Surprising sights in the depths of winter

Snowdrops
Snowdrops
Runner beans - perfect for getting children interested in gardening.

BRIAN KIDD: From these seeds, mighty gardeners might sprout

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Wonderful, it’s getting lighter in the evenings and we can do some more seed-sowing in the greenhouse. A couple of weeks ago we sowed some carnations and polyanthus because they don’t need a lot of heat but seeds such as begonias and lobelia need to be sown now and they definitely need some warmth.

I expect a lot of you have snowdrops in full bloom on the south side of Portsdown Hill but here in Waterlooville things are always a bit later.

To my amazement, the Chinese witch hazel which had swollen flower buds last week sprung into bloom this morning accompanied by the delightful perfume, what a joy to behold. You would never believe anything could look so magnificent on a winter’s day!

Just a reminder: Insulate the greenhouse with bubbled polythene and make a division so that just part of the greenhouse can be kept warm. A heated plant propagator is a good idea and is placed on a bench. One of these can be bought at a garden centre and the prices vary considerably according to the size, that’s why we use a soil-warming cable at home because Pam grows literally hundreds of plants.

What’s so special about soil-warming cables? Why do I recommend them so often?

Soil-warming cables range from £20 to £40 and they are very cheap to run – ideal if you enjoy making things.

A good-sized propagator can be made by using an old door as a base. It can be cut to size so that it will fit onto greenhouse staging. The sides need to be made of wood about eight to 10 inches wide.

Screw the wood to the door to form a box and then an inch of sand is placed into the base. The soil-warming cable is placed onto the sand, turned on for four hours so that it is flexible and then placed onto the sand.

There is a diagram of how to do this in the box. A two-inch covering of sand finishes the job and the sand is watered.

Glass sheets with masking tape around all the edges are used to make the glass top, the cable is turned on and we are ready to sow seeds 24 hours later.

The sand must be kept moist all the time. Seeds are sown in seed trays when there are lots of seeds in the packet or seed pans for fewer seeds.

The great advantage of having a system like this is that there is plenty of space.

A good example of how useful this is concerns growing begonias from seeds. They grow very slowly indeed but when they are in the propagator with bottom heat they grow more readily.

When they are pricked out into seed trays and put outside into the cooler greenhouse, they stop growing but in the home-made heated frame there is plenty of room for seedlings in boxes and they grow very much more effectively.

It’s a good idea to have a look at the soil-warming bench every day. Lift off the glass and wipe off the drops of water under the glass.