It has generally been a very mild (and not to mention wet) winter so far, as witnessed by many early spring flowers blooming super early this year. Some of the first daffodils have already come and gone by mid January, which is quite extreme to say the least. As a result the soil is generally warmer than usual, and this means that conditions for sowing new crops are already almost upon us.
When to sow seed
When it comes to sowing vegetable seeds, some of the hardier crops such as beets, radishes, spinach, parsnip, beans, leeks and certain salads can already be sown outside in the coming weeks if the mild, frost-free weather continues. In general you can sow most vegetable seeds from early spring to late summer as long as the soil is sufficiently moist and warm. Especially in the height of summer it may mean that extra watering is needed to ensure seedlings have sufficient moisture. As the ground may still not be quite warm enough in March, it helps the germination process if you can protect the seeds somewhat against the cold with cloches or fleece. Growing seed outdoors directly into the final growing stages is also ideal for gardeners who do not have a greenhouse or other indoor space to raise seeds in trays or propagators.
How to sow seed
Successfully growing your own vegetables from seed starts with a well-prepared seedbed, free of weeds. Cultivate the bed in advance to allow the soil to settle, and then rake the bed to level the surface right before sowing.
Sowing the seed itself is extremely easy, with only about half a centimeter of loose soil cover needed to protect against the wind and opportunistic hungry birds looking for a tasty snack. An easy way to achieve this is to place a cane or stake across the bed and push it lightly into the soil. This will create a shallow trench in which the seed can be sown according to the instructions (depth and distance) on the seed packet. Watering just before sowing is usually preferable over watering on top of freshly sown seeds. Once the seeds are sown, a rake can be used to gently cover the seeds by filling the trench again with soil.
So as not to forget where you have sown which seeds, it is always handy to place a label at one end of each row of seeds. This also prevents you from accidentally stepping on your freshly sown seedlings.
Finally, depending on the weather, cover the area with a single layer of fleece. The easiest way of doing this is by using a spade to push the edges of the fleece into the ground so it doesn’t blow away.
Look out for…
Be vigilant for any slugs and snails that may appear and show an interest in your young seedlings. Likewise with birds, especially pigeons, as these too can be a real pest, when seeds are not sufficiently covered. Finally, please note that occasionally seedlings may fail to properly emerge as a result of extreme wet conditions (especially in early spring when it is still cooler). This is sometimes referred to as “damping off” and caused by soil-borne fungi including Pythium, Rhizoctonia, Phytophthora and Fusarium. Infected seedlings often collapse and decay.