Early Greenhouse Sowing
I’m keen to get growing but it’s still only February, and while the days are getting longer we had 10cm of snow fall this week, so it’s a good idea to not get too carried away at this time of year, even if the urge to do some gardening is strong. When it comes to seed sowing it’s best to stick to hardy plants or those that need to be sown early in the year so that they have plenty of time to flower and fruit.
On my sunny kitchen windowsill I’ve set up my heated propagator so that I can give the tomato and chilli seeds I’ve sown some extra heat to encourage them to germinate. If you have space and you’d like to grow your own bedding plants for the summer, now’s the time to sow the seeds of pelargoniums and begonias. These will need extra warmth too, as will Cobaea scandens, also known as the cup and saucer plant because of its distinctive large flowers. Cobaea is an exotic climber from tropical America which will scramble over plant supports, putting on an impressive 3–4 metres of growth in one growing season. The flowers, which start off green-white before turning a deep shade of purple, don’t tend to appear until August, but if you live somewhere mild it’s possible for the plant to still be flowering in December.
Other flowers worth sowing in February and early March include achillea and snapdragons (antirrhinum). Both make great cut flowers, so are ideal if you like the idea of being able to pick your own home-grown flowers to pop in a vase.
On another bright windowsill I’ve also started off some hardy crops, such as broad beans, spinach and winter salads. These don’t need the extra heat, and once they’ve germinated and have two sets of leaves I’ll prick them out into individual pots and pop them in my cold frame to encourage stocky plants to develop.
For a fast-growing crop I’m recapturing my childhood by sowing some cress. It’s one of the easiest crops to grow, which is why it’s the first introduction to gardening for many children. I’ve just filled a seed tray with some compost and scattered the seeds on the surface then watered it. An alternative method is to use a couple of layers of kitchen roll in the bottom of a shallow food container. Wet the kitchen roll, then sow the cress seeds. In both instances the seeds will start to germinate within 24–48 hours and will be ready to harvest in a week.
It wouldn’t be summer without some sweet peas and because they’re hardy they can be sown now. I like to use deep pots for sweet peas, as they develop long roots and they need plenty of room to grow, particularly when you sow them at this time of year. It’s often recommended that you sow them into the cardboard centres of toilet rolls, but I find the cardboard doesn’t hold up very well and develops mould, which I don’t really want on my kitchen windowsill. Root trainers are another option, but I prefer to use the tall pots that clematis or roses come in. Whichever method you choose, keep them somewhere warm until you can see shoots appearing above the compost, then move them somewhere cooler such as a cold frame or greenhouse, and by April they should ready to plant out into the garden.