BLOG - 18/01/2019

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Seed Sowing.

Now is the perfect time to start sowing some seeds for the coming year. Not outdoors, of course. For every action there’s usually an equal and opposite reaction (as a wiser man than us once said), so even though we’ve got away with unseasonably mild weather these past months, a pretty harsh cold snap is about to hit this part of the country. Seedlings wouldn’t stand a chance out there.

That said, if you have a heated greenhouse, a propagator in your home - or even a few pots, plastic bags and elastic bands, you can start sowing a wide variety of seeds that’ll give you wonderful food and flowers. Aside from the satisfaction of seeing the little things develop into actual, tasty food and flora, it costs significantly less to sow seeds than it does to buy pre-grown seedlings and plants. It’s a great thing to do with kids too - the wonder of nature, right there in a little pot.

 What follows are the basics of how and what to sow this month. For almost all seeds, the principles are virtually the same.

 Rather than sow all of one crop variety at the same time, maybe think about sowing a few a week for, say, a month. That way you’ll have a ‘staggered crop’ at the other end - they’ll be ready over a one month period rather than all together. No-one can eat that much of one thing every day - and your freezer will fill up quicker than you’d ever imagine.

Firstly, and this applies to all seeds - read the information on the seed packet to find out the best time to sow (January to March is pretty common). There’ll be a “best before” date on the packet too. Just because they’re past that date doesn’t mean they won’t germinate, but the odds are certainly higher if they’re within date.

 The best temperature for almost all germination is around 18-20ºC (65-68ºF).

 How to Sow.

 Plants can be started off from seed from now until the middle of spring. All you need is a warm, bright place to do it.

Fill a seed tray or pot with good quality seed compost. Flatten it down to leave a level surface, then sow a few seeds on top. If you have one, sow into a propagator tray with a clear lid (we sell a simple, unheated but effective one). Then use a sieve to cover with a fine layer of the compost.

Most of the seeds should germinate, so only sow a few more than you need in case of losses (two to a seed cell in  tray is fine). Leave a little gap between each, in case you need to take out excess seedlings later.

Pop in a plant label and water (a water mister is gentler with less chance of you washing the seeds all over the place). Date the label if you’re going to be stagger sowing. They all look the same for the first few weeks!

All seeds germinate quicker in a heated propagator, but don’t worry if you don’t have one. And if you don’t have a propagator of any kind, it really doesn’t matter. Just put a clear plastic freezer bag held in place with an elastic band, a piece of glass, plastic or cling film over the top of the pot or tray. All you’re trying to do really is create a warm, humid environment.

Place the trays or pots in a warm place to germinate - a sunny spot away from draft, a greenhouse or heated cold frame will do the trick. Try to keep the temperature consistent (as we mentioned above, around 18-20ºC (65-68ºF) is usually ideal, but again, check the seed packet instructions.

Keep an eye on the seed tray and keep it nice and moist (not waterlogged). Germinating seedlings will soon emerge.

When the seeds have germinated (popped little green shoots up through the soil surface), remove the lid from the propagator/remove the clear cover and place on a warm, light windowsill or on the bench in a heated greenhouse. Again, give a little water mist every day or two, just to keep moist.

When they’re about 2.5cm (1”) tall ‘prick out’ the seedlings (i.e. very gently break the soil apart and tease the seedlings’ roots away from each other for re-planting). Moving each into its own 10cm (4in) pot filled with seed compost (check that there’s a drainage hole in the bottom of the pots).

Make sure the roots of the seedlings are well covered and that the leaves are just above the surface of the compost (the blunt end of a pencil is a good way of making holes in the compost to pop the seedlings into).

Water gently and place in a light spot.

That’s it. No weird science or dark art - just a great way to fill your garden, patio, balcony or window sills with lovely stuff to eat, smell and look at.

There are so many varieties of flower and vegetable seeds available online. If you like a chilli, for example, why not try a few unusual ones that you’d never find in supermarkets or the average garden centre? If you have friends who’re into it, maybe each of you could choose three or four packets to buy. You can then swap seeds between you. That way, you’ll be able to compare notes - and will usually end up trying things you’d never have chosen yourself. It’s a great way to make new discoveries…and keeps the gardening and foodie discussions lively!

What to Sow.

Some of the seeds to sow now:

•   Basil

•   Dill

•   Wasabi mustard

•   English Curly Parsley

•   Chillies

•   Aubergines

•   Broad beans

•   Early crop lettuce (stagger weekly for 2-3 months and you’ll have fresh leaves for ages - tastes way better than keeping shop-bought in the fridge)

•   Summer brassicas (e.g. cabbages and cauliflowers)

•   Spinach

•   Salad/Spring onions

•   Turnips

•   Onions

•   Petunias

•   Sweet peas

•   Dahlias

•   Delphiniums

•   Tomatoes (end of January - start planning now! We have some amazing Italian Classic varieties).

The main things is to have fun with it. If something doesn’t work, try something else!

Some jobs to do in the garden in January:

1)     Remove all remaining plant debris from the vegetable plot. Don’t compost any diseased material such as blight-infected potatoes, onions suffering from white rot and any crops with rust. Burn or bin that. You don’t want to spread or perpetuate it.

2)     Now's a great time to prune currants and gooseberries - especially new bushes or cordons. If you bought any of these in 2018, given them a good prune now to encourage vigorous growth in the coming season.

3)     Plant fruit trees and bushes now - as long as the soil isn't frozen.

4)     Prune apples, pears, quinces and medlars.

5)     Prune autumn raspberries.

6)     Apply a top dressing of potash to all fruits and nuts.

Vegetables:

1)     Cultivate and prepare seed beds, covering them with clear polythene, cloches or fleece to warm up the soil before sowing.

2)     If the weather is reliably dry and frosty, leave heavy soils exposed - the frosts will kill pests and improve soil structure by the continual freezing and thawing of water held in the soil.

3)     Improve drainage of heavy soils by working in lots of organic matter. Grit will only be effective when used in conjunction with organic matter, so use a combination of both. There’s lots of wonderful leaf mould (rotted down leaves) on the ground in woods at the moment. Put a few bags and a rake in the car and go get some (it’s a great game to play with kids too…for about an hour!).

4)     If you find yourself gardening on wet soil, work off a plank of wood, rather than treading on the bed directly, to avoid over-compacting the soil.

5)     Start sourcing your seed potatoes if you haven’t already done so. Again, there are some incredible varieties available online - put in a couple of rows of early, mid and late crops, for tasty spud all year round.

6)     Plan a rotation system for vegetable plots to ensure the same crops aren’t grown in the same beds year after year. Not only does this help prevent disease build-up, but each type of vegetable uses its own set of nutrients. If you plant them in the same place every year, then that group of nutrients hasn’t had chance to fully replenish itself from the previous year, so the crop won’t be as good.

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to get in touch.

The Lancasters Team

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