Sowing August vegetables

It is hot out there!

We’re still sowing, but honestly, only about 25% of our seeds are germinating and that’s probably down to aridity: we can water and water and water the soil but if there’s no underlying moisture to break the dormancy cycle of the seed, it won’t germinate. And underlying moisture, for seeds, needs to be constant, accessible and only about an inch or an inch and a half below the surface, not the three to four inches down that it is on plot 103.

There are three reasons our growing medium is so arid:

1. We’ve only been cultivating it a year so it’s still a compacted form of soil without much nutrient content
2. It’s neglected soil, so it tends to have no organic matter (except for the roots of perennial weeds!) to hold moisture
3. Plot 103 once had 5 trees on it: two oaks, two elder and a rowan – where there are, or have been, tree roots, you tend to find the topsoil is dry because the trees blocked precipitation and their roots drained the surface moisture away – it takes a while for any soil to recover from that.

And that means that seeds aren’t doing anything much. We’re not alone in the problem, loads of allotment holders are complaining about the low germination rates since June, and I’ve been preparing seed beds by:

• Working in compost – but because we’ve only had 103 for a year, we haven’t been able to make much compost so we don’t have much to dig in
• Watering and then covering with newspaper to hold in the sub-surface moisture, then watering again for several days in a row – this builds up a level of moisture below the newspaper that seeds can draw on when you finally lift the paper and sow them.

Still, the things that will always germinate are rocket, winter density lettuce and radishes. Less guaranteed are spring and Chinese cabbages, white Lisbon onions and spinach (although our spinach has germinated this year) and really quite tricksy unless conditions are good are kohlrabi, turnips and carrots. And you can see from that list that the quicker a thing grows to maturity, the more likely it is to germinate in summer – the more ‘input’ a plant needs to reach maturity, the greater the likelihood it will sulkily refuse to get started at all, unless conditions are perfect.

And if you've got poor soil, it's always wise to sow as much as you can in biodegradable pots so that you can control the conditions of germination perfectly - it seems to have worked for our hundredweight pumpkin!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Monday, August 1, 2011

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