Seed sowing 101 – prep well

Now, even though I have some success in growing veg at the allotment, I never quite make the giddy yield heights of many other plotholders because they have a (not so) secret weapon: a greenhouse in their garden at home.  Greenhouses are wonderful for keeping seeds and, once germinated, little seedlings safe from the less-than-kind British weather in March and April, so they are stronger, bigger plants when they finally make it outdoors and onto the plot.

What are my options?

A greenhouse?  No space in my tiny garden.  Plus, greenhouses are outlawed on the allotment (this continues to be the source of a bitter, maddeningly parochial row between a couple of plotholders and the committee who put the rule in place a couple of years ago, all of whom would have better things to do than bicker if they weren’t all retired).  I do understand the risk: high winds can do some serious damage and broken panes of glass are not something that anyone wants in amongst their Little Gems.

Window sills?  Barely.  I could fit 2 seedtrays  on the only ‘working’ windowsill which is south-facing. I have around 12 seedtrays, plus pots. No, a windowsill is not going to get me the yield I’m after.

Coldframe? Again, it’s too small.  I have big plans this year, huge.  I need something more…(clocks tick, days pass)

Ta da!!   I am one step closer to brings new seed life into the world.   The solution I’ve gone for is a set of free-standing shelves which now live next to the double doors out onto the decking.  South-south-east facing, so gets the sun until around 3pm which is ample time for my seeds to get their daily fix of light and heat.

So now it’s time to complete my preparations.

My Sowing Strategy

As detailed on my very first post, I have bloody loads of different seeds this year, to make this year my most fruitful/vegful ever.  So this is the plan:

1. Sort your seeds.  Get all of the seed packets and go through, putting them into piles for when you can start sowing them. I live in Leeds, so I allow for a delay of upto a month from the earliest recommended sowing time as it really isn’t going to be warm throughout March/April and then hot from May to September.

I tend to make 3 piles:

i) seeds which will get started off in seed trays in March/April (most stuff)

ii) seeds which will get sowed into the ground in March/April (mostly roots, pea and some salad leaves)

iii) anything else which tends to be summer/autumn sowings (some peas, turnips, cabbage) or seeds that are probably going to get left behind (various, including some random chinese veg which seem to bolt at the drop of a hoe)

2. Seed trays aplenty.  As you can see, most seeds are going into trays.  I have a collection of different ones which have been bought/given/inherited over the years, and I don’t think it makes very much difference what type you use.  I tend to go for the ones which are a bit bigger than A4 size, with 12 pots per tray.  Then each tray has its own drip tray so the water doesn’t all leak away/onto the carpet.  When out of seed trays I also use plant pots but these take up more room and each need their own little tray.

3. Compost aplenty. I should probably spend more money on compost, and get the good stuff.  Real veg-growing aficionados might have multiple types, which they use according to plant type (brassica, legume etc).  I have listened to the panel on Radio 4’s Gardeners Question Time expound the virtues of a particular approach, but it’s all a bit high brow for me.  I just get a big 60 litre bag of the multipurpose from whichever DIY/Garden Centre I visit.  It seems to work well enough.

4. Label assiduously.There is enjoyment to be had from the ‘veggie lottery’ approach.  Just get seeds into pots and trays and see what happens. You could be delighted by a glut of broccoli when you’d feared you might end up eating Brussel sprouts every week until Christmas. More likely (like me one exciting veg-lottery year) you’ll have 8 courgette plants and no pumpkins/butternut squash.  I have got 5 different types of onion and 4 different cabbages this year, each one has its own label telling me the variety and the date sown.  And always remember to write on your labels with a pencil.  Firstly, it doesn’t wash off in the rain, and secondly then you can re-use them the following year.

5. Get a reet petite watering can. The big watering can will get its moment – day after day after day – when the droughts come in the summer and your luscious leafy plants need you to water them daily or die.  In these early days seeds still need watering, but it’s little and often, so treat yourself and your veggie embyros to a small watering can with a tiny spout or rose.  For the first month or so it will be perfect.  And so easy, even my one year old can help out!

Et voila, everything is ready.  Green fingers, show yourselves!


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