Potting on your seedlings

We are potting on our tomatoes but this process applies equally to other seedlings, peppers etc.

It’s time, our tomato seedlings are starting to look strong and healthy, but I’m very aware that they will soon be too large for the tiny little starter pots I gave them. If we allow this to happen, the roots will grow out through the pot and be cauterised by the air and the seedlings will begin to get leggy and long, instead of strong. We want strong roots because the plants are going to get tall and carry a lot of fruit and we need those roots to stabilise the plant, as well, obviously, as carrying water and nutrition to the plant. Also, leggy plants are much more susceptible to being accidentally snapped and broken, so we really want to prevent this where we can. This is why we move them on into larger pots.

Now I know some of you guys are growing tomatoes for the first time this year so you’ll be asking, “but Eli, how do we know when it’s time to pot them into a bigger pot?” So, here is my simple tip. It depends on how you have grown them. Cryptic, huh?

Ok, if you started them off in the tiny little seed trays like this,

once they have their second set of leaves, move them to a slightly bigger pot, like the little paper pots I have.

Once you have already potted on once and the seedlings are in nice little pots like these

let them grow a while, until they are 2 or 3 inched tall and starting to get top heavy. Then repeat but with slightly bigger pots.

My little pot making widget doesn’t make bigger pots, so I have a cunning tip – a paint tin!!! Yup I said a small paint tin.

Basically, for the next size up, I use a small tin of varnish, it’s perfect. So I use that as a mould for making the next set of pots. Like this.

So, before I start, I make sure to water the seedlings well and let them sit long enough for that water to drain. I do this because watering the plants helps the soil stick to the roots making them easier to handle safely.

If you want to have a go at making your own paper pots, I’ll link the blog and video on this down below.

So lets get repotting

Water the plants in advance and allow the soil to drain. The reason I do this is because this will help the soil stick to the plant roots making them less likely to dry out and less likely to be damaged.

Genius tip! Partially fill your new pot with soil, then place your original pot in there. Now fill with soil around your little pot. When you take your original pot out, it leaves a little gap for your seedling which is the perfect size. Pop your seedling in there and add more soil as needed and firm it in. TIP – if you are using these little paper pots, you don’t have to take the seedling out, you can “plant” the little paper pots and they will biodegrade in the soil.

If you have leggy seedlings, you can plant these deep. What will happen this is that the areas of the leggy stem which you have now buried will form roots. Meaning you get a much more stable plant. Fixing your leggy seedling problem.

Now you have basically just given your little plants a bit of a shock, so be nice to them, give them another good water and keep an eye on them for a couple of days.

You will pot on again once. For me, this will be when it’s time to pot into my quadgrow planters. If you are growing your tomatoes directly in soil then it will be when you move them to their final home. You will do this once the plants are good and strong and around 6 inches tall. If you are growing outdoors, this will be dictated by the weather, you don’t want to put your plants out into the garden until the weather is suitably warm and the risk of frosts have passed.

Make your own little paper pots

Spring in the garden: growing salad in the chilligrow

There are always jobs that need doing, even small ones so we were up early (as normal) planting stuff. I still hadn’t quite got everything planted up that I had wanted to, so was getting that sorted today which gives me the chance to share some wee tricks you may find useful.

Trick 1: using your chilligrow to grow salad

The quadgrows and chilligrows are great and I use them for all sorts of stuff, I don’t always follow the rules though 🙂

We have two chilligrows and over the years we’ve realised we really don’t need 6 chilli plants. Usually what happens is we dry loads

or freeze bags of them and Kate usually takes 2 or 3 kgs into work for Andrew who is a chilli head. Either way, we grow way more than we need. So this year we are only going to grow a couple of plants and use the other chilligrow for… SALAD!

Now I can hear you all shouting, but Eli, surely you can just grow one plant in each pot! How will this work. Well let me show you our trick.

Trick 1: growing salad in the chilligrow

First thing I do, is I cut the wick that draws the water into the pot. I usually cut it into two maybe three.

This then lets me spread the wick around the pot a bit more, maximising the water dispersal. A bit like my bit quadgrow plus does with my herbs. I add soil as normal, making sure to remember and spread the wick about and give it a really good soak.

Then sow my salad seeds on top of the soil like normal.

Lastly, spread another layer of compost over the top to keep them safe and happy.

I’ll keep watering from the top until I think my little salad lovelies are strong and then switch to filling the chilligrow reservoir as we would normally. I did this last year and it worked great so it’s become part of my normal routine now.

Trick 2: drainage for your pots

You may recall the conversation we had a few months back about making sure to add little feet under your pots to allow water to get out and stop things from drowning? If not it’s below, but I also have another spring tip for you (well anytime of year to be honest) about using these little feet for drainage inside the pots.

I have to plant up some of our impatiens this morning. They are some of Kate’s favourite plants and we always have pots of them on the steps.

The little plants in the greenhouse were ready to move on now but oh no… I’d used the pots they normally live in so I had to find some new pots and the ones we have didn’t have any drainage holes. Uh oh!

Not to fear though, a few little feet inside the pot (I went two little feet high) which lets a plastic plant pot sit snug inside, off the bottom allowing space for water to drain. Hurrah!

They’ll stay in the greenhouse a little while longer until he weather heats up a bit more and the plants are a bit bigger, but looking lovely.

In the raised beds

I was also adding my beetroot to the raised beds this morning as I still hadn’t planted it, this year, I’m testing out something new, seed tape. We’ve never used this before and wondered if it would be useful. It means your seeds are all perfectly spaced apart when you plant them and given our beetroot somehow always ends up all over the place, we thought we’d give it a go.

Not sure if it will be a keeper as I usually plant a couple of seeds for each plant and take out the weaker one. That means I don’t have the risk of plants not germinating but we’ll give this a try and report back as always. I suppose I can always backfill seeds if needed.

So anyways, it’s spring time, shut down the computer and get out in the garden. There are lots of jobs to be doing this weekend :). I’m off to prune the hydrangeas.

Have fun folks!


We have lots of tomato seedlings, lots of carrot seedlings but still no peppers – boo!

Using propagators to start your seedlings off & how to move them from propagator to greenhouse to outdoors

We have had a few questions in comments and on twitter recently about our set up in the greenhouse and how we use the propagators so I thought it would an excellent opportunity to talk to you a bit more about the process from start to finish.

The first thing I want to point out is that Kate and I don’t have a heated greenhouse, or use heated propagators. The process of sowing, growing and hardening off however, is pretty simple and is the same for all of us, heated or not.

Sowing and growing

We have learned over the past few years that we need to be very aware of the temperatures around us and the weather in our part of the country. We love watching gardening shows on tv and reading about other gardeners and what’s happening with them, but it’s equally important to remember that what works for Monty Don may not be what works for me here in Scotland. We have different weather and temperatures at different times. So I keep a journal where I can record the dates when I sow, what the temperature was etc so that over the years I can learn about what works best for me.

Hence why we don’t start sowing, even in the greenhouse until March when twitter and instagram make it look like everyone else is sowing in February.

I did used to sow my seeds in the house and keep them on a sunny window sill to start off. This worked a bit like a heated propagator I suppose and got things going quickly, but I found that the seedlings were usually leggy as they tried desperately to reach for the light coming in the window, so have taken to just waiting a couple of weeks and sowing in the greenhouse when it’s warmer. This way I have stronger seedlings.

Very leggy seedlings

Over coming the cold

We don’t have a heated greenhouse and we don’t use heated propagators. To be honest, I could imagine that having this option would probably speed things up, but I don’t find it is absolutely necessary either.

We put all our sowing in standard, non heated propagators. Make sure the vents are open and leave them in the greenhouse where they get light and a bit of protection from the cold, but the greenhouse is just warm enough to let things get started. We keep things in the propagators until the seedlings have at least their second leaves.

There have been some plants where I know from my records, there are issues getting them to germinate, for instance I have had problems with jalapenos, in this case, I have a mix of propagator sizes so I put the seedlings into a smaller unit and then pop that into the bigger propagator. Double bag it if you will, to help build more heat.

Just one of the things I have found works.

I have seedlings how do I safely move them out of propagators?

So you have your lovely seedlings and you think thy are ready for a move to the big girl playground… This is a biggie in the comments and on twitter just now. Whether you are using heat or not, before moving plants out of your propagator, you do need to “harden them off”. This just means acclimatising them to life outside of your propagator. You want them to get used to things gradually and for them to develop so they can survive either in the greenhouse or outside. You do this gradually to prevent your plants from going into shock.

So I do this once my seedlings have at least their second leaves, but also I am aware of what the temperatures are. Last year for instance we got a sudden blast of icy weather. You want the greenhouse to be at a reliable, steady temperature during the day before you start.

Step 1 – So, I start by opening the propagators during the day and then putting the lids back on for the night. I do this for a week or so. It means the plants get used to the slightly lower temperature of the greenhouse during they day where they don’t have the extra build up of warmth from the propagator but they are still protected from the cold over night.

the more delicate seedlings getting their first draft of non propagator are.

Step 2 – After a week or so, when I feel the plants are looking healthy and can cope, I then leave the lid off the propagators completely, all day and all night. I keep an eye on the seedlings though and watch for any sign they are not happy. Again I usually do this for at least a week.

If you used a heated propagator, I would say maybe add a step to this. Begin by switching the heat off in the propagator and let the plants get used to have no additional heat. Then after a week of this, move to the next step, take the lid off during the day.

Again there is no hard and fast rule for everyone, you just need to keep an eye on your plants and go a bit by your gut.

Leaving the greenhouse

Once your plants are happy in the greenhouse without the protection of the propagator, it’s time to consider when would be suitable to let them experience the outdoors. Ideally you want to be sure there will not be another frosty spell, so I usually wait until the night time temperatures are a stable 5 or 6 degrees C. This way I can be pretty much sure there wouldn’t be a sudden frosty night. BUT I keep an eye on the weather and if it looks like we might get a frost, I bring them back into the greenhouse.

Step 3- So, I do this much as I do in the greenhouse. I start off by putting the plants out side, in their pots, during the day and bring them back into the greenhouse at night.

It’s scary to leave them outside for the first time.

It’s good to remember that there will be more than just heat for the plant to content with now. Think about sunlight, shade, garden pests, so do keep an eye on things.

Step 4 – After a week or so, if the plants are looking happy I move to leaving them out over night, still in their pots. Again, keep an eye and watch how the plants settles. There is no rush, it is more important that you have healthy strong plants than you rush things and end up with no plants. That would be sad.

We are all aiming for happy, healthy plants.

Hopefully that will help allay any worries about your lovely new seedlings 🙂

Compost, how to use it and when to sieve it

If you haven’t been following our adventure with composting over the past few years you won’t know that we started off with the big, standard type compost pile at the back of the garden (build from odds and ends of wood) and are now using a swanky hotbin composter.

Our old home made compost bin

But fear not, you can catch up on the adventure with the post below and come back for the latest chapter if you like:

The hotbin composter

We are very lucky that we have the fancy hotbin composter that produces compost very quickly, unlucky however that I sometimes find I have compost ready for use but I don’t actually need it. This happened over the winter when I had to empty the compost bin as it was full and I obviously still needed a way to manage our waste. So I emptied the bin and stored everything in black rubble sacks ready for when I would need it.

My custom built filtering sieve and bags of compost ready to go

Now here is a useful thing to know for any new composter types out there. Fresh garden compost can be quite rough and bulky, don’t panic though, just cause it doesn’t look like the super fine stuff you are used to buying from the store. The reason the stuff you buy is super fine is because it has been sieved.

Here’s the skinny… you know when Jim on Beechgrove Garden or Monty on Gardener’s World tells us to add organic matter to the soil to make it better? Well this is what they mean, the rough and ready compost. It adds bulk and texture and air etc to the soil. Stops the soil being too fine and getting compacted and if you have sandy or clay soil helps to change the composition. The bigger bits keep on breaking down providing nutrition too. All in all this is awesome. You will also have heard Jim and Monty talk about mulch? Yeah well this compost is exactly that, mulch, so you can even spread it over the soil around plants to feed the soil and suppress weeds. Money saver!

Now what if you are potting up plants or little seedlings? Well then this compost is a bit rough for this, so you would sieve or filter it to get rid of any larger bits and pieces and leave you with the finer stuff. This will be much more recognisable as the stuff you would buy (which you’ll probably see as labelled multi purpose).

Fine soil after sieving

So, how does this all work?

To do this though, you need the compost to be relatively dry otherwise it’s a bit on the sticky side and it clogs up the sieve.

Here was our problem, the compost I had been storing was still quite damp. I had hoped for a few sunny days where I could spread it out on a tarp in the garden and let it dry in the sun, but alas, we’ve had rain for months. So it never happened. This weekend though we finally got a chance, so hurrah.

This also provided Kate with a chance to put her DIY skills to the test yet again to make my life easier. You see, I have a standard, bucket sized, garden sieve, which works great, but…. would take forever to sieve a few rubble bags worth of compost. Also it’s very fine, suitable for making potting compost but it takes a very long time to sieve out from brand new chunky stuff.

I need something which a much bigger mesh size, an in betweener if you like. Also bigger would be great given the amount of compost I have to get through.

Kate did a fantastic job and built me my very own extra large garden sieve just for my compost. Just some leftover bits of wood and some fine chicken wire.

between my little bucket sieve and my fabulous big DIY one.

We didn’t record the making of this as it’s dead easy but if you want some instructions fear not, someone else has done an excellent job of this.


So speaking about fresh compost being a bit lumpy, you can see from the pic here what I mean. You sometimes get bits of twig or whatever left over that haven’t quite finished breaking down. It’s no biggie, you just throw those back in and they finish their job. Having a big filtering system does make this easier though. The action of the compost lumpy bits running across the sieve help break down lumps which are just stuck together and separate this from actual large pieces which are not ready.

Fresh compost straight from the bin

So how does the whole sieve thing work? Well, to be honest, it’s all very scientific and complicated, I’m not sure you’d understand. You need to add your fresh compost to the sieve and ………


I usually do this over a great big tarp, then shovel it from there to wherever it needs to be but I can also put the sieve straight onto the frame of my raised beds if I want some finer soil for in there.

using a tarp and sieve on top of the raised bed to filter compost.

And there you have it, lots of lovely mulch, compost for the raised beds, potting on etc. The world is your compost of choice.

Buying plugs and plants online, look out for bad packaging

Buying plants online can be both convenient and cost-effective, especially if you don’t have a greenhouse to grow your own seedlings through spring but there are some things to think about if you take this route.

The growing season in Scotland is generally a lot shorter than elsewhere in the UK, when Monty Donn and his dog Nigel (on gardener’s world) are out getting excited about planting up for the new season, gardeners in Scotland are usually still wearing hats, scarves and gloves. This means we don’t get the chance to start until much later and then winter weather comes much quicker for us meaning our tomatoes stop ripening and other plants stop producing. Due to a particularly nasty bout of weather this year, spring is only just coming to Scotland now and for the first time, my greenhouse is bare with little hope of getting plants to take in time to produce. As it’s the first year I’ve suffered this way, as a gardener I took it pretty hard, thinking that was the end of this season’s hopes but luckily it’s not.

It did take a bit of soul-searching, but this week I decided that if I was foiled by the weather and unable to grow, I could make use of all the lucky folk in warmer climes and buy young plants from them which I can then nurture and grow so that we still have our home grown veggies this year.

In doing this though, I have learned a valuable lesson that I thought I should share here for anyone else who may be considering buying plants online. That lesson is – ask! Ask because how that plant is going to be sent to you and how it will be cared for on route is important. Before you buy anything, ask them how it will be packaged, how long it will take to arrive, what happens if the young plant dies on route?

This week I bought peppers, chillies and tomatoes all with various degrees of success. Some came boxed securely with the plants in pots which were then wrapped in cellophane to prevent them from spilling their soil, the pots were then secure in the boxes with room all around them keeping them safe.

Others came in envelopes which had been crushed and bashed damaging the plants. Others didn’t arrive in the timescale expected and were dead when they arrived.

All in all, it was a mixed bag but a valuable lesson learned.

Images from a video where I chat about this on youtube.



Potting on in the greenhouse

There are always odd jobs to be done in the garden, today it’s potting on the petunia seedlings into hanging baskets.


Petunias – the growing from seed adventure

petunia seedlingsThis year’s experiment was to grow the flowers for our hanging baskets ourselves rather than buy plants from our local garden centre.

This would be the first time we’d grown flowers from seed so it was a bit of l new adventure for us and as usual I went into full research ninja mode before doing anything.

Normally when planting seeds, well I say normally but what I mean is that for all the seeds I’ve planted so far, you place the seeds onto damp soil and then cover them with more soil.

Research ninja however discovered that for petunias, you don’t cover the seeds they actually need the sunlight to spark off germination.

I have to be honest, this felt a bit weird and I REALLY wanted to cover them.

The second think to know if you should ever fancy growing petunias from seed is that they apparently are notoriously difficult to grow. Every article I read was full of doom and gloom telling me to plant 50 if I want 10 etc. I wasn’t filled with confidence, especially since we have 10 hanging baskets to fill at a rate of about 5 plants on average per basket. So back onto t’internet for a quick deal with old Mr Fothergill and another few packets of seeds were winging their way to us.

When it was time to plant up, I had lots of seeds, TINY, TINY seeds and I patiently made lots of little paper pots. The plan being to scatter the seeds throughout lots of these little pots and then IF any seeds germinated I could pot them on later as needed.

It took an age, I was getting so jittery as nothing was coming up and I took to staring at things really intently everyday as if my sheer will could encourage the little sods to get going But they did eventually start coming up and they were so tiny.

The advice was right, hardly any germinated, infact a couple of weeks after germination seemed to start I only had 16 plants… sod it, I planted a wee drop more.

Well the wee sods only almost all came up eventually!!!!!! So much for advice on t’internet.

Well potting on was fun let me tell you, 4 hours of making over a hundred new paper pots and transferring the now bigger seedlings into them. The only reason that it only took 4 hours was because Kate took pity on me and jumped in to get a production line going.

hanging basketsSo 5/6 weeks later and we have just planted up our hanging baskets with copious amounts of baby petunias plants which hopefully in a few weeks will start to look lush.

All good, we have the start of our hanging baskets out there and all being well we should have the most awesome cascade of colour in a few months filling the baskets and trailing over the sides.

There is just one thing though… what to do with the spare 36 plants that weren’t meant to germinate????????

imagespare petunias

Potting up the petunias

So what’s growing? A spring time catch up in the greenhouse.

I was reading through some of our old blog posts from this time last year and I’ve realised that we are a little bit behind on this time last year. Just a few weeks but it goes to show you how the weather can be incredibly variable from one year to the next. This time last year we already had beetroot and carrots in the beds, this year, we’ve only just begun to see the little seedlings popping up in the greenhouse.

So what do we have then? Well.

This is the first year we have attempted to grow any actual flowers from seed. We normally just pop to Pentland Plants up the road and buy baby plants. This year however we are attempting to grow these on ourselves and have a fantastic supply of spring and summer colour, or that’s the plan at least. We’ve planted a few different things alongside our usual veggies.


We’ve planted a few different types of Petunias as we use a lot of these in the garden especially in our hanging basket. They are only now just beginning to pop out of the soil and they are sooooooooooo tiny….. I’m terrified I’m going to kill them when I water them. I hope they grow a bit bigger and hardier soon.




















Kate is a big fan of Dahlias so we’re having a go at some of those called Yankee Doodle Dandy. They look pretty on the packets and they seem to be growing quite happily.





















Of course we have our usual array of veggies starting off, although these haven’t really come up much yet as it’s been a bit cold but we have the usual suspect…. COLIN!






























And lots of salad – that stuff will grow in a fridge, I swear!!















Lastly, I’ve just planted some peas so watch this space for them.


Getting ready for spring – the greenhouse

Folk who don’t work in the garden think that everything stops in winter. Well I wish I could tell you it does but unfortunately winter is when you get everything ready for spring’s arrival.

There is so much to do from cleaning the greenhouse to feeding the soil to organising and planning for planting.

There are obviously things that you do every year and therefore you are already ahead of the game as you are organised and planned for in your head but if you throw anything new into the mix, there’s a whole new batch of organising to be done.

The coming year

We’ve decided that we are going to try something new in the coming year. We’ve already had success with our various veg growing adventures so next year we are going to add flowers to this.  Now before you say,”hang on we’ve seen pictures of your garden and it’s full of flowers.” Let me explain.

We don’t grow our flowers, we buy them all ready to plant from a local nursery. For next year we want to try growing our own plug plants from seed. We have accepted that this might not be the success we hope for but if not we still have the option to buy plants from the nursery. If it does work out, well we will have the chance to increase our range of flowers to include those our local nursery doesn’t carry and save on car trips.

All this excitement will mean the greenhouse will see more use than normal over the spring and summer months so I am going to have to get thinking about how I’m going to do this.



Lots more seedlings equals lots more pots required also equals lots more space to store pots and lots more money buying pots.

Solution:  newspaper pots
Kate has bought me a widget that I’m keen to try out. It is so that I can make the pots for my seedlings out of newspaper.
Cheap, biodegradable,  takes up less space and a bit of fun too.




teeny tom plantMy greenhouse isn’t huge, just 8′ by 6′, and I struggle for space a bit each year as it is so I need to find a way to fit my usual tomatoes, courgettes etc in there with the new flower seedlings too.
Solution: little plants and less of them
Well this one is down to me not going mad with multiple varieties of things I’m afraid. I have a tendency to grow three or four of each variety of tomato or courgette taking up huge amounts of space. This year I am going to force myself to stick to a small number of plants and only those which we’ve already had success with.

I’m also going to grow smaller bush varieties where I can.

How are the tomatoes growing. A greenhouse update.


The sun has been shining all week and as usual we’ve been in the garden enjoying the sunbeams.

Although it’s not just us loving the sunshine, the vegetables and tomatoes are bursting to life this week. Hence why I thought I’d give you a very quick update on the greenhouse.

I have a couple of things to show you which I had held off on until I knew they’d “take”.

I can hear you now, “what on earth are cucamelons?”. And I don’t blame you. It’s a bit of an unusual one.

We found out about them from another gardener’s video blogs and it looked like fun. I’ll post a link at the bottom to her video post about them, but she’s done lots of other interesting gardening videos so I’d recommend heading over to her youtube channel for some viewing. She even did one very amusing video for world naked gardening day. I’m trying convince Kate to do one for this year, but I don’t think that that’ll be a battle I’ll win.

Cucamelons are tiny little fruits that apparently taste like melon, but they are really small. I thought they’d make perfect little lunch box treats.

I wasn’t sure how I’d get on as the seeds really didn’t seem to take, but this weeks sun has made all the difference and I have a batch of about 15 coming on.


This is a new one on us too, so I promise to keep you up to date on how they get along.

Watering system
The other interesting addition to the greenhouse this year is a new watering system that I’m testing out.


It’s a large bag which holds about a gallon of water and has a hose and dripper system. I’m hoping it might help prevent fluctuations in watering and so stop so many tomatoes from splitting on the vine. I have one on each side of the greenhouse for the tomatoes.


It’s my first time trying something like this out so we’ll have to give it time and see how it goes.

There you go, a quick update from the green house.

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