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Gardeners Advice

Time to sow salad crops in modules
24 Mar

Time to sow salad crops in modules

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

Spring is on hold – it’s official. (I heard it on the Radio 4 weather forecast on Monday morning this week). Unless you are set up to sow under cloches for warmth and protection, it really is too early to sow direct into open ground: the soil is still cold and wet; the seeds will sit and wait….and wait – and rot. Better hold back for a few days till the warmer, drier weather arrives which it looks set to do this coming weekend. (Don’t miss Riverside Garden Centre’s 30th anniversary party on Sunday 26 March!)

Sowing in modules

If you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse or cold frame, you can beat the weather as there are several varieties of vegetable which can be sown now and should be ready to plant out in a few weeks. Salad crops such as Salad (‘spring’) Onions, Beetroot and Leaf Beet (Chard) are the obvious choice. Strictly speaking the term ‘module’ applies specifically to pre-formed blocks of small plastic or fibre cells which come in a variety of sizes, but other containers will do just as well. The great thing about fibre cells is that they can be carefully eased apart from the others in the block and planted direct into the ground without disturbing the young seedling, the fibre helping to retain moisture round the root system while gradually disintegrating.

Young vegetable seedlings transplant very successfully when the time comes, so this year I have sown both Beetroot and Leaf Beet in shallow seed trays, placing the small, knobbly seeds in neat rows. I’m reusing small plastic flowerpots for Salad Onions and Leeks, lifting the shiny, black seeds with a damp matchstick and placing them on the surface of seed compost. Small seed sown this way is best covered with vermiculite, rather than compost, so that the tiny shoots can poke through without difficulty once germination begins.

My favourite varieties

Beetroot: from a wide choice of seed, including varieties which produce beet with yellow/orange flesh, my two favourites are ‘Cylindra’ which, as the name indicates; and ‘Bull’s Blood’ which has wonderful swirls of pale and dark crimson flesh. I always plant ‘Bolthardy’ as well, due its dependable quality.

Salad Onions: ‘White Lisbon’ is an old favourite which usually does well. ‘Lilia’, with its purple bulbs provides a lovely splash of contrasting colour in a bowl of predominantly green salad.

As for Leaf Beet, new varieties with their range of brightly-coloured stems and frilly-edged leaves look great in the veg patch. Try ‘Rhubarb’ and ‘Bright Lights’, and also sow ‘Perpetual’ which can be treated as Spinach but without the problems of running to seed.

Sow now – enjoy later!

Even if you don’t begin sowing until warmer weather arrives, plan ahead and have everything ready to go – seeds bought, soil dug, fleece for covering the rows and providing a degree of extra warmth on colder night. Just think - in a few weeks time, you will be harvesting the first of this season’s crops!

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