as compared to the older leaves which are mostly smooth edged.  It’s nice to see this trait in some of the seedlings as I prefer serrated edges to plain by far.  About 1/2 of them show some red colouring on the back of the leaf.  I expect that to go up as they only appear to gain red pigmentation at a certain size / leaf maturity which not all have arrived at yet.


The plantlets are getting bigger nearly every day – as soon as they are separated from the nursery bed into their own cell they seem to take a growth spurt.   Three weeks takes a plant from this size:

to this size:

I was surprised at the rate of growth given how slow ‘leaf babies’ can come on.  As you can see, there’s a wide range in sizes even amongst similarly aged seedlings.  All of the ones in the bottom row were the same size when planted but where the leftmost have filled out their cells, the other three aren’t even close.  It’ll be interesting to see if some are just ‘weaker’ or if they are genuinely going to be smaller plants – their smaller leaf size gives me some hope for the latter.

I was interested in how many would germinate and how long it would take when I first began.  It’d been mentioned that it was worth keeping a tray of seeds for up to or over three months due to the fact AVs have a wide germination window.  Thus, I logged how many plants had germinated per day since the first one.  It’s not too onerous as it allows me to have an excuse to peek at them ;)  At the weekend I made a table of my results so far, condensing the days down to weeks.  It was definitely interesting – I’d expected a bell curve of germination given the very stable germination conditions but it’s a wee bit more complex:


Although the first seedling germinated within two weeks, and there was a good amount of germination for the first month or so, the peak in germination (so far) was after 9/10 weeks!  This really does make keeping your seed trays around longer a must-do if it’s a general trend (can’t rule out that it’s something to do with my growing conditions on this alone).

Even now, at four months, I’m still having a seed germinate most days…

Salad, anyone?

An update on my seedlings can be found here.

  1. n.b. I have problems with numbers, so it’s not unlikely that I’ve made a silly mistake in plotting the graph… If you notice anything let me know! =)

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February’s Heating Up…

I really wasn’t expecting to see these cheery little flowers yet – I don’t think my dwarf irises showed themselves until late April or May last year because of the horrible spring we had.  This year, however, the weather’s been suspiciously mild. I say suspiciously as I can only believe that the Scottish weather is being nice so that when the almost-inevitable blizzard hits us it’ll feel so much worse!

I took advantage of that good weather, fleeting though it may turn out to be, to do something I’d had in mind for a while.  I knew, when I bought my little plastic greenhouse, that it likely only had a 1-2 year life in it – or at least the cover did and I had begun to wonder what I could do with the frame pieces.  It’s been spending more times on its side than I’d like, lately, so I decided to go ahead and use one of the ideas that had come to mind – to turn it into a flat coldframe.

I took the top curved section off to give me a square frame, removed the shelves and internal middle struts put the cover back on, lined the base with some bubble wrap and thick plastic, with a paving slab to secure everything.  I used cable ties to secure the ends of the cover to the bottom of the frame (leaving the ‘flap’ loose where the zip is) and filled it with some sweet peas covered in fleece.  I’m going to use the top piece, covered in netting or fleece, as a brassica cage, as well as using the shelves for either the same purpose or as a ‘tomato cage’ for my ‘litchi tomatoes’ (a spiny, hardier member of the tomato family which I’m told produces small, tart-sweet fruit).

Hopefully it won’t fly-away from this position!

Other than the iris, there’s not yet much colour in the garden – though there are a tonne of buds:

I was worried that my clematis wouldn’t make it, as I’ve never grown them before, but it seems to have a lot of big, fat buds so I’m looking forward to a show in late spring (I think that’s when this variety flowers!).

Talking of buds:

It’s time for potato chitting!  I felt sorry for the postman when he brought these to the door – he mentioned he was glad to get the box out of his bag.  I don’t know if he’d have been amused if I told him he’d been hauling potatoes around, hehe.  This year’s varieties are ‘Arran Victory’, ‘Kestrel’ and ‘Epicure’ – Kestrel being the only one of the three that I’ve not tried before.  I ordered them from alanromans.com – having seen the man himself give an energetic presentation at the Dundee Food and Flower show (also, JBA, another great seed potato vendor and the one I have usually bought my stock from, didn’t happen to have ‘Arran Victory’ and I had my heart set on them!).

Alongside these potatoes in the postman’s bag was 100 2 & 1/2″ pots.  I’m planning ahead for the seedling glut – something I’ll go into in my next post.

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Watering Miniature African Violets

I’ve long suspected that something in my ‘regime’ is a little off for my smaller AVs.  Recently, after some chatting back and forth with various people,  I’ve come to suspect I wasn’t watering them enough – I was too used to my big plants, where I could go a week or even two without watering them and still expect to get good shows.  I’d also been a little worried about over-watering some of my plants as african violets are very susceptible to root rot in wet conditions.

Fortunately, I happened to have 5 plantlets of the same cultivar on hand which were all about the same age and size.  I decided to experiment to see which would grow better under different watering regimes – testing both soil density and watering. I promise the little green one is the same plant – it had mosaic leaves just before this picture was taken but I stripped them all down to ~4 mature leaves each for a more even comparison – I’m not sure if it has sported or just decided to be all green for a little while.

Plants 1 & 2 have 40:60 perlite to compost.
Plants 3 & 4  have 50:50 perlite to compost.

Plants 1 & 3 would be watered every four days (a little lower frequency than suggested as it’s still chilly here so they’re not drying out fast).
Plants 2 & 4 would be watered when I ‘felt’ they were getting dry (my ‘usual’ regime, probably about once every 8 days).

This would test whether a more or less retentive soil would do well under either condition and whether a plant watered more regularly would grow better.  I suspect the soil with less perlite will do better under the lower water conditions and the higher perlite might do better under the higher water volume – though if neither rot then it may well be the one with more compost comes out on top as both are still fairly well drained substrates.

Plant 5 is in a 50:50 mix with a wick. (I didn’t have a sixth plant to try out 40:60 on it)

I’ve had a member of one african violet community tell me that he found that his hand watered plants do better than wick watered ones so I’ll be interested to see if that ends up being true for me.

So far, they are all doing reasonably well with plant 3 (50:50, watered frequently) and plant 4 (50:50, watered less frequently) looking to have grown the most in relation to when they started but it’s only three weeks in, so far, so anything could yet happen.

Hopefully in a couple of months I’ll be able to update on these little plants and see who’s done best in the long term – especially as we’ll be moving into warmer weather and longer days – so their growth won’t be slowed by being on a slightly chilly window!

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