During the uncharacteristically warm and sunny Bank Holiday weekend, I finally managed to get some seeds planted on the allotment. Normally, I would have started sowing parsnips and radishes in early April, but the weather just didn’t cooperate this year. As I sowed nine rows of various seeds, I was struck by their variety and beauty. It’s amazing what you can tell about a plant just from the type of seed it has.
Parsnips are the main root vegetable I grow on the allotment. Germination can be erratic, much more so if the seed is old, so parsnips are the one crop where I make a point of buying fresh seed every year. I sow a little cluster of three or four seeds every eight inches along the row – if more than one seed in each cluster germinates, I thin all but the strongest seedling once they are a couple of inches high. Parsnips are slow to germinate and slow to grow, so I sow radishes, lettuce, spring onions or, for the first time this year, lambs lettuce in the spaces between the clusters of parsnip seeds. These faster crops will be harvested before the parsnips need the space, and because they are quicker to germinate, they mark where the line of parsnips is going to be, which makes weeding between the rows easier later on.
Parsnip seeds would naturally be distributed by the wind, which is why the seeds are light and have a rim around the edge that acts like a little sail. This makes the seed big enough to handle, but also means it blows around very easily if you try to sow parsnips on a windy day.
Radishes are very quick to germinate (often as little as a week) and can be ready to harvest in around three to four weeks. This makes them ideal as a marker for the slower growing parsnips. But, my family likes parsnip and is less keen on radishes, so putting radishes in all my parsnip rows leads to an unwelcome radish glut, especially in years like this one where I end up planting all the rows of parsnips at once. So, over the last few years I’ve experimented with using other plants as markers.
Radish seeds are approximately round, and large enough to sow one by one. I like to space them about an inch or so apart to minimize the need to thin them later.
I grow cos-type lettuces, and, like the radishes, I use them as markers for the parsnips. Lettuce seeds are tiny and difficult to sow precisely, so I tend to just sow them as thinly as I can and thin them later. I have found that alternating two different marker crops along my parsnip row makes it even easier to spot where the parsnips are going to come up (at the boundaries between the radishes and the lettuces).
This is another crop that I use as parsnip markers. I’ve found them less successful than radishes and lettuces, but they are worth trying. I grow purple spring onions, which makes a nice change from the white ones that are readily available in the supermarkets.
Spring Onion seeds are black and pointy; they remind me of tiny little tetrahedra. Ideally, I would sow them about every half inch or so along the row. Although the seeds are just about large enough to handle, their dark colour makes them hard to see against the soil, so it can be difficult to space them exactly as you want.
Also known as corn salad, I’m using this as a marker plant for the first time this year. I’ve tried growing it in pots before without much success, and the seed was from a packet I bought a couple of years ago, so it may not germinate well.
The final type of seed that I sowed at the weekend was kohl rabi. Unlike the other seeds above, this one isn’t a parsnip marker. Kohl rabi is a brassica (all brassicas have little round seeds) and therefore I like to plant it in a different area of the allotment from the parsnips. I grow both green and purple kohl rabi. It’s a delicious and versatile vegetable that can be tricky to find in the shops. Previously, I’ve always germinated it in the greenhouse and then planted it out, because the type of seed I was buying didn’t have many seeds in a packet and I didn’t want to waste a single one. But, this year I managed to find some seed packets online more seeds per packet, so I’m experimenting with direct sowing it. If it works, it should be less work than planting out the individual plants.
Having got nine rows of seeds in, which probably equates to almost a quarter of my little plot, I feel the allotment is almost back on schedule. Later in the spring I’ll be planting swede and pak choi and planting out the seeds that are currently germinating in the greenhouse – squashes, courgettes, runner beans and kale. Finally, it feels as though summer is on the way.