Grow veg

Sowing seeds – is it too late?

If you’re interested in growing veg and spend much time on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, you’ve probably been seeing posts about other people’s veg plants since sometime back in February. Sowing seeds very early in the year can make you feel like you’re getting ahead, but while there are a few things that you need to get started off reasonably early there are lots of others where it really pays to wait,

This year has been particularly tricky for early growing because April was so dry and chilly, with lots of frosty nights. The Met office have said that the last time April was so cold was 1922, so we weren’t just imagining it! But the truth is that April is often chilly and you can, and frequently do, get frosts in May in many parts of the country so unless you’ve got a decent sized, heated greenhouse or somewhere to house all your plants until you can get them outside, you’re likely to struggle if you sow too much too soon.

The only things I start off really early are the tender but slow to mature crops: tomatoes, aubergines, peppers and cucumbers which I like to get sown in early March. I also get most of the brassicas underway in April, in this case because things like kale, cabbages, and autumn sprouting broccoli are pretty hardy. With the brassicas, even if I start them off on my windowsill heat mat, as I did this year because it was so cold, I move them into the greenhouse as soon as they’ve germinated so they don’t get too warm and grow leggy.

But I have got a greenhouse, and I don’t mind ferrying trays of tender plants down to there in the morning so they can spend their day in good light, then bringing them back in to sit by the back door on cold nights if I need to.

If that sort of regime doesn’t suit you, then just sow later.

And even now, in May, it’s not too late to get sowing.

What can be sown in May?

Dwarf and climbing french beans and runner beans need warmth to thrive and are quick growing. Even if you’re sowing under cover it’s best to wait until you can plant outside within a few of weeks of them germinating so they don’t get their roots pot bound and their shoots tangled. Sow late April at the earliest, or in cold areas in early – mid May. I’ve only recently sown mine.

Sweet corn also needs warmth and grows very fast once its established, so it’s fine to wait till now to sow either indoors (always my preference) or directly outside when the risk of frosts has passed, which allows them to grow uninterrupted by transplanting.

Courgettes and squash can still be sown. I prefer to get them germinated in a pot on a heat mat, but if you’ve run out of windowsill space you should be able to sow them direct in the ground if you wait till mid-May, sowing two seeds in each position in case one doesn’t germinate – or gets eaten as soon as it does!

And although you can sow root veg directly in the ground as early as March, often the soil is far too cold that early in the year. So you would need to warm it first with plastic or cover your first sowings with a cloche, but failing that you can just wait until mid to late April to sow the first rows. In a year like this or in a very wet spring, you could easily wait until early May. Then, apart from parsnips which you should stop sowing around the end of May, you can sow every few weeks into late June for successional crops.

Allotment update

This year has got off to such a slow start that so far all I’ve done at the allotment is sow some root veg and planted out the potatoes and peas.

The first earlies and main crop potatoes ended up going in at the same time because it was so cold I just hadn’t dared plant any earlier. Even when I did put them in a few weeks ago I covered their shoots well with soil so the recent frosts wouldn’t nip them (hopefully).

As for the peas, I don’t often grow them for various reasons – pea weevils and mice amongst them, but this year I’m growing some sugar snap peas which I won’t need to spend hours podding! I sowed these quite close together in two short pieces of guttering, then dug a shallow trench in the ground and slid them in. I’ve put pea sticks in place and wool pellets round them. Now it’s started raining and has warmed up I’m sure the slugs will be looking for something to eat and the wool pellets seem to put them off. They probably won’t deter pea weevils, though, which like vine weevils eat notches out of the leaves. Once the peas are growing away well they can survive some pea weevil nibbling, but if the seedlings are small and the pea weevils very hungry the results can be fatal.

I tool the guttering back home and sowed some more peas to follow on from the crops of this first batch. Or possibly just to replace them if things go badly …..

Other things I’ve done so far include some weeding, digging out my bed edges (again, the grass seems to grow in somehow every year) and putting up a support for some sweet peas and runner beans. This year I’m using jute netting and apart from being another way to reduce my use of plastic, it was a lot less irritatingly tangled and difficult to put in place than plastic net usually is.

Supports in place for runner and climbing french beans and a few sweet peas. I’m using jute netting this year instead of plastic

The rest of the planting will get done in the second half of May this year – so more on that later.

And one good thing about the cold, dry weather we’ve been having – far fewer weeds! Now that it’s raining I’m sure they’ll start germinating, though.

Grafted plants

I wanted to grow a new blight resistant tomato variety called ‘Crimson Plum’, so I ordered some plants and they happened to be grafted. When they arrived they had these tiny plastic clips over the graft, presumably to protect the delicate join in the post but they also helped me to see exactly where the graft was on the stem. You need to know that because it should be kept above the soil level when you plant them up, otherwise the stem of Crimson Plum would grow its own roots and wouldn’t benefit from the vigour the graft gives it. Once you’ve planted them you need to take the clip off, of course, because the stems won’t be that thin for long. To be honest, I’ve grown grafted plants before and I’m not convinced it gives them as much of an advantage as you might expect. The plants themselves get bigger than they probably would if they weren’t grafted and it’s meant to help with disease resistance, but in my experience you don’t necessarily get more of a crop.

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