Saturday, 17 April 2010

Let There Be Light

One of the reasons I became a gardener is that I need lots of sunshine. Most Winters I'd happily hibernate and by February I'm hanging on by my fingernails. This year's been not bad though, and I put that down to lashing out on an SAD lamp and an alarm clock which simulates dawn. No more abrupt awakening on bleak black mornings for me. It's worked like a charm, and despite all the hassles of recent months I've remained reasonably unruffled. You may be cynical but all I'm saying is that sunlight gives me energy.
So it is with plants.Sunlight powers photosynthesis,  the mechanism which turns soil, air and water into plants. Once your seedlings have germinated it's important that they receive adequate light, or they will put their energy into stretching towards the light instead of becoming strong and stocky. Professional growers spend huge sums on artificial lighting as it's a cost-effective investment. 
We don't need to go to these lengths, unless we're trying to grow giant veg or unseasonal crops or living in areas with low light levels. If you're growing seedlings on a windowsill a reflector will help, or simply being patient and sowing two or three weeks later will make a difference. Low light levels and high temperatures are an unhealthy mix, so it's better to turn down the heat. Slow steady growth will be more pest and disease resistant than plants which have been forced.
Here endeth the lesson. Hope I've not bored you, but I do feel this subject is neglected in most books.



Mal's Allotment said...

Always find your posts relevant and interesting Izzy. I've been grappling with this since I sowed coriander indoors last year (thinking it needed tropical heat) and it grew like topsy - and looked like strands of spaghetti. To add to the confusion I sowed courgette seed in the same tray so I couldn't keep them both happy at once. (I put the trays out in the sun and the courgettes got scorched paper leaves). This year I'm being a bit more canny keeping to outdoor sowing of coriander under cover of fleece and not yoking these two together again. Still got problems with leggy brassicas and lettuce because I kept conditions warm and dark too long. I've only recently experimented with anything other than direct sowing. Sometimes I think that indoor sowing is all a bit of a fiddle, but I guess I can always revert to the old ways whereas experimentation can be considered to be the hobby part of vegetable growing, and offers a real thrill (when it works). Every year you learn a little more.

Anonymous said...

Dear Isobel, This is such timely advice for everywhere throughout the blogosphere people appear to be experiencing great difficulty with the germination of their seeds. Indeed, everyone I read tells a version of the same story. Some have mould, some have yellowing seedlings, some have damping off, some have wilt, and some are just dead. Whatever, they all need you desperately.

I am so pleased to learn that you have come through the winter relatively unscathed!

Is the Wiz said...

Dear Edith, Thank you for your encouragement. There are so many good books and informative blogs out there that I hesitate to "lecture", so it's a relief to read such positive feedback.

Is the Wiz said...

Dear Mal, You're very kind, I'm so glad to know you think I've got something to say, you're no mean grower yourself. I like your attitude to experimenting with new methods while backing them up with the old. You have an especially difficult situation as greenhouses attract vandals, so maybe hotbeds would help extend the season?

Jo said...

There's so much that can go wrong with seedlings. I think the thing that many people struggle with is not molly coddling their seedlings, giving them extra warmth in the house, which combined with low light levels makes them leggy. It's hard to know when to move them outdoors, but I've learned to take a chance and have some fleece at the ready, rather than keep them on a windowsill for too long.

Alex T said...

Hi Isobel, any chance you could recommend a good SAD light, I need to get one for my dad and there seem to be a lot of either cheap phoney versions or massively overpriced ones on the market it's difficult to tell what's the most effective/value for money solution

The Idiot Gardener said...

I'm listening, Is, I really am. In fact, I've listened so hard I built a new cold frame at the weekend.

Bright and cool, that's the way!

Is the Wiz said...

Dear Jo, You're a woman after my own heart, thanks for dropping in.
Dear Alex, I'm no expert, bought my Lumie light on an impulse in Boots' sale, having been cooped up in a gloomy office. A mate who's a psychiatric nurse said exercise, sunlight and friendship are as effective as prozac.
Dear Idiot, You're coldframe is a thing of beauty. Now you're cooking on gas.

Anonymous said...

Dear Isobel, A very brief postscript to say that, unfortunately, I am unable to comment or post for the next ten days or so. But, I shall return!