It may still be a bit nippy outside but with spring well on the way, there’s no time to waste if you want to enjoy some delicious home-grown veg this summer. Tomatoes, courgettes, chillies and other crops from warm climes should not be planted outside till the end of May, but by sowing them on your windowsill or in a greenhouse in March, you will have sturdy little plants by then, which will produce earlier crops. And you can give tougher veg, like cabbages and chard, a head start by sowing them inside, too. Allowing your plants to mature indoors for a while also helps to limit the damage from pests like slugs, which prefer to snack on young tender morsels.
Don’t be daunted if you’ve never tried growing anything from seed before – you’ll be surprised how easy it is. Before you start, clean all your pots and seed trays in hot water and washing up liquid, then rinse and leave to dry. Large seeds, such as courgettes, pumpkins, and runner beans, are best sown into small plastic pots filled with good quality, moist seed compost. Simply pop in the seeds at the depths recommended on the packets, and stand the pots in a warm, light, frost-free place out of direct sunlight. You can put them in a propagator or cover the pots with clear plastic, but I never do, and they always germinate. Within a week or two, your veg will start to sprout. Ensure the compost doesn’t dry out and turn pots on a windowsill every day so the plants don’t stretch towards the light.
Smaller seeds can be sown in seed trays filled with moist seed compost – water it lightly if necessary. Firm the compost gently to remove air pockets. Scatter seeds evenly and thinly over the surface, and then lightly cover them with a little more compost.
Place the tray in a propagator or cover it with a plastic bag to create the humidity and warmth the seeds need to germinate – this is more important for small seeds, which dry out more easily than larger, single seeds sown in pots. Keep your trays in a warm, light place, out of strong sunlight, and remove the propagator cover or plastic as soon as the seedlings emerge.
When the seedlings have a few leaves transfer them into module trays or small pots filled with multipurpose compost. To do this, water the seedlings, then hold a seed leaf and loosen the roots with a dibber or pencil to gently tease each one from the compost.
Place each seedling in one of the modules, and firm in gently. Water and label your trays. A couple of weeks before it’s time to plant your veg outside, you need to ‘harden’ them off. This simply means acclimatizing them to the garden temperature by leaving them outside during the day and bringing them in again at night. For tender veg, ensure all risk of frost is over before planting them in beds or large containers.
You will find loads more information about growing crops in your garden in the book, RHS Simple Steps, Vegetables and Fruit Pots, DK, written by my friend Jo Whittingham and edited by yours truly.
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Zia Allaway, Garden Expert
View all posts by Zia Allaway, Garden Expert