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This season’s vegetables - first sowings
15 Feb

This season’s vegetables - first sowings

Posted By: rocket veg Category: Growing Veg, Seasonal Tips

How time zips by. The hours of daylight are increasing at a pace and it feels that spring is just round the corner. I’m longing to make a start on my allotment, but my itchy feet will just have to wait as the soil is saturated with all the rain we’ve had over recent weeks and still far too cold and wet for seed planting. At this time of year, I console myself by looking at the tiny vegetable plants which have braved the worst of the winter weather and are gamely holding their heads up – autumn sowings of broad beans and onions, as well as a row or two of leeks and the last of the parsnips.

What to sow now to get early crops

In spite of the wet weather and dire state of the soil, all is not lost. The first sowings of seed can be made now if you want to have young plants ready for planting out when warmer weather arrives, so here are a few ideas as to what you can sow. The varieties given in italics have worked for me over the years, so a few suggestions for you to try.

Brassicas: summer cabbage (Greyhound, Summer Jewel) and Brussels sprouts (Filabasket, Darkmar 21) - a dozen seeds or so in a 15cm pot, and the seedlings transplanted to their own pots when large enough to handle. Brassica seed is small, dark, round and easily lost, so see my handy sowing tip below.

Broad beans: summer cropping varieties (Deadnought, Masterpiece Longpod) can be sown in individual pots. The seeds are big, so easy for children to sow.

Carrot: the tiniest of seed! Create the perfect row of carrot seedlings by filling an old length of plastic guttering with compost and sprinkle a line of seed thinly along a shallow drill. When a strong root system has established, gently push the whole ‘row’ out into a depression in open ground – simple! Early Nantes and Flakkee should work.

Leeks: a single, tiny black seed can be sown in each cell of a module tray making eventual transplanting a straightforward job. Musselburgh is one of several tried and trusted varieties.

Lettuce: begin succession sowing now. Lettuce seed is delicate and it’s easy to sow too much and too thickly, so try taking a pinch of seed and allow it to trickle from your thumb and forefinger onto the surface of the compost – then cover with a fine dusting of damp vermiculite. Try Lettony and Intred for something a bit different.

Parsnip: there is always much debate on my allotment site about the best time to make the first sowing of parsnip – some gardeners favouring a mild day in February, others urging caution and holding back a few weeks. Parsnip cannot be transplanted without the risk of damaging the fragile root system, but here’s a handy tip which I recently picked up: sow the seed in ‘root trainers’ which enable each tiny plant to be transferred to its eventual growing site in its own package of compost. The Student and Tender and True have always given me good plants with long roots, but much depends on the soil.

How to handle tiny seed when sowing

Here’s a trick… pick each seed up on the end of a damp matchstick, place it exactly where you want it to go on the surface of the compost and push gently to dislodge it. Use the match to shuffle a few crumbs of soil over the top.

Which compost works best

In spite of its name, I find that seed compost is sometimes too heavy when it comes to sowing many varieties of veg. For best results, I use a mixture of seed and multipurpose composts which I sieve together into a plastic trug bucket. The result is a crumb-like mix, perfect for seeds. Once the seeds are in place the perfect covering can be obtained by using a kitchen sieve to shake a dusting of compost over the surface of the seed tray, pot or modules.

Other tips for successful veg sowing

The term ‘under glass’ on a seed packet means just that, be it a tiny cloche or grandest glasshouse. I’m lucky enough to have a greenhouse on my allotment, a sheltered spot in which to work on cold days and a great place to get seeds to germinate. A light spot in a garden shed works just as well – perhaps a shelf under the window on which to set a couple of seed trays. A cold frame is a real boon and can be made fairly simply from a couple of rows of bricks with a discarded window laid across. If you don’t have any of the above, improvise, but don’t delay – it’s time to get sowing if you want early crops.

(If you are wondering about the photo, 'don't try it at home' as it could be tricky removing the seedlings when it comes to pricking them out!)

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