blog salad in poly cups
Seed can be sown in ‘home-made’ containers on the kitchen window sill (see description below) – inexpensive and practical

Although our vegetable plot is not yet in a fit state for sowing and planting, nature invariably manages to catch up – if we give it a helping hand; a headstart. If you have a greenhouse, polytunnel or cold-frame, fine; if you don’t, resort to seed trays and pots under cloches, with added fleece if necessary on frosty nights. Or use a covered porch, conservatory or kitchen window sill. A method I discovered some years ago has added advantages: ‘polycups’ – polystyrene coffee cups or soup bowls in different sizes. The polystyrene acts as an insulator (almost a mini propagator in themselves), they are cheap to buy and easy to prepare.

double-cups within a wooden box covered with a sheet of polycarbonate
Further protection is provided by placing the prepared cups each within one that has not been ‘doctored’, and standing these double-cups within a wooden box covered with a sheet of polycarbonate glazing material – converts the box into a mini-greenhouse and keeps out mice. Once germinated, the glazing is removed.

To prepare the cups, you will need a small hacksaw (my husband made mine out of a hacksaw blade fitted into a turned wooden handle, secured with a small piece of copper piping). Pinch three equidistant holes from the base of the cup, and make a cut from each hole halfway down toward the rim (left hand pic). Rotate the cup and make further cuts, one between each of the three already produced), taking each from halfway down to just below the rim; these allow for drainage. Fill the pots with a mixture of potting compost and perlite, sow your seed and cover with vermiculite.

standard-size cups in a supermarket mushroom tray
You can stand six standard-size cups in a supermarket mushroom tray – and cover the seed with another to act as a mini-propagator; perfect for large seeds or transplants that were sown in the shallower and wider cups.

Large seeds, such as beans of all varieties, and courgettes and marrows, can be sown one or two in individual deep cups. Use a larger size for deeper-rooted varieties such as runner beans or sweet peas. Should you be pushed for time when it comes to transplanting (and the seedling roots have extended through the slits and holes) simply break away the pot. If you can’t be bothered with all this; take advantage of the excellent range of pots, propagators and other equipment on the Dobies website.

diary potager progress
The first pages of my new ‘Potager Progress’ diary, begun last month

Potager Progress: I can’t let the week pass without reporting on work in the potager-to-be. I am keeping a written and illustrated diary of my progress – double-click on these diary pages and you should be able to read them easily. Earlier posts (‘Planning the Perfect Potager’, 18th February) outlined the area I am reclaiming and converting to a combined potager/wildlife area – further detailed in this month’s Dobies E-newsletter. The notes below take me to the end of last month – and right now (11th March), I’m going to sneak a further hour out in the sunshine, clearing away some of the redundant undergrowth.

keep a garden diary
Keeping a garden diary is an excellent way of recording progress in the garden, and a useful resource in months to come.

(This post written by contributor, Ann Somerset Miles.)

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