Blooming Times – Ready, Steady, Sow!
by Flo Whitaker
Get off to a flying start by sowing some early veg now!
March is a notoriously fickle month, weather-wise, but many vegetable seedlings are surprisingly robust and can be sown now. However, in cold, miserable soil, seeds often rot before they get the chance to germinate and seedlings struggle to survive, so it pays to thoroughly prepare the sowing area beforehand.
Gently fork over the soil surface, break up any large clods of soil and remove all weeds. Then rake the soil, going back and forth until the surface is level and the soil has a crumbly texture. Next, firm the soil gently, rake again and position a cloche or horticultural fleece over the area for a fortnight before sowing your seeds. A ‘cloche’ is a portable cover used to protect plants and can also be usefully employed to pre-warm soil. They come in different styles (and prices!) but a basic cloche can be obtained for a tenner and is a good investment.
Strong, super-light horticultural fleece has good thermal properties and can be used flat to cover soil, or gently draped over vulnerable plants when frost is forecast. As the soil temperature rises under the protective cover, dormant weed seeds will start to germinate, allowing you to remove them before you sow. For indoor sowings, pre-warm your bags of compost by storing them in a frost-free shed or greenhouse for a week or so before using. This may all sound like unnecessary faff and fiddle, but it will really make a difference; helping those delicate seedlings to become tough, strong-growing plants.
Once you’ve prepared the soil, broad beans, peas, carrots, beetroot, spinach, onions and garlic can be direct-sown outdoors. A mild frost won’t kill them off, but it will give them a severe shock, so be ready with the cloche or protective fleece – just in case the weather turns nasty.
Frost-tender tomatoes, sweet peppers, chillies, aubergines and cucumbers need the indoor protection of a greenhouse, propagator or a bright windowsill. Aubergines are easy to grow, but, like cantankerous maiden aunts, they are prickly by nature and sulk if they’re left in a draught, so keep them warm and cosy. Sown in the greenhouse, cut-and-come-again lettuce seed will swiftly produce some welcome salad leaves – and don’t forget ‘humble’ mustard and cress, which surely wins the award for the quickest and cheapest home-grown crop possible. If you enjoy watercress, try growing your own. The seed germinates very easily. When treated like cut-and-come-again salad, watercress produces tasty leaves for several months – so long as it’s grown away from strong sunshine/direct heat and can paddle in wringing wet compost. If you’re guilty of overwatering pot plants, (aren’t we all?) then watercress may be the crop for you!