No matter how long you’ve been a gardener, there is always a tingle of excitement when seeds you have sown begin to germinate.
This is true whether it’s radish seedlings suddenly emerging in a row from the spring soil or half-hardy annuals piercing the vermiculite-covered compost in a greenhouse. The thrill is even greater when something really special or slightly unusual starts to grow.
I’ve always liked to raise something off-beat and relish the challenge of starting from basics. This is one reason why Chiltern Seeds’ catalogue has popped through the letter box more years than I can remember. It was once a long list of seeds covering several pages, now they add images and have a separate catalogue for vegetables but the message ‘try something new’ has not changed.
Once you have raised a plant successfully from seed or a cutting the next logical step is to propagate more. This was the case with some ripe coffee beans I was given over a decade ago. They were soaked in water that was just off the boil for two days before sowing in a pot of compost. This was enriched with perlite to encourage drainage, each bean going two centimetres below the surface. Ten went into a small pot and enjoyed a temperature of 20 Celsius for almost a month. You have to be patient!
Anticipate 100 per cent germination and transfer seedlings to individual pots once the second pair of true leaves is established.
Two plants remain from that first sowing and they now reach above head height in the conservatory. Each year, we have white, highly fragrant flowers and a good crop of beans. Some are roasted and ground for coffee, others are sown to raise even more plants. There are currently three pots of seedlings at different stages of growth in the conservatory.
They will be separated and potted up in April.
Several other fruits can be started from pips, seeds and stones. Banana (musa cavendishi) for example. It is not too difficult to germinate, the problem comes as the plant continues to head skyward in order to mature and deliver a bunch of fruit.
Pips from citrus fruits are more manageable and, although there is a long wait for the fragrant flowers to appear, let alone oranges, lemons or grapefruit, the leaves are aromatic.
Monkey-nuts (groundnuts) are grown as a crop in warmer climes but here they need cossetting in a conservatory or heated greenhouse.
A propagating case makes the ideal sowing site. Crack the shells open to allow moisture ingress to the dry nuts, and push a few just two centimetres into the compost.
Over time, shoots emerge and develop flower stems whose tips eventually bend over and dig in beneath the compost. That’s where the new monkey nuts develop and are harvested like potatoes at the end of a season.
Fascinating stuff for youngsters of any age!
My latest challenge is to raise a date palm from a stone. Nothing special you’d think, we have done it so often before, but this one is different. It was the result of a date-tasting lunch in Israel just three months ago.