Every year I look forward to Valentine’s Day – not for romantic reasons but for leafy ones! Because this is an excellent time to start your sowings for the year.
Here in Somerset the sun rose today at around 7:25 and will set at around 17:25, ten hours of daylight which is increasing every day from now on until the summer solstice. Or more accurately, it got light around then, because today is wild and wet, with grey skies – not much likelihood of seeing any sun!
Sowing times depend very much on where you are, so if you live further north then you’ll likely need to start in a week or so. Adapt this according to your location and situation.
Earlier in the year, the days are too short for healthy growth for most seedlings, which are likely to become leggy as they struggle for light. Of course we still have a long way to go before the last frost date, which is mid-May in Bruton, Somerset so almost everything that I sow in February is frost hardy.
Some exceptions are aubergines, chillies and sweet peppers. These warmth loving plants take a long time to grow in our climate, so I usually start them in late January/early February – but I do have heat mats, grow lights and plenty of undercover space where I can keep the seedlings and young plants frost free until May. They will germinate and grow perfectly well on a windowsill, but consider how much space you’ll have to cherish your little plants indoors and sow accordingly. One year before I had heated propagators etc, I was far too enthusiastic with my sowing and tried to keep each baby alive, resulting in windowsills crammed with leggy plants!
It is too early to sow tomatoes!
I sow tomatoes in March. They grow quickly and are not frost hardy. Sowing too early increases the likelihood of leggy plants which are more susceptible to aphids and other problems. If you really can’t wait, sow 2-3 seeds and cherish one early tomato plant on your windowsill – but save the rest for later on!
Many seed packets encourage earlier sowings, but just ignore those! There are also lots of social media posts encouraging a sowing-fest, but growing really isn’t a race and quite often the “advice” is more about increasing followers than offering tried and tested tips from experience. I’ve been growing veg since I was 17 (marrows, to make wine!) thirty-seven years ago (oh my!), houseplants since I was a little girl.
What To Sow In February
Almost all of my February sowings are undercover – sown into seed trays/modules in a greenhouse, polytunnel, windowsill, cold frame or other space that is protected from the worst of the weather. The few that I sow outside are:
Outside: assuming the ground isn’t frozen or covered with snow!
broad beans including red flowered broad beans such as “Crimson Flowered” and “Epicure”, which are worth growing for the cheery blossoms and deep red beans.
carrots, early varieties, with protection (inside a polytunnel, or under a cloche)
early peas including Oskar and Havel (although I mostly start these off indoors to protect against mice)
garlic, especially spring planted varieties – it will say that on the packet. If the ground is frozen, these can be started in small pots and planted out later on
early brassicas (cauliflower, turnip, kohl rabi, calabrese, cabbage, Cima di Rapa)
Florence fennel (only the slow bolting varieties, check the packet)
microleaves – whatever you fancy
onions – both spring (scallions) and bulbing onions
pak choi – choose a slow bolting variety and harvest young
peas – early podding varieties and for pea shoots
sweet peas – not to eat, for the flowers
Some sowing tips
I start almost everything in seed trays or modules, planting out as sturdy transplants. This means that I only plant out the healthiest plants, and they are less likely to be nibbled by slugs. Also, starting sowing off indoors, especially at a time of year when weather conditions are poor, increases germination and means that the harvests are often weeks earlier than if I sowed outside.
The key exceptions are parsnips and carrots which I always direct sow.
Using this method, I can start 20 or more different varieties in one tray, saving space and compost.
Once the greenhouse starts filling up with modules, keep a look out for slugs, who may think that the underneath of the trays are cosy quarters. This one was caught in action!
Propagating lids are helpful to maintain a comfortable environment for seedlings, especially if your greenhouse (or growing space) is draughty with holes, like mine. You can upcycle clear plastic containers to make your own.
Charles doesn’t need to use these in his greenhouse for example, because it is well made.
I sow some seeds, such as beans, peas and multisown radish and onions, directly into modules.
Eventually, the greenhouse looks like this – this is May! I’ve had most of these module trays for years so although there is a lot of plastic here, much it was second hand and it makes environmental sense to use up what I have and replace with more ecological alternatives in the future, as required.
Regular readers will know that I am not doing any sowing myself just now, because I am moving house in a few weeks, near to Lampeter in Wales. So this is what I have done in previous Februarys for the twenty years I have lived here in Bruton, and in the various places where I have worked as a grower.
All of my seeds are in this storage box waiting to be packed. I’ve got a lot of seeds (it’s my work), including many home saved ones from my garden here. The module trays are some new ones designed by Charles, which I’ve not tried out yet. They should last at least a decade.
I’ve also got some home saved Jerusalem artichokes and Chinese artichokes, plus some spring sowing garlic (kindly sent to me by Mr Fothergills) to pack in here. And seed potatoes which are in trays chitting behind my desk.