Sow now! for winter and spring harvests

This is the second part of my series of blog posts, explaining how to grow vegetables and herbs which can be sown now to see you through the winter and spring – no hungry gap in 2018! 
I have added the category No Hungry Gap, so you can find them easily using the search facility.

(This doesn’t include winter vegetables which should have already been sown and planted during the spring and summer e.g.: parsnips, Brussels sprouts, purple sprouting broccoli, leeks, etc)

It’s quite a long blog post, make yourself a hot drink first!

First of all, to give encouragement to readers without a polytunnel or greenhouse, some photos of plants which were overwintered outside. Here, my allotment from 2010, before I had a polytunnel, where I grew salad outside protected by a double layer of fleece. A more substantial alternative would be to make a cloche out of hoops and polythene. These leaves had been under snow a few days before and frozen solid.

Some mustards, kale and land cress which were planted very late last year in early November as small transplants, no protection from the weather. They produced an abundant harvest of leaves throughout the spring, then delicious shoots and edible flowers. The flowers also provided much needed early forage for bees and other beneficial creatures and when removed, a lot of useful composting material. The chard had been planted earlier in September.

This week I am sowing lettuce, mustards, spinach, oriental greens, spring cabbage, Florence fennel, kales, beetroot, spring onions, herbs and various more unusual funky brassicas. (See previous blog for the full list of seeds to sow now).

I sow funky brassicas, kale, pak choi and lettuce into seed trays. When big enough, the best seedlings are pricked out into module trays to grow into sturdy little plants. These are easy to transport, useful if you need to take them to the allotment (or work gardens) and they are a good size to withstand any interest from slugs, snails or woodlice. Another good reason why I don’t sow these direct into the soil is that it gives the veg plants currently growing in the polytunnel, greenhouse or allotment more growing time. When the time comes, you can if you wish clear the old crop and plant the new at the same time. Some can be interplanted with the older crop; I’ll explain that in another post.

 

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Fill the seed tray with compost, water then make grooves using the backs of your fingers. This technique means that the seeds don’t get muddled about when watering and you can grow a dozen or so different varieties all in one tray, saving compost and time.

Often, I will make a division down the middle of the tray using old plant labels, to make sure the seeds don’t get confused, especially useful if many of the seedlings will look the same when they germinate.

I made an extra division here for the lettuce seed, because I wanted to sow a whole row. I don’t mind adding the fluffy parts. This is home saved Grenoble Red seed (Seeds of Italy also sell it here.) *see end of blog for a quick guide to saving lettuce seed*

After writing the labels, I carefully sow seeds into the row. There’s easily twice as much seed as I need here, but at this time of year there isn’t really an opportunity to sow again (due to shortening days, cooler temperatures, etc) so I like to err on the side of caution and make sure that I have enough.

I am sowing here for my home and two work gardens – you probably won’t need as many plants!

 

The funky brassicas include: Tsoi Sim, Wa Wa Cai Choi, Hon Tsai Tai, Huauzontle, San Marzano Broccoli Raab, Kalian, Green Days Eighty Flowering Shoot, Mispoona, Sobi Chinese cabbage, Rapa Senza Testa Turnip Greens.

This is a tray I sowed earlier, seedlings emerging.

I’ve found Solaris to be the most reliable overwintering Florence fennel, I recommend it. This year, I am also going to try two from the Real Seed Catalogue as an experiment. I have no idea how, or even if, they will grow!

The Solaris seed has been treated with something, I much prefer the natural look of the untreated fennel.

These are the module trays I mostly use for multi-sowing and pricking out. The 60 cell black trays were bought online and are quite substantial, I’ve been using these for 7 years or more. The 40 cell polystyrene trays I found in a local garden centre – they had been used and cost around 70p each. Charles has some module trays that he’s been using for decades!

Mustards, spinach, chervil, coriander, radish, chard, lambs lettuce and land cress are sown into the smaller 60 cell trays, usually 2 seeds or thereabouts in each (radish 4-6 seeds). If an extra one goes in, just pull it out when the germinate.

Fill the modules with compost, firm down with your fingers and add more compost, pressing down until all modules are full of firm compost. Water, then using your fingers make a gentle indentation for the seed to go in. Sow the seeds, label and cover with a sprinkling of compost. Once you get the hang of this, it is a really speedy method.

It is the same process for the 40 cell trays. I multi sow beetroot (4-5 seeds) and spring onions (6-7 seeds) in these. Click on the images for the explanation.

I use the larger cell trays to grow sturdy brassica transplants. A small pencil makes an excellent mini-dibber. Some of mine have copper sticky tape wrapped around the end, it makes a smoother point (and matches my copper tools!) but isn’t necessary.

Happy sowing! Next post in this series will be looking at what is happening now in the polytunnel and making more preparations for the seasonal transformation.

A quick guide to saving your own lettuce seed

 

This works with any open pollinated seed, not F1 hybrids. There is a whole chapter explaining how to save seed from many different plants and also how to make your own cloches and other ways of extending the growing season whatever the size of your plot in our book, No Dig Organic Home & Garden.  

I hang my lettuce plant inside a paper bag to dry, otherwise bits end up all over the floor and spiders moving in to set up home. Once harvested, I store it in an envelope in my seed drawers.

 

 

8 thoughts on “Sow now! for winter and spring harvests

  1. Your blog is fabulous Steph – thank you for the invaluable information! Which spring cabbage do you plant?…something I haven’t tried yet and I would like too!

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    1. Thank you, I’m so glad you like it. I sowed Greyhound, Durham Early and Winter Green this year. They make hearting cabbages, the Winter Green is also good for spring greens. For outside growing they are usually sown in August, but now is fine for undercover.

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