Monday, 19 March 2018

Sowing seeds indoors - Latest from the 80 Minute Allotment

Sowing seeds indoors 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered BlogSo you've got less than two hours a week spare to grow your own fruit and veg and it snows all weekend - what can you do? Stay inside and sow some seeds...




More snow this weekend here in Cardiff meant it wasn't worth visiting my 80 Minute Allotment this week.

The plot is under several inches of snow again, as it was a couple of weeks ago. I don't feel like I'm getting behind with things though, perhaps because January and February were relatively mild. I've planted onions and raspberries, tidied the strawberries and done some preparation for peas and beans. And even if the temperatures were a bit more typical for March, the ground would still be too cold and wet to be planting anything else just yet.

This time of year is all about getting things started. 




There's no need to hurry, but the next few weeks are a good time to sow a few seeds indoors to get things underway. Ideally I'll have the first batch of seedlings ready to plant out by the end of April when the soil is warmer and the risk of frost has just about passed. More will follow later.

Before then they'll need time to germinate, grow, strengthen, and adjust to life outside by spending some time in the coldframe. But it all starts under cover, warm and snug indoors.

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Most plants germinate more easily at something close to room temperature (between 15C and 20C) and the good thing about growing from seed is you don't need much room. Which is just as well because my utility room and store room are both still full of the plants that need to over-winter indoors!


Room full of plants Sowing seeds indoors 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Tender plants over-wintering indoors


Make some space

Brugmansia, pomegranate, pineapple sage, blackcurrant sage and scented leaf pelargoniums fill my patio in summer, but spend the colder months inside to prevent them from perishing. I've been putting them outside during the day recently, but not while temperatures are close to freezing as they have been the last few days. 

They take up most of the windowsills and worktop space I have (I don't have a greenhouse) leaving little room for seed trays and propagators. I usually start sowing seeds once the weather warms up enough for some of the pots to stay outside, creating some space. 

This time I've had to put a few more on the floor (in saucers) to be able to find enough suitable positions for propagators.

Snow covered patio Sowing seeds indoors 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Too cold to move all the pots out here yet!


Prepare seed trays


For a simple guide to the process of sowing seeds, you can click here:

How to sow seeds - A Beginner's Guide

Seeds can be sown in seed trays, modules (trays divided into sections) or individual pots.

I'm trying to avoid buying any new plastic pots or seed trays due to the damage they seem to cause to the environment when not recycled properly. 

There are plenty of alternatives, such as toilet roll tubes, and all sorts of food containers like ready meal trays and dessert pots. I'm giving various items a second life as plant pots. These broad beans were sown in used jelly pots:


Broad bean seedlings Sowing seeds indoors 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Broad bean seedlings in used jelly pots
I know they are also plastic, but they'll be used several times before being put in the recycling bin, which reduces the need to buy additional plastic plant pots. Reducing the amount of food we buy in plastic packaging is a whole other story, but I'm confident of drastically reducing the amount of plastic in products specifically bought for the garden.

I'm also sowing some in seed trays that I've had for several years. Whatever you're using, fill it with fine compost. You can buy specialist seed compost, or mix ordinary compost with some grit or vermiculite to ensure it drains well rather than staying too wet and rotting your seeds. 

You can even mix fresh compost with used compost from old containers to get a good consistency (and keep the cost down). Just make sure the used stuff is pest free. If you spot any grubs as you're going through it, use something else instead.


Seeds sown in toilet roll tubes Sowing seeds indoors 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Seeds sown in toilet roll tubes

Which seeds you can sow 

There are lots of vegetables you can sow indoors and then plant out as seedlings when they are big enough. I decided what I wanted to grow this year a few weeks ago, and planned how I would fit them into the space I've got. Even if you do this roughly it can help you work out how many seeds you need to sow to fill your plot.

Allotment planting plan - a step by step guide

Broad beans

I'm growing both dwarf and climbing types of broad bean. They are really easy to grow from seed and can be sown direct in the ground but not until it's a bit warmer! So I've sown a batch of each now, meaning they should be able to go in the ground by the end of April.
Broad bean seeds Sowing seeds indoors 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
A handful of broad bean seeds

Peas

Peas are also really easy to get started. I've sown a few mangetout and a few of a snap variety.

Leeks


It takes a long time to grow leeks! They've been quite a reliable crop for me though. They remain very small and delicate seedlings for quite a while, so I like to grow them in modules or pots so I can protect them more easily from birds, slugs and snails. They feel very vulnerable if they are in the open ground when so small.


Tomatoes


Any tomatoes I grow outside always get affected by blight, so I mostly grow them on windowsills. The bush varieties are good for this as they don't get too big, and don't need pruning either. They grow easily from seed as long as you can keep them nice and warm - room temperature at least.



Carrots and Beetroot

Some people will say that these are much better sown direct, to avoid having to transplant them. They are supposedly affected by being moved. I'll sow plenty direct as well later on, but I've found them fairly successful grown in modules. Although they need delicate handling when planting out, they have gone on to grow well. 

Have Patience


Germination can take time. Most seeds send up shoots that appear after a week or two. Some, like parsnips can take a month or more. It also depends on the temperature and moisture levels. But seeds want to grow and although the time may vary, the vast majority will grow successfully without being too precise about how they are sown.

You do have to just wait for them, but label them with the date they were sown so that you know how long they've been there. 


Using a propagator will keep them warm and cosy and help them get going sooner.



Propagator Sowing seeds indoors 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
A propagator keeps the seeds a little bit warmer
You can buy electric powered heated ones that can maintain a specific temperature, but rather than increase my energy consumption I stick with basic ones. These are like mini greenhouses and are really useful.

I think it's important to have a cover that is high enough to give seedlings plenty of room, which also allows air to circulate. There should also be a ventilation slot at the top which can be opened occasionally to avoid excessive heat in warm weather, and reduce condensation.

I use two sizes, one type that's 52cm and sits on a table top, and another type that's small enough to fit on a windowsill. You can buy them here: (affiliate links)







Sow in batches 

Although I've worked out how many of each crop I can fit in the plot, I'm not sowing all of them now.

I'm spreading the sowing over a few weeks, so that the harvest is also spread out.

When the seedlings produce some leaves, I'll take the cover off them. When they've grown a bit more I'll move them to the coldframe on the patio. This is part of the process of getting them adjusted to conditions outside. This normally takes a week or two before they can be planted out into the ground at the allotment.

More on that another time. Please come back soon to see what else I'm doing with my 80 minutes on the allotment. Hopefully next time I'll actually be outside.

Also this week: 

Chitting Potatoes

I'm growing a few potatoes in bags of compost, as this worked well last year. At this stage, the seed potatoes are sitting in an egg box on a windowsill. This is known as chitting, where the exposure to light causes them to develop shoots. I'll plant them in a few weeks when the shoots are a few centimetres long. It's a simple way of giving them a good start.

Chitting potatoes Sowing seeds indoors 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Potatoes chitting on a well lit windowsill

Planting shallots and onions (almost)

I would have planted my shallots and some more onion sets this week had the ground not been under a layer of ice and snow. If the conditions in your garden or allotment allow, then go ahead and get yours in the ground. I'll have to wait another week.

I average about 80 minutes a week on my veg plot, so I'm always looking for ways to do things quickly and easily. If you're growing your own in limited time, at home or on an allotment, make sure you subscribe to the Green Fingered Blog for regular time saving updates from The 80 Minute Allotment.


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2 comments:

  1. Hello
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    Replies
    1. Welcome! Hope you'll be sowing some seeds too!

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