Seeds and Snow
I am sitting looking at the snow in the garden on this unplanned day off work, it’s cold, February and all I want to do is go outside to the potting shed and sow seeds. Part of me knows how foolish my thoughts are, regardless of the bitter wind surely it’s to soon for sowing vegetables? I can envisage the carrots, beans and cabbage, but I’m put off by the –3°C temperature, biting wind and snow.
Although I have a number of heated propagators, there’s no point germinating the seeds if after one week they are plunged into sub-zero temperatures. Likewise, the low light levels cause drawn and leggy seedlings which promptly flop over and become the easy target for botrytis rot.
I know what to do, I’ll look at the vegetable seed catalogue and its recommended sowing dates for February. Broad beans, Brussels sprouts, summer cabbage and summer cauliflower, carrots, leeks and onions; I skip past tomatoes, chillies and peppers because, as I’ve said in a previous blog, it’s easier and more cost-effective these days to just buy the plants as you need them, unless you’re purposely driven by wanting some heritage or scarce cultivars.
Seven packets need to be removed from the seed tin and I must brave the cold. Or should I wait? Well experience has taught me that early sowing (can) work, but only some of the time. If I sow half a dozen cabbages and cauliflowers and two make it to the table three weeks early while the shop prices are high, that has to be an advantage. But invariably the March frost puts paid to most of the sowings, by about 50%. I rule out the heated propagator, which for the reasons stated above is a sure way to make your seedlings half-hardy — no, vegetables need to be toughened up for the harsh North spring. I also rule out sowing carrots until March, I have personally found no success with sowing early February carrots, and last year I tried four varieties in February.
The essential February sowings are:
• Broad beans: If you didn’t sow in autumn then start your bean seeds in pots now and plant them out in March.
• Brussels sprouts: I always have good 3–4 feet high sprouts even on my club-root ridden soil; when I’m asked why they are so good it’s always the same reply, sow in February.
• Summer cabbage and cauliflower: I’ve covered these two above with the fifty-fifty success rate and carrots I’ve also covered.
• Leeks and onions: This is one where the plants themselves are slow to mature and need two long seasons to produce good sizable plants. A March sowing of these two and you are looking at crops the same as in the shops. Tremendous size leeks and onions come from early sowings. A Christmas sowing for onion seeds and January sowings for leeks — so get a move on with the leeks!
So get sowing, stop looking at the cold snow, get your fleece on, shake the compost bag and get sowing. Don’t be a sunny-spring rabbit gardener (a lovely day for gardening in the sun), be a proper farmer and get outside, get sowing, get working and reap the benefits.
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