I’ve had a request for a shopping list so today, let’s look at basics. This is Part One: Equipment. Part two: Seeds will come later today.
Let’s assume we’re not going in for all that hydroponic stuff where plants are grown in water only. It’s fancy and it works but I don’t really know much about the process.
Seed compost – is the equivalent of baby food. It’s fine, sterile and doesn’t have much in the way of nutrients because seeds come with everything they need to get started, they just need some sort of anchor. You don’t HAVE to have seed compost but it will keep your babies nice and clean and you’ll have fewer duds.
Regular Compost – there are many varieties on the market, the usual difference is that they either contain peat or they don’t. Peat holds water like a sponge, which is obviously good for plants but bad for the planet. Every year I agonise over what to get and always end up with peat-free even though whatever anyone says, no one’s found a really good alternative yet.
The different ‘John Innes‘ grades refer to the mix of nutrients – sand- grit – loam – fertiliser – in the compost bag. It’s more or less industry standard. I wouldn’t get bogged down in that yet. Regular multi-purpose will do the trick in most cases but if you’re really keen there are loads of articles online.
If you live near a stables (and there are even some in cities) you may well have a good source of free manure. This is very concentrated fresh, so if you are allowed to dig it yourself, mine it out of the bottom, where it’s so rotted it’s almost black and doesn’t smell.
Depending where you’re going to garden, you’ll need different tools. Indoors, you’ll really only need a trowel and hand fork.
I sometimes use an old kitchen fork. You will need a watering can; if you can find one with a tiny rose, it will not knock your seedlings over with the force of watering (though really you should be watering from below – I’ll get to that.)
Outdoors, for the moment, a trowel, fork and spade. I like ‘border’ tools which are smaller than the enormous, workmen’s spades and forks – easier to wield and less damaging to other plants around.
These either come with holes or not, when they’re called ‘gravel trays’.
I suggest a small supply of both. I tend to run with half-size trays with holes so I can fit two in a full-size gravel tray. That way I don’t have to mix different types of seed.
These are gravel trays with clear plastic lids. Some come with little heaters. It’s useful to have one but not essential. I can talk you round some alternatives
There’s a massive debate going on about pots at the moment. They all come with caveats; make your own choice:
Black plastic: These are the big bad wolves of the pot world. They’re not recyclable so many people spurn them. They are still being used in garden centres and supermarket herbs though, so I suggest: don’t knowingly buy them but if they come with a plant in them, reuse them to the end of their lives.
Terracotta: The classic garden pot and in many people’s opinions, the best. They are cute, but they’re not without problem. They are heavy on energy to make and transport, and smash easily. They also crack in the frost. I love them but don’t tend to use small ones because they are porous and dry out easily.
Paper or cardboard: These have a use but they, too are not without an environmental cost. There are online tutorials to make your own out of newspaper which is really good but a bit of a faff if you’re doing it for hundreds of seedlings. Only use them for seedlings; they’re not strong enough for mature plants.
There are other groovy things – I was given one made out of felt to test recently and there are strange ‘air root-pruning’ pots – which are very good and very expensive.
My own regular choice? Terracotta-colour plastic pots. I buy really tough ones that will stand multiple re-use, don’t dry out too quickly and are cheap in quantity. In reality, of course, my pot collection is just a bunch of nice pots and things that other plants came in.
If you’re feeling flush you could try root-training pots. These are little moulds that open up like books. They have vertical ridges in them to make baby roots grow downwards. They are useful for plants that don’t their roots being handled, like sweetcorn and runner beans but in no way essential. They always cost much more than they look like they should.
You know what? You can grow plants in practically anything. Yogurt pots, food tins, cut-down milk bottles – whatever. Just drill a hole in the bottom and you’re away.
I’ll do seeds later when I’ve done some real work.