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Timing is critical for your vegetable sowing

Uniformity from some vegetables raised in pots.
Uniformity from some vegetables raised in pots.

Normal winters, such as those experienced in recent years, would find this fellow’s greenhouse benches full of recently raised seedlings and young plants as March arrived – but not this time.

We’ve been experiencing the most prolonged periods of frost in recent memory, and although this is long overdue in terms of seeing off garden pests, it has delayed plant propagation.

Having made the decision to raise vegetable plants, with the option of adding a few bought-in plugs later, when and where to start sowing depends as much upon facilities as the weather.

Some gardeners stick to traditional outdoor sowing directly into a drill, anticipating the emerging seedlings around two weeks later. But the timing is critical.

If sowing is too early and the soil temperature remains low, germination is inhibited and precious seeds may rot. Similarly, successful germinations can result in disappointment when poor weather affects development.

Direct outdoor sowing is okay, just be patient and fix a cloche or plastic dome to warm soil for the eventual sowing of leaf lettuce or radish as an early taster.

This gardener loves a flying start to vegetable growing and it comes through raising most under glass initially.

First are the seed potatoes, bought in January, tubers standing upright in trays, eyes facing skyward and placed on the cold greenhouse bench. Sheets of newspaper or fleece will offer temporary protection from frost or sun, the idea being to encourage three sturdy young shoots on each, ready for planting outside mid to late March. This keeps us on course for digging and first taste by the third week in June.

Broad beans, peas, shallots and onion sets, a reliably hardy group, are next up in February for small pots of compost. The beans, shallots and onion sets are planted singly and the peas in groups of five or so per container.

March arrives with a memo to sow perpetual spinach and leaf lettuce seeds into module trays. Runner, French and Borlotto beans are next, then sweet corn and courgettes follow at the month’s end.

If there is sufficient warmth in a greenhouse, it’s not too difficult to germinate seeds, but what follows is crucial. They need to grow on steadily in a lower temperature with maximum light. This means a holding operation under glass to toughen them up until planting outside. A simple cold frame can take any overflow from the greenhouse.

Given that occasional frosts can persist well into May, the hardiest vegetables are best candidates for an early start.