Trials match ‘starting-off’ experiences

Lettuce Lollo Rossa in February.
Lettuce Lollo Rossa in February.

Gardening Which ran a trial last year on the best way to start off vegetables.

It chose popular types in three different options: sowing indoors, buying plug plants or sowing outdoors.

Indoor sowing into trays or modules started in March, the seedlings being potted on. They were hardened off in May and planted out.

The equivalent plug plants arrived in May and were planted alongside, at which point seeds straight from packet-to-drill joined them.

The team recorded any problems, harvested and weighed the crops, and commented on the cost of each method, where relevant.

I find such trials interesting and informative, bearing in mind our geographical differences in timing and climate, and was nodding in agreement with the verdicts.

They concluded that an almost identical harvest from Beetroot Wodan, when directly sown or raised indoors, pointed in favour of traditional sowing in drills. Buying beetroot plug plants was “definitely not worth considering”.

The verdict on Lark sweet corn – “start the seed off early indoors as you’ll give cobs more time to mature if the summer isn’t great”, brought a smile of approval. Cobs from the plug plants worked out at circa 45p each, almost the price you’d pay at a supermarket.

The trial planted out Lettuce Little Gem seedlings alongside plugs that arrived in May. This is a favourite that produces sweet little hearts, and it was the comparative cost that caught the eye – 2p per head sown from seed and 42p per head grown from plugs.

It’s reassuring that those of us who invest our pennies in packets of leaf lettuce, Salad Bowl, Lollo Rossa, et al, and grow it on a cut-and-come-again basis, are in a win-win situation.

• Chris Hunwick, Nothumberland Estates archivist, is guest speaker at Alnwick Garden Club on Tuesday, in The Alnwick Garden Pavilion, at 7.30pm. Visitors are always welcome.