February 2017 III: early sowings indoors

Sowing in February in NW London is about as early as most things benefit from. I have tried sowing onions in January and light has not been sufficient to advance the germinated seedlings well. Tomatoes develop well from January, but without a greenhouse they are ready to live outside in early April, which is often too cool to allow successful fruit set.

However, a few years of experimentation has identified some crops which benefit from a February sowing:

  1. Early tomatoes, aimed at producing a harvest in June and July (prior to the late July to late September main crop). I sow Maskotka and Red Alert in early February – the feature image above shows a 100% germination of my own seeds within 5 days, which are actually three years old!
  2. Onions, this year Kelsae (which produce very large bulbs) and van Rijnsburger (which store well).
  3. Boltardy Beetroot, the only beetroot which does not bolt with such an early sowing (aiming for crops in June and early July).
  4. Medania Spinach and Greyhound Cabbage, for harvests in May and early June.
  5. Ishikura Salad Onions, whose seeds I source from Quickcrop.

Over the years, I have tried out a variety of composts for seed germination. I have regularly used the John Innes series for tomatoes (as they pot on you go from JI Seed to JI One to JI Two before final potting out) and last year tried out Klasmann-Deilmann’s professional seed compost. This appears very expensive, but it really does germinate seeds fast, reliably and efficiently. It can be sourced much more cheaply by the pallet (around half the price of a single bag), hence buying groups will benefit hugely if sourcing this product.

The other reliable method I have used involves using Soil Blocks. How to make them is a subject in itself, and will form a new blog article later this spring. I use them routinely for germinating radish, Ishikura salad onions and used them successfully last year for Sweetcorn.

Mostly now, however, I carry out my sowings in 40 module trays (the exceptions being Kelsae onions and tomatoes, which I germinate in trays and then pick into small pots).

This year, my spinach and cabbage seedlings became long and thin (leggy) and so were transplanted into small pots with the stems below the soil surface, to allow them to become more sturdy. On a small scale, this is mildly irritating, but no commercial operation could condone such extra use of compost, time etc. So ensuring that seeds germinate well without producing leggy plants is one of February’s key challenges.

Author: Rhys

Rhys trained as a research biologist, working for a decade in the cancer research charity sector, before completing an MBA and working in management consultancy, technology transfer and early technology investment spaces, mostly working with UK academics to turn their scientific discoveries into value for society. AS a younger man, he was fascinated with mountains, both climbing them and ski-ing down them. Whilst living in Scotland, he completed a round of (then) all 277 Munros, the independent mountains over 3000ft originally complied as a list by Munro. He also spent his holidays representing the Ski Club of GB, as a Representative and Party Leader between 1990 and 1997. During that time, he found to his bemusement that he was able to predict, without understanding fully why, to a remarkable degree of accuracy, when good snow conditions would occur in the Alps, gaining an unworthy reputation for predictive genius in 1990 when predicting the evolution of the 1989/90 winter in Wengen, Switzerland for his CEO boss. He used this skill for the next seven years to ensure that he enjoyed powder snow pretty much every time he went ski-ing. An MD student he was training in Oxford also impressed his wife by taking Rhys' advice about when to take her to Italy in the mid 1990s! In recent years, Rhys has turned his mind toward how to grow prize tomatoes, winning several prizes in local and London shows and has, in the past 3 years, moved toward taking over a 50 square metre urban vegetable patch, which he has turned into a no-dig area since autumn 2014.

2 thoughts on “February 2017 III: early sowings indoors”

  1. Hi Rhys. I think this blog will help out people venturing in to GYO and also to spread the word of no dig gardening further still. Outlining your aims helps give clarity to your mission and the process of creating a blog like this can only help you to improve your gardening and keep a record of your endeavours. I’ll do my best to keep an eye on your progress, though one cannot be everywhere all of the time! Best of success with this and your gardening. Tris

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