A fluttering of snow has forced me to retreat inside. The temperature has dropped and my fingers are cold and starting to feel numb even with a pair of thick waterproof gloves on. The ground is frozen solid which means my gardening time is limited to tidying up, cutting back and pruning. I find that, once I'm back inside in the warmth, as the snow eases, it's easier to stay put. And what better a way to spend a cold wintry day than sorting through my seeds and making plans for spring and summer sowings.
All the Seeds
I keep my seeds stored in a cool, dry drawer indoors. Our house is never too warm so the seeds remain at a fairly constant temperature. Every year, around this time, when I am kept indoors due to inclement weather, I sort through my seed boxes. Checking the expiry dates (which I often ignore, preferring to try my luck in the hope they may germinate) and deciding if I need to top anything up. I have one box for vegetables and herbs and another for flowers and grasses.
This year I've decided to streamline my vegetable growing. It's difficult to know how much time I'll have to spend in the garden (how much longer we will be in some kind of lockdown?) and last year I found that I ran out of growing space quite quickly. Mostly as a result of over enthusiasm during early spring sowings. This year I will focus on less in to order to plant more. Certain things, like potatoes, take up a lot of space and are relatively inexpensive to buy, so I’ll leave these out (although I've grown potatoes in large grow bags before and still had a reasonable yield).
What to plant?
I have already planted garlic. Each year I save some of the best bulbs from my crop to replant the following year. Garlic should be planted in autumn with each clove planted individually to eventually form a full bulb that will be ready to harvest in mid summer.
In addition to that I plan to plant tomato and sweet pepper seeds next month. I'll put them on a sunny windowsill indoors so they have enough warmth to germinate. Once I've potted them on, when the weather warms up, I'll move some to my greenhouse and put the rest in pots in the sunniest parts of my garden.
I've put an order in for some chilli plug plants too which will be delivered early spring. I struggle to germinate chilli seeds, particularly the hotter varieties, and don't want to leave it to chance this year. The chilli plugs are coming from Sea Spring Plants - expert chilli growers down in Dorset. I've not brought from them before, but they've been growing chilli plants and developing new varieties since the early 90's so I'm expecting good things.
On top of this I’ll plant beans, courgettes, outdoor cucumber, various types of salad leaf (I always overdo the lettuces and salad leaves but organically grown salads are so much tastier than those sold at the supermarket. They are also incredibly easy to grow and don't require much space at all), squash, kale, chard, spinach, beetroot, carrot and fennel (although I had mixed results with fennel last year I'm really keen to make it work and so I'll persevere).
And this is my paired down list!
Even in a smaller space you can still grow a lot. The key is to plan and experiment and enjoy it as you go. To make best use of your space, think about how you can intercrop some vegetables, how to make use of any vertical space you may have and what you will plant in the empty spaces left once you harvest another crop. There are always moments of excitement and happiness (eating that first green bean fresh from the plant) and some instances of despair (slugs polishing off a prized crop), but over the years I’ve learnt that the benefits far outweigh any negatives and that the slugs are just as important as the ladybirds and the bees (although it really doesn't feel like it at times).
I've listed below three of my favourite vegetables to grow from seed with a few pointers:
Tomato: probably one of the most rewarding vegetables to grow from seed as the flavours are so much more intense than commercially grown tomatoes. When you grow your own you can allow them to ripen up on the plant and pick when you are ready to eat them. For first time growers, sow the seeds in early spring individually into small modules and leave to germinate on a warm windowsill indoors (I usually plant my seeds in February/March, but growth will be quicker as the daylight hours increases so you can possibly plant as late as April). When seedlings reach the 3 leaf stage, pot on into slightly bigger pots (approximately 9cm). Plant outdoors or in a greenhouse once all chance of frost has passed. Be sure to plant in a sunny position. Along a south-facing wall would be idea.
Spinach: I always grow an abundance of spinach as it is such a versatile and nutrient rich vegetable. I tend to sow mine directly into the soil as soon as the weather starts to warm up (usually late Spring) and then pick the leaves as I need them - either to eat raw in a salad or to cook. Spinach can be multisown (that is you can plant clumps of up to 3 to 4 seeds) so there is no need to thin out the seedlings. You may want to start the seeds off in modules or seed trays and then plant out once they are a little bigger and therefore less susceptible to attacks from slugs and snails. When planting out you should space at 20 to 25cm. If sowing direct aim for about one seed every centimetre and space your rows about 20cm apart.
Courgettes: I love courgettes and they are especially delicious picked fresh from the garden. I use them raw in salads or cooked in all sorts of dishes from pasta to stirfry to soup. Luckily they are also super easy to grow. I sow my courgette seeds individually in modules in mid spring and keep them indoors until they have germinated and the weather is warm enough for me to plant directly into their growing space. Courgettes grow very big and produce an abundance of fruit so you probably won't need more than three or four plants. I always plant a few extra (just in case) and give any surplus away to friends or neighbours.
I usually use the following seed suppliers:
Real Seeds - based in Wales, Real Seeds grow and save their own seed. They have a good range of interesting and unusual varieties to choose from;
Tamar Organics - an organic seed supplier based in Cornwall;
Sea Spring Seeds - based in Dorset, Sea Spring offer an interesting collection of sweet pepper and chilli seeds as well as a good range of other vegetable seeds;
The Seed Co-operative - an organic seed co-operative;
Chiltern Seeds - a useful supplier particularly for herbs and flower seeds. They produce a beautiful annual catalogue.
As always please get in touch with any questions and let me know in the comments below what vegetables, herbs and cut flowers you like to grow.
For help planning your own garden - whether you want a full design or simply some planting ideas - get in touch with Wild Edge Garden Design today.