Waiting, not for Godot but for Spring. As a gardener it’s important to patiently wait for the soil to dry and warm and not be tempted by the first few spring-like days when a weak sun is on your back and the over keen can be lead astray into unseasonal activity. Empathise with your seeds, would you like to start out life in a cold, wet miserable home with only the distant hope of warmth to keep you going? Many gardeners have a problem with premature germination, seeds sown too early either outside, where even if they do germinate they struggle miserably, emerging into a cold, damp world or inside where they germinate happily but are too advanced to be transplanted out into a world of frosts and winds. Patience and preparation are the key. Have beds ready to go when the soil is warm enough.
We are busy preparing all our beds at GROW HQ, we will cover them with fleece to warm them up in advance of sowing. Cold, wet winter soil takes a long time to warm up and the fleece helps speed up the process. Many people cover a bed with fleece after sowing, but this is too late in the season, get things right before the seed goes in. An additional advantage of early bed preparation is that you can get a germination of weeds seeds (if weeds like chickweed aren’t germinating then it really is too cold for vegetable seeds). If you kill the weeds with shallow hoeing (not too deep or you bring more weed seeds to the surface) you can reduce the weed problem in your vegetable seedlings.
So, when should you sow? I find calendars can be unhelpful in our variable climate. Spring time is the most variable season in our erratic climate. Some years a warm, dry February gives good warmed soil in early March whereas other years a cold damp February (possibly how this year is going) leaves us with soil too cold and wet to use until a few weeks later. We time all our sowings here based on soil temperature, the Met Eireann website gives average soil temperatures over the whole country, which I find is the most reliable way to judge things. Different crops have different germination temperatures, broad beans happily germinate at 5 degrees Celcius whereas carrots like 10 degrees Celcius to germinate vigorously.
Early sowing and planting can lead to additional problems, early sowing of beet and onion sets can lead to bolting (sending up a flower); the plants think they’ve had a winter after a few frosty nights and do what biennial plants do! So be patient and control your urges, don’t be a premature germinator!
My first growing class of the year takes place on Saturday, 10th February (more info here) so I look forward to meeting up with some of you. As ever I expect to learn as well as teach, I find there is a huge reservoir of knowledge out there with GIYers, let’s keep sharing what we know.
Thanks. As a novice gardener your article was very helpful. I have a greenhouse and a few small raised beds. As l live in nw I’m wondering about differences in temperature as u go north. I have already planted onion sets and beetroot into cold soil!
lovely piece Richard thanks