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Your questions - Marigolds and crusty soil

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Ann Kelly Ann Kelly | 18:31 UK time, Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Hallo all - thanks for the many great questions we've been sent about growing the Dig In veg - do keep them coming!  We're just sorry we haven't got time to answer all of them.  If you've got a question, send it to us using the Q&A form.

Janice O'Sullivan asks: I've got some French Marigold seeds to keep the pests away from the Dig In veg. How deep should I sow them? 

Answer: Marigold seeds - which look pretty strange, like little black sticks - should be planted about half a centimetre deep.  Sow a few in a pot, about 5 cm apart, and then keep somewhere warmish to germinate.  More... 

Once they've grow a few centimetres in height, and the first few many--lobed dark green leaves have appeared, transplant each one into its own larger pot - a 9cm pot would be ideal.  Let them get to about 10cm height, and then plant outside.  You can also sow directly where you want them to grow, but do beware of slugs - they love them and will happily munch them to death, so you'll need to protect the plants somehow.

Selwyn Gough asks: After I have prepared the seed bed to a fine tilth and sown the carrots and am waiting for germination a skin of soil forms which seems to stop the young seedlings from coming through. Have I prepared the bed wrong?

Answer: No, it sounds as if you've done a great job, but have just been unlucky with the weather. What you've experienced is called surface capping, and I would guess that it's rained fairly heavily since you prepared your fine tilth.  This can cause the "skin" to form as the raindrops smash into the fine soil, breaking it into tiny particles that then fuse together into a crusty "cap" over the surface.  Sometimes this can make it difficult for little seedlings to emerge, though often they will force their way through.

To stop it happening in the future try covering seeds with compost rather than soil, as its rougher texture tends to break up less - though it's probably too late for this now.  A mulch or fleece laid over the surface would also help - anything to intercept the raindrops and soak up their energy before they smash into the soil.

As it's happened already, there's a couple of things to try.  Watering the soil with a fine rose will soften it, and if you have something like a fine rake or a garden claw, use them lightly on the cap to break it up a bit - a gentle smacking motion across the surface should do it.  But you do need a light touch to prevent damage to seedlings beneath the surface. 


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