Our Natural World

Dashed Line

The winter has seemed endless, made worse by being locked down at home. But spring is in the air. It’s getting warmer (some of the time), the days are getting lighter and buds and bulbs are appearing. The season of new beginnings is upon us, so let’s make the most of it!

Your thoughts may be wandering to gardening and getting outdoors. Maybe you would like to grow some food this year? Food is universal, we all need it, but we also know that the impact of the pandemic has pushed many more people into food insecurity. Food connects us with other people and with our natural world. By growing our own food, even tiny pot of herbs, we can discover that we can live in balance with nature.

The weather may still be unpredictable and changeable outside, and we all know it could still snow in March and April. Do you remember the snow at Easter 2018? I remember it well as I was running outdoor nature activities for families in Kings Square Gardens.

I used my time over winter to get the gardening buzz in several ways and you too can do the same as we enter spring. I buy lots of seeds (far more than I can ever use, so I give my excess to the Community Plant Nursery every year) and I get bombarded with free seed catalogues as I sign up and request catalogue’s all the time. They offer a way to while away several happy hours, just browsing, or offering ideas for something new to grow.

You can do the same thing by looking at websites, but for me, there is nothing quite like being able to have and hold a hard copy and see everything in one place – so if you haven’t been sent any, look at the websites and request some free catalogues. I can recommend Marshalls Garden and Mr Fothergills. Marshalls’ Little Book of Seeds includes a section entitled ‘Perfect for Small Spaces’ with vegetable seeds specially chosen for container and small-space growing. Ideal for all of us Islington gardeners will little space to grow. For added delight, take a look at Sarah Raven's website. Her site includes lots of ‘How to’ videos, sowing and planting guides and lovely recipes.

Now is also the time that you can start sowing some seeds to get an early start. Even if you don’t have much or indeed any, outdoor space you can make use of a bright windowsill to get started, and even grow plants right through.

Growing chillies

Are you a chilli lover? Well chillies need a long growing season so you could start some off in a small pot indoors. You can use a small 10cm pot, or a yogurt pot (punch a couple of holes in the bottom for drainage). Fill with fresh multi-purpose compost and level off the surface about two centimetres below the rim. Water the compost by standing the pot in a saucer of water. When the surface looks wet it is time to sow the seeds. Spread a few seeds out across the surface making sure they don’t touch one another. 6-10 seeds should be plenty.  Cover with just a sprinkle of compost, then put the whole pot inside a clear plastic bag. A small freezer bag is ideal, or some cling film but make sure the cling film does not touch the surface of the compost. Put the pot in a light, warm place and check every day. The seeds should germinate in 5-8 days. As soon as you see some small shoots take the plastic bag or cling film off but leave the pot in its warm position. Keep turning it around every day as the seedings will grow towards the light. When your seedlings are about 4 centimetres tall and have more than two leaves, they can each be moved into their own pot. Again, a 10 cm. pot will be fine to start off with. Once the weather has warmed up and is likely to stay warm (May perhaps?) the pots can be moved outside – but if you don’t have anywhere outside, then grow your chillies as house plants. Just make sure they have the best possible light in your home, and keep them regularly watered so that the compost is moist but not soaked. They will need to be moved to a bigger pot when you start to see roots coming through the bottom of the pot.

photo 1.jpg

Other seeds that can be sown now: Basil – same method as for chillies. Parsley and rocket - sow a pinch of seed spread finely on the surface of some damp compost in a tray or pot. The small boxes that mushrooms are sold in are ideal – just punch a few holes in the bottom. Again, cover with clear plastic or a bag until the shoots appear.

If you want to find out more about how to grow food, e mail Caroline at the Community Plant Nursery via caroline@octopuscommunities.org.uk and she will do her best to answer your questions.

Good luck.

Anita Gracie

Community Development Officer