Exciting news! I have joined forces with my very good friend Richard Chivers (Sharpen Your Spades) and we’ve created a brand new organic gardening podcast 🥳 It’s called The Seed Pod.
We will be digging into the world of grow your own gardening, and all that comes with it. We want to bring you seasonal advice and science based information that you can apply to your gardening straight away!
We are really excited about this new adventure, so we would love you to check it out!
Ok, I know it was only the other day that I was talking about practicing patience, but there are now a few things that we can be sowing! On the 14th of February (or thereabouts depending on where you are in the UK) we start to see over 10 hours of daylight. This seems to be the magic number for starting healthy seeds.
The average seed contains just about enough energy to support the plant right up until it has a root and two leaves (4 in some cases). The first root is called the radicle, and goes down in search of water and nutrients. The first leaf or leaves push up through the earth and unfurl to start collecting light. The first leaves are called the Cotyledons. Plants that produce just one leaf from the seed are called Monocotyledons, and plants that produce a pair of leaves are called Dicotyledons.
If when these leaves push out of the earth, they do not find enough light to sustain and grow the plant, the plant will suffer as a result. I talked about this in my last post. BUT the good news is that we now have those daylight hours that we need to get seeds started.
This week I will be sowing lettuce, spinach, cauliflower, kale, early cabbage, broad beans and spring onions. All of these things can go outside more or less straight away as soon as they are big enough. They are all cold tolerant so won’t mind going outside, and sowing now will ensure that they have enough light to grow strong instead of leggy.
I’ll also be sowing chillis, peppers and aubergines in the greenhouse on heat mats. These plants are the exception to the rule. They aren’t really supposed to grow in the British climate, and they need a long growing season. So sow them now, but give them some help in the form of extra heat, and if you can, keep Chillis and Peppers in a greenhouse or poly tunnel throughout their growing season. Aubergines are notoriously difficult to get pollinated so if you’re growing them indoors think about planting some flowers to lure in pollinators and make sure that they have a way of getting in (leaving doors open!). You can also put aubergine’s outside in a warm sunny spot.
A greenhouse is the perfect place to sow seeds. Double glazed windows that most houses have now filter out so many of the sun’s UVs making windowsills not a great option. If you don’t have a greenhouse a clear plastic box turned upside down works fine too. Raise it off the ground for a little extra warmth. Alternatively, sow in a conservatory or porch, or somewhere where the light comes from all angles and the seedlings should be fine. Grow lights are an option if you don’t have anywhere else to sow, but remember they are never as good as the sun!
It’s February, and the temptation to brighten the dull and dismal days with some seed sowing is almost too much to bear. We want so desperately for spring to be with us and we yearn to see green shoots pushing up through the ground. Anyone who has ever planted a seed will know the pang of excitement at the first sight of green amongst the brown compost. In our honest and understandable desire to experience this comes the peril of sowing too early.
In some ways we are lucky to live in a world of heat mats and grow lights. But these gadgets which are designed to make our lives easier and grow us healthy plants often end up doing the exact opposite of this. They lure us into believing that we can cheat nature and raise healthy plants without listening to the seasons. The truth is obvious; these gadgets cannot replace natural conditions of seasons. By which I am mainly talking about sunlight. Plants are literally water, carbon dioxide and sunlight. We would not expect a seedling to do well with very little water (depending on the plant of course – some cacti and succulents manage fairly well!). Equally we cannot expect our seedlings to thrive without sunlight. We can add some light, or extend the number of hours of light in a day artificially with lights, but the majority of plants we grow in our gardens and allotments in the UK don’t need it. They just need to be sown when the time is right.
After Valentines day (February 14th), day length starts to increase rapidly. There is more and more natural light becoming available to our plants, and this is a green flag for starting to sow.
Most things still can’t be sown in February, but things that need a long growing season like chillis, peppers and aubergines can be sown. These should be provided with some warmth in the form of a heat mat or propagator, because they aren’t “meant” to grow in our climate here in the UK so we have to help them along a bit!
But what is actually so bad about sowing things early? Well, as gardeners I feel as though we have a responsibility to seeds as tiny little lives to do the best for them. We also have a responsibility to ourselves not to create too much work for ourselves, particularly not in spring! If we sow too early we not only have to provide extra heat and light for our seedlings, but we also grower weaker plants that need extra help even when conditions are good. For example etiolated (“leggy”) seedlings; they stretch up more than they should, producing more growth in their stems to try and get more light. This creates a weak stem which often topples over under the weight of just a few leaves. We can bury the stems of some plants (like tomatoes, chillis and aubergines) and they will set roots out from their stems, but if conditions still aren’t favourable, they will just do the same again. Even a slightly weaker stem can be a problem when fruit starts to set as the plant may not be able to support itself and we risk the plant breaking.
But it’s more than just producing weaker plants. Plants like tomatoes use climatic signals to tell them when to set fruit. It doesn’t just happen when they are big enough or old enough. Tomatoes need temperatures over about 15 degrees in order to set fruit. So planting tomatoes in March gives them plenty of time to get big enough to bear fruit before the temperatures get high enough to trigger fruiting.
The point is that by sowing too early, we set ourselves more work, for no extra benefit.
Seeds are precious little capsules containing tiny lives. They shouldn’t be wasted, or disrespected. During wars seeds banks are given the highest level of protection because they are paramount to the future survival of plants and in turn, us. As gardeners we are custodians of tiny seed banks ourselves (in my case in a small basket in my kitchen). When we plant these seeds we must endeavour to do it in a way that is respectful to the life within.
Find an experienced gardener in your local area who can give you the gift of their wisdom as to when to plant what. Personally I use Charles Dowding’s sowing times as he is fairly local to me, but find something that works for you, and don’t forget to learn from your own experience too. A bunch of leggy tomatoes filling up your conservatory in March isn’t ideal. When they get too big for your greenhouse or windowsill is when they should be going into their final growing space, so the aim is to get that timing right.
So keep those itchy sowing fingers in your pockets a little longer, the time is almost upon us!
January is usually a quiet month in the garden. Not much happens in the garden in January due to the low light levels and low temperatures. Frankly, this is a relief as I look out through the rain spotted glass into my vegetable patch. I like that January offers us those tantalising days, when the sun comes out and you can almost feel it’s warmth, teasing spring. Those are the best days to get outside and do what needs to be done. Otherwise I highly recommend curling up with a nice warm pair of socks, a cup of tea and a decent seed catalogue!
In my experience there are two types of woman; the ones that get excited about designer handbags and manicures, and the ones with soil under their fingernails who get excited about a new dahlia cultivar. I am proud to say I fall into the second category. A decent pair of socks I can definitely get on board with though!
So January is a great time to prepare for the growing season to come. This does include (although I will not accept any responsibility for your resulting bankruptcy) buying seeds, bulbs, corms and so on. Of course, before we do any of this, we must MUST first check that we are not doubling up on seeds. If you have a friend you can do a seed swap with, January is the time! And if you have old seeds that are still in date, use them instead of buying more. Of course the best possible thing to do is to save your own seeds, but it’s not really the right time of year for a post on that. There are a few exceptions to this; notably parsnip seeds should be as fresh as you can get them.
Another part of the preparations you can enjoy this time of year (with warm socks and a nice cup of tea) is garden planning. Its probably best to do this before you get any seeds. Having a plan gives you a much better idea of what seeds and bulbs you need. This not only saves us time and money but also saves seeds for other growers and gives less power to large seed companies (after all, shouldn’t seeds be a publicly owned good? – check out www.seedsovereignty.info for more on this).
My favourite thing to sow in January is sweet peas. I sow these on a windowsill in my house so they are protected from the cold (and so I don’t have to freeze going to check on them!). They need a reasonably deep pot and can either be sown in root trainers or in pots with around 5 or 6 seeds per pot. They’re wonderful to grow and sprout really quickly if you have good fresh seed, so they can bring a little joy to your January windowsill! I use sweet peas to cover up unattractive fences (I’m looking at you rabbit fencing!) and grow up obelisks to add height to borders. In summer my entire house smells sweet and beautiful with little posies dotted around each room, and any friend I visit is almost guaranteed to receive a posy of their own (note: If I visit you in summer and don’t bring sweet peas, don’t assume we have fallen out, its more likely I forgot!).
IT can be exceptionally hard to sustain a positive attitude and good mental health through these dark winter days. All the fun and festivity of Christmas is over and the goodwill seems to get switched off as quickly as the fairy lights sometimes. Its particularly hard when we find ourselves in another lockdown. There is little to do (or too much to do if you’re working from home, home schooling, caring for another or anything else you wouldn’t usually be doing). It feels bleak and never ending sometimes, but remember that spring is on its way and us gardeners are going to need our strength! So take some time this month. Dream of what you want from the year ahead. Pamper yourself. Plan, draw, redraw and replan your garden or vegetable patch. Wear your ugliest, comfiest jumper like a warm hug and remember not to go too mad on those seed catalogues.