No need to delay sowing of seeds

Peas starting in pots. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
Peas starting in pots. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
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It’s been far too cold and wet to sow any vegetable seeds outdoors. Far from germinating, they’d have stood a better chance of rotting and best advice has been to keep them safe in their packets.

But that does not mean that you can’t get some started into growth by other means and introduce young plants to the plot as March progresses.

It’s several years since we sowed rows of peas and broad beans directly into open drills, or pushed onion sets straight from the packet into garden soil.

It’s several years since we sowed rows of peas and broad beans directly into open drills, or pushed onion sets straight from the packet into garden soil. The result was generally a long wait for them to appear if weather was inclement, or there would be gaps through failed germinations, mouse intervention or mischievous birds.

There’s none of that now. Initial growth is encouraged in pots, in the warmth, near a decent source of light, to avoid drawn plants. They’re eventually transferred to the cold greenhouse to encourage sturdy growth, then planted out with well-developed root systems. This way the vegetable bed is transformed in a morning from bare patch to rows of healthy plants on the march.

Pea seeds are planted five to a small pot and the beans singly. You can go down the normal route of soaking the compost and waiting for germination, but it’s quicker if the seeds are soaked in a basin of water overnight then placed in pots fully swollen. Some even pack them into a polythene bag of moist compost, tie the top and place in a warm, dark area to germinate.

French and runner beans, sweet corn and courgettes are also started in pots under cover, but not until the end of March, with late May planting out in mind. This allows at least seven weeks for early development, which is enough, given the possibility of cold, leaf-shredding winds and late frosts.

Members of the brassica family are started off in cell trays and grown on in pots before they go out, cabbages, sprouts and broccoli especially. There’s an advantage in planting strong specimens with established top growth and root system. They’ve a better chance of surviving pest and disease threats.

Lettuce is sown in cell trays too, a pinch of seed to each section, then planted out with a plug of root ball and grown on rapidly.

This begs the question ‘do you sow any vegetable seeds into drills outdoors?’. Yes, but that’s in late spring and summer when the soil has warmed-up. It’s cheaper and less time-consuming during a period where greenhouse space is limited.

By mid-May the outdoor radish crop is dwindling, but it only takes five minutes to create two new drills alongside, distribute the seed, cover it over and water it. Successive leaf lettuce crops are created in similar fashion.