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Sow Now To Save Later

Sow Now To Save Later

2022 was a difficult year for us gardeners.  We saw extreme temperatures that inhibited the growth of plants while the increased cost of living made us all the more conscious about being able to afford all the replacements we wanted.  Now that its 2023 let's put behind us all the weather woes and, if we expect the growing conditions to be closer to normal, we can save a lot of money by growing our own plants from seeds and bulbs and tubers in the new year.

Let's start with veg that can be sown or planted in January.  Growing this early, if carefully planned, will produce earlier crops and, with continual sowing, an extended harvest time.

Potato sets (or tubers) should be bought from garden centres in early January before the varieties run out.  They come in three main growing groups from First Earlies that crop in June to Second Earlies that crop in mid to late July and Maincrop, September to October respectively.  Once you get them home, they need to be "chitted" which helps them grow as quickly as possible and thus lengthen the growing season for possible larger crops.  Each potato will have eyes which look like tiny nobly buds and they should be placed in empty seed trays or egg boxes so the eyes are uppermost on the tuber.  Keep them in a cool but light place indoors so that the eyes produce strong and compact 1cm shoots; too warm and they will be long and weak.

Great First Early potatoes to choose include:
• Cassablanca - long oval tubers
• Rocket - earliest of them all
• Swift - waxy flesh - delicate flavour

Second earlies:
• Kestrel - some blight resistance - good slug resistance
• Vivaldi - low calorie potato
• Jazzy - heavy cropper - waxy - good all-rounder
• Red Duke Of York - tasty - Red skin and yellow flesh - good all-rounder

Main Crop:
• Cara - good all-rounder - blight resistant
• Desiree - Good in hot summers - slug resistant - good all-rounder
• Carolus - the one I grow which produced a good crop of large, blight resistant tubers (albeit I did have to water weekly last year to keep them happy).  They have a high-quality taste great for roasts, mashing, chips and even crisps.  I would recommend this one to anyone for easy growing.  I put in 90 potatoes and cropped 350lb.  That's enough till spring, I think.

If you have a propagator or heated propagator indoors January is also a good time to sow seeds of Onions and Leeks.  Sprinkle thinly in trays of compost on a windowsill at 15°c (room temperature) and put silver foil along the near side to stop the seedlings drawing towards the light.

Cold crops are ones that can be sown or planted in a cold frame (mini greenhouse) outside or a conservatory/ greenhouse and include Garlic.  Garlic is planted by splitting a bulb into individual coves and then planting each into 9 -11cm pots of seed compost or a low nutrient/ garden compost mix so that their pointy tips just show above the surface.  Water them well, leave them to grow in the cold and then plant them out when the soil conditions allow (around the end of Feb for me).

Onion sets can be planted in the same way or into 8cm cell type trays and these will get a head start compared to a March planting.  Great varieties include Setton, Sturon and Karmer which is an exceptionally sweet and colourful Red Onion.

Shallots are expensive in the shops but are very cheap and easy to grow.  One set (bulb) will produce around 9 to 10 Shallots by the end of July and are perfect in a stir fry, Mediterranean dish or stew.

Broad Beans are one of my favourite early veg and can be frozen when they are still young.  I grow Masterpiece Long Pod and put 2 seeds 1 inch apart in John Innes No.1 or Seed Compost in a single cell of a 5cm x 5cm seed tray.  Water them and leave in a cold frame until the plants grow 10 - 12cm tall.  Plant out in March 23cm apart in double rows that are 30cm apart and with 80cm between each double row.  Choosing a sunny spot will produce more flowers that will then each produce pods of around 6 to 8 white seeded, freezable beans.

Veg seeds that require more heat include Sweet Peppers, Chillies, Aubergines and early Tomatoes. Early sowing is great for early crops and particularly of greenhouse grown varieties.  As these plants are tropical in origin, they require a high germinating heat of around 65 to 75°F above a radiator or with use of a heated propagator.  Transfer them to small pots when the first leaves are big enough to handle and then continue to grow in the warm and with as much light as you can.

Sprouted seeds like Mustard and Cress are fun to grow and good to eat and they're great for the kids too.  Microgreens of Rocket, Dark Opal Basil and Coriander all have the flavours of the larger plants but are produced in weeks rather than months.  Grow them on tissue paper in margarine tubs in a warm kitchen.

And finally, don't forget to grow a few flowers.  Begonia Semperflorens, hanging basket types including and non-Stops should be sown so that their tiny seed remain on the surface of moist compost in a heated propagator or a warmish room.  Later transfer the seedlings to seed trays 40 seedlings per tray or individually into 2-inch pots.  Geraniums (Zonal types) and Impatiens (Bizzy Lizzies) can be sown in the same way and all will appreciate a warm environment and plenty of natural light.

Other seeds to sow now are Snapdragons, Sweet Peas (cold sow), Delphiniums, Dahlias (warm), Coleus (warm), Lavender Hidcote or Munstead (will flower in their first summer from an early sowing), Gazanias and Cacti and Succulents.

So, remember, sow now and save on your harvests later!
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