So we have rested; truly rested now whilst in the midst of another Lockdown. With frozen or wet ground, we have had little else to do bar reflect, recuperate and hope this winter. Now in February, to draw out the analogy a little further, it’s time to sow those seeds and look towards emerging and growing into the spring.
With light levels rising, there is a tantalising glimpse of what’s to come. The ground remains very cold and the air still, so take it easy. If you haven’t already, have a good think about what you want to grow this year, begin to plan your growing and order accordingly. I like Vital Seeds, Chilterns, Real Seeds and Great Dixter for Vegetable and Flower Seeds.
Once you have your seeds, sort them out into piles, those to sow indoors or direct (we’ll come to that next month), those that are hardy and those that are not. Right now, you only want to be starting off a ‘hardy’ seed under cover. Half hardy seeds will not survive low temperature so hold off sowing these until late next month.
Anyone that has an available window sill and a spot for a pot outside can sow something to flower or eat, or both! Before I had a polytunnel or greenhouse, I grew everyone on my narrow windowsills. With no room for trays, I could just snugly fit about fifty 9cm square pots along my windows. We face East West and we had about the same germination rate on either side of the house. This was, and still is with tricky seeds, my failsafe germination spot.
You must use seed sowing compost. It is lighter with sieved fine compost for those young roots, open for air and water and with only a slowly released food. Seeds need moisture, warmth and light to grow. So give them these and you will be on your way. Fill the pots with compost, don’t press down too firmly and sit the pots in a tray of water until the composts moistens. Then sprinkle just a few seeds on the surface and dust with compost (check the packet as some seeds do not want to be covered at all). I’ll cover with a clear bag, cling film or a vegetable tray. Either way, you want to keep the moisture in and the soil warm to trigger germination. As soon as you see growth, remove the cover and allow to ‘grow on’. Do not sow too many seeds as they will compete, and long leggy stems do not make strong plants. For that, keep the plants in good light and turn the pot regularly so that they grow straight.
You’ll soon want to transplant these seedlings when you see two ‘true’ leaves (not the first set, the next ones) gently tease the plant out and hold onto the leaf not the stem. Drop gently into small celled trays of multi-purpose compost. Meet me here in March to continue growing on our seedlings.
I feel grateful to have a garden and as I begin to sow seeds, I know growing will give me a structure this spring in a year where there feels little to hang on to. I haven’t met a single person that is not completely enchanted when they grow something for the first time and for every time after. To eat the fruit or enjoy the flower of a plant you sowed and nurtured is so rewarding in a life affirming and precious way. And I know if nothing else right now, this time will come again. Go on. Try it with me this year.
This column appears in February's Cambridge Edition Magazine.