If, like me, you can’t wait to get back to gardening, or if you want an early crop of vegetables, then there are a number of vegetable seeds which can be sown in February.
Some of these can be sown straight in the ground, such as Broad Beans, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Calabrese, Brussel Sprouts, Carrots, Leeks, Radish, Beetroot and Lettuce. Some need gentle heat – Greenhouse Tomatoes, Sweet Peppers (Capsicums) Aubergine, Cucumber and sprouting seeds among them.
When you are buying your seeds to sow at this time of year(Or any time, come to that) look carefully at the variety and make sure that it is suited to the purpose. For example, there is no use sowing an Autumn Cauliflower at this time of year, it simply won’t germinate.
The seeds which need heat can be germinated on the kitchen window sill if you want. Just make sure you are going to be able to plant them out before they get too ‘leggy’. All plants grow towards the light and if you sow seeds indoors, they will reach for the sky. If they are left indoors for too long, they will get tall and weak – this is called ‘leggy’.
I sow most of my vegetables (except root vegetables) in pots in my greenhouse. This is because I live in open country and know I have a number of pests in my garden which would love me to sow them a ready meal. It also means I can check that cauliflowers are not ‘blind’ before planting them out.
If you are germinating your seeds on a window sill, even if it is warm during the day, the night temperature will drop at this time of year. To ensure good germination and growth, the best thing to do is to use an electric propogator. Propogators are basically plastic boxes with electric heaters in the base. T & M sell a propogator especially designed to go on your windowsill. It has a 15 watt element, so is quite inexpensive to run and has 7 seperate mini trays with lids, so you can raise more than one types of seed in it.
Electric Propogatoes are very useful in a cold greenhouse at this time of year, both for seed germination and for raising cuttings. A propogators will ensure the soil stays at an even temperature which promotes growth. Alternately, Thompson and Morgan sell a heated propgation mat which you lay oin your staging. It has a thermostat sensor so will never get to hot, or cold and is inexpensive to run.
If want to raise very early crops inside your cold greenhouse, you may want to consider heating it for the three months from January to March. You should begin by double lining your greenhouse walls with pplastic, to give better insulation. If you have a large greenhouse, you may want to do this with part of it, to save heating bills. THen you put a heater in. YOu can use any type of heater you like, although gas heaters are not recommended because they are ubnsafe and also because they give off a great deal of water vapour. Thompson and Morgan sell an Electric Fan Heaterwhich is 1.2KW. This is particularly useful since you can use it in summer to keep the air circulating in your greenhouse and keep it cool. It also has a ‘frost watch’ setting so that it only works during the winter to keep your greenhouse frost free. This is useful if you are extending the season during late autumn and early winter.
Parsnips can be quite tricky to germinate. They will only germinate from fresh seed – no good trying to sow last years excess seed. They also need heat and damp. You can germinate them at this time of year by putting them on damp blotting paper (or kitchen roll). Put them in a plastic bag and then put them in the airing cupboard. Don’t forget them, though – they will go mouldy. When they have germinated, sow them normally.
It’s no good sowing any seed into ground that is frozen. This year has been unreasonably cold and at the moment, my ground is frozen solid However, you can expect a thaw anytime soon and when it comes – go for it. If you are concerned, sow half your seed and keep half back for a later sowing, that way should you have trouble with germination, you can always try again.
Sowing under cover will also help your germination. When you have sown your seed, cover the ground with horticultural fleece. This will help keep the warmth in, keep the predators (such as birds) off and allow the rain through.