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A fine tilth and the second crop

I'd spent the last two days working the bbq.  Saturday was a doddle, but Sunday was crazy.  Six hot hours of nonstop cooking pulled pork and turning sausages.  As much as I really enjoyed working with these guys at this event, come Sunday afternoon I stank of bbq and was tired, hot and bothered, but my day was not done.

A friend and I were meeting for a seed sowing workshop with the remarkable Kate.  I needed help with my sowing endeavours. I had sowed seventy pots with tomato seeds in early October, but only three of them germinated.  Three.  It was looking like my dreams of a home grown passata party this summer were dashed again.   I was keen to find some answers to where I might of gone wrong.

Despite smelling of pork fat, I dashed straight to Cygnet to make the 5pm class.   The setting was perfect.  After only a moment standing in Kate's beautiful productive garden, filled with vegetables and flowers, with the afternoon sun casting its golden glow, my weary bones felt instantly restored and the smell of grease suddenly (I hope) went unnoticed. I was all ears, ready to listen to some garden wisdom.

Kate belongs to the seed savers network, and is on a mission to show as many people as possible how easy it is to sow, save and share seeds. It's important work.

What did I learn?

To let your vegetable plants grow tall and spindly and go to seed.
Indeed, to think of the seeds as a second crop.
Collect those seeds, save some, plant some and share some.
Let the plants self seed to create new plants in your garden. Move them if they're in the wrong spot, these seedlings will be more robust and healthier than any store bought seedling. And free.
Mixing flowers and plants together means that each little piece of garden you work in will not only look beautiful but create more biodiversity. Which means healthier plants.

I also leant:

A fine tilth not only sounds lovely, but it's important for the seeds that you sow, so they get an easy start.
That a decent sized stick makes a fine rake handle.
That a vintage compost sifter is a must to make your own potting mix (okay, it doesn't have to be vintage, that's just me).
There is such a thing as a ladies spade and that I really need one.  
And a fine misting nozzle is essential to keep the seeds moist and not to wash them away with a heavy downpour from a crappy watering can.

Today, I walk around my garden and look at in a different light.   It's not messy, it's alive.  It needs more flowers mixed in with the veggie patch. And those tall spindly plants that look like they should pulled out and thrown to chooks?  The swiss chard, parsnip, parsley and kale? They are the most important plants in garden right now, my second crop, they are next year's seeds, next year's food.

Since the weekend, I'm not sure if it's the very warm days, the eclipse, or the fact I have a little more understanding of seeds and their needs, but those seventy pots of potting mix sitting in the greenhouse have burst into life with a good dozen tomato seedlings popping up since Monday.  Too late in the season? Perhaps.  But with a good long summer, a fine misting nozzle and a (ahem) ladies spade, we may just get a first, and second crop after all.


  1. I went out on my balcony last night to discover that caterpillars were eating ALL my tomatoes! It's so sad. This morning I discovered that my other pot of tomatoes has blossom end rot...whatever that may be. Sigh.

  2. This workshop sounds amazing.
    Don't give up on the passata dream, I say tend to those seedlings and you might just get there.
    I bought a vintage compost sifter from a clearing sale, but was not quiet sure what is was for, now I know.

  3. Of course it has to be vintage! Though I spend much of my time in the garden right now with my children tending our herbs and vegetables, I have no idea about seeds either really. I've let my rocket and coriander go to seed - all so pretty especially the Thai basil, but I'm not sure when's the right time to harvest the seed. And I'd never heard of a ladies spade!

  4. Lady spade....that totally cracked me up! I have a tip shop version of one I think, definitely not Dutch!

    Glad to hear others agree with letting (almost) everything go to seed. This summer I have spent most of my gardening time shuffling self-sown seedlings about the place....asparagus, tomatoes, sunflowers, tomatoes, kale, tomatoes, sweet peas and more tomatoes. I thought I was just being slack, everyone asks me what varieties things are and I have NO IDEA, now I can pretend it is a grand plan of mine.

    I do continually pick dandelion seed heads and resist the urge to blow them about the place as we certainly have plenty of those already.

  5. Excellent Michelle. Wise words, what a great workshop. I don't think we can ever stop learning about growing vegetables.

    Self seeded plants are undoubtedly the strongest. I have heirloom tomatoes in my garden (grown from saved seed) looking very sad and our extreme summer heat hasn't even started yet. I also have self seeded tomatoes growing in amongst weeds and grey water that look incredibly strong!?

    Good luck x

  6. Sounds wonderful. Rhonda taught me to let my plants go to seed and I get excited each time they do. It's funny, I never even knew what a parsley, eschallot or corriander flower looked like until recently. Still waiting to see what the rainbow chard will look like in bloom. My collection of seed packets is growing!

    Last year my tomatoes were a very sad affair, with too much rain and disease. This year they have flourished I am giving them away to the neighbours, making tomato jam, freezing them and soon, hopefully, making passata. I have found my mistakes are powerful learning tools! Here's hoping your tomatoes will surprise you. :)

  7. It's always a bonus when something self seeded pushes its way up through the earth. I leave plants to go to seed not only so I can collect the seed but also because it's something for the birds to feed on. And a seedhead is always dramatic with the frost on it.

  8. I think I need a ladies' spade too! Thanks so much for sharing all of this, Michelle (and for the link through to Kate who I have not met before!) x

  9. I LOVE the Seedsavers! I did a workshop there on Sunday and it was amazing. Came away re-thinking everything about my own garden just as you describe. Their garden in Byron is divine, you would love it so much - full of life, and yes, loads of tall spindly things :)

  10. I love my lady spade!! Sounds silly but it's very easy to use & looks lovely too! I got mine for my birthday earlier this year along with some leather gardening gloves & a tumble compost bin- my family know me very well :)

  11. Wonderful post, with lots of tips for inspiration. Love your photos. Thanks for the link to Kate's blog.