The propagating box is buzzing with activity

Chrysanthemum Mayford Perfection.
Chrysanthemum Mayford Perfection.
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The greenhouse is unheated artificially, but the slightest suggestion of winter sun makes it so welcoming as March arrives.

The peach is an early beneficiary. Its buds are swelling, pink flowers will open in a week or so and the daily routine of covering each with a fine brush to aid pollination begins.

This natural warmth has also encouraged a spurt of growth from leaf lettuce in the border. We’ve just tasted the first micro-leaves of a salad plant that will last on a cut-and-come-again basis until the outdoor crop is ready. All it requires is a constant supply of water to avoid bitter leaves.

Chrysanthemum cuttings, taken in early February, have rooted and are ready for first pots. Perennial rootstocks of the parent plants, boxed-up in late autumn and placed on benching, are bristling with shoots begging to be rooted so we need to create more space in the propagating box.

A late chrysanthemum variety grown for its December flowers is still performing. Cerise Mayford Perfection was grown in large pots outdoors all summer, and three of the plants were not brought into the cold greenhouse until late December. The buds opened slowly and we have a decorative vase.

The greenhouse propagating box is only a metre square and was knocked together from some sturdy bookshelves, but my, how it buzzes with activity. An electrician fitted a soil-warming cable, the only submission to heat in the cold greenhouse, and even that is used sparingly from February to April.

Modest collections of streptocarpus and Begonia rex, both easily raised from leaf cuttings, have found refuge inside, but now they must make way for a succession of seeds.

The idea is to hit the ground running, with vegetable plants grown on in cell trays and pots, rather than sown directly into drills outdoors. Broad beans and peas are under way. Sweet corn, runner beans, courgette, et al will follow.

Even though corn-on-the-cob varieties, such as Swift and Sundance, have been bred to cope with our shorter season, the more advanced these plants are when they go outdoors, the better chance you have of plump cobs in August/September.

But trays of herbs and ornamental plants for summer bedding need germination space too so the weeks ahead demand a propagating box balancing act.

With the thermostat set at 18C to encourage seedling appearance, I aim to remove the tray when maximum germination is evident and before seedlings become drawn. A modest fall in temperature after the high of germination encourages sturdy growth.