In Guyana seeds germinate very quickly; the climate is so perfect, sometimes it can occur in just a few days, and in no time at all you are replanting seedlings into boxes or pots, and in the case of some seedlings, straight into borders. Over many decades composts have been developed for the potting of young plants, just as they have for the sowing of seeds. Seed composts comprise seven parts loam, three parts peat and two parts sand, and it is usual to add a small amount of fertilizer.
The compost must pass through a half-inch sieve having been thoroughly mixed.
Guyanese are used to substituting for all sorts of things, gardeners no less than any other section of the community. Twenty years ago I remember being able to buy Irish peat from Wieting and Richter in Water Street. That has been off the menu for many years now. Gardeners wishing to buy something akin to peat for their compost have to make a journey to the Linden highway, and try and obtain well-rotted leaf mould from woodlands there. This is an ideal substitute, but it should be passed through a ¼ inch sieve before mixing. A final (safety) operation is to sterilize the loam. This is in order to kill off all the weed seeds, soil-borne diseases, and bugs, so that your plants have a good start. Soil sterilizing units can be expensive things to buy. My own cost next to nothing. I have a 40 gallon drum cut longways in which I light a fire. A piece of zinc sheet is fitted comfortably over it, and the loam placed on top of the zinc and left to cook. Now when you get down to doing this you will notice that a lot of steam comes off it as it heats up. This steam is sterilizing the loam, but you must not allow the loam to get dry and burn. It is sufficient that the whole is exposed to the steam and that is done by turning it regularly with a shovel or spade. Then all you then have to do is to let the loam cool down before mixing it with the leaf mould, sand and fertilizers.
When you start pricking off or pricking out your seedlings into containers or the open ground, you have to be careful how they are handled. Firstly, they are not moved from the seed tray until the first pair of new leaves have formed. These are called the cotyledons and are usually the first leaves you can hold with your fingers. In order to lift the seedlings out of their container they must be disturbed very gently. This is best done by inserting a small thin piece of wood like a pencil, and lifting them. Once loosened they can be lifted easily by taking hold of the first leaves and gently raising the seedling. This can be immediately inserted into its new pot by lowering it into a hole previously prepared with a ‘dibber.’ This is a small piece of wood about half an inch in diameter and say four inches long. The hole for the seedling should be deep enough to take it up to a point just below the first leaves. The hole is then filled and the pot given a gentle tap to settle it into its new home, after which the seedlings are watered and kept sheltered for a few days.
Finally, dear reader, allow me to share one of Churchill’s great ungallant remarks. Lady Astor once said to him “Winston, if I were your wife I would put poison in your coffee,” to which he replied, “Nancy, if I were your husband I’d drink it.” Keep smiling and happy gardening.
Take great care of your young plants and may your God go with you.