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Gardening with Jack: Seeds and Plants

By and large the dedicated home gardener grows crops from seeds and has the satisfaction of product control right from the beginning. To buy an established plant is almost like an adoption instead of a birth. There are times however when buying plants just makes sense.

Abaco’s winter residents find themselves well behind native gardeners when they arrive on Abaco and have to make up for lost time. The obvious solution is to buy a few established plants and also sow seeds for produce later in the season. Lettuce, for instance, takes about six weeks from seed to cutting. Half a dozen or so purchased plants will service salad needs until seeds produce. Tomatoes take four months from seed to ripe fruit, too long if your stay on Abaco is five months. Peppers produce faster but take about three weeks for seeds to germinate and break ground.

Even the local gardener must consider plants, especially when it comes to herbs. Sage is popular because it marries well with chicken, pork and onions. The plants are large with abundant leaves and it would be a large household that would need more than one plant. The obvious choice here is plant over seeds.

Thyme is the most popular culinary herb locally but takes quite a while to establish. A single thyme plant should have good size and brown bark on the stems before being cut for cooking purposes. Nursery thyme is often sold in small containers with several plants. These need to be separated very carefully before being planted in the garden or a larger pot. Always divide such plants by separating the roots first and disentangling the foliage last. If you have an abundance of thyme plants you can leave a few to mature and meanwhile break the rules by snipping away at small plants for your seasoning needs. Thyme seeds are small and need light to germinate. Sprinkle them on the surface of prepared soil then barely cover with potting mix and lightly tamp the surface. Mist with water daily.

Basil has become popular on the island in the past few decades and is a fast producer. Even so, one or two instantly usable plants would be a comfort while the seeds develop. Much the same applies to cilantro and parsley.

Cilantro is a fast grower but it also bolts early. I would suggest buying a couple of starter plants and leave these in the ground once they bolt to provide new seeds, a spice called coriander. If you are into Indian curries you can grind the coriander seeds to make a base for curry powder or paste. Meanwhile plant as many seeds as you will need – a half dozen, say – and plant the same number every three or four weeks. This way you will have fresh cilantro available throughout the season.

Parsley is a moderately quick grower and replaces itself quickly once mature. It often takes a long time for the seeds to spring because of a natural alkali in the seed coating that deters germination. For optimum results parsley seeds should be soaked in several changes of fresh water for two or three days, then planted.

A pot of chives is a joy forever, almost literally. The only time I ever lose a pot of chives is when it is clearly from my own neglect, otherwise chives last for years. It is clearly best to buy seedlings in a small pot from Pinewoods and separate them into a larger pot. The recommended distance between individual plants is two inches which may seem a lot but allows for optimum growth. Seedlings planted closer will grow thinner and may not stand upright. Add compost to your potting soil before you plant and your chives will be really happy.

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