Start growing your own by sowing seeds

Sowing seeds Start growing your own Green Fingered Blog
If you're growing your own in an allotment, kitchen garden or some pots on the patio, sowing seeds is the simplest and cheapest way to start. And if the soil is still too wet and/or cold to plant outside, sowing seeds means you can start growing indoors, and have seedlings ready to plant out when it's warmer and dryer in a few weeks time. 

I get an average of about 80 minutes a week to grow fruit and vegetables on my allotment. If you've also got limited time to grow your own, then come and visit me regularly on the 80 Minute Allotment.

How to start growing your own food - in under two hours a week

The great thing about growing from seed is you don't need much time, money or space. Seeds are cheap, take a few minutes to sow, and a tray on a windowsill is all the room you need. Here's a simple guide to sowing them:

GREEN FINGERS TIP: To avoid sowing two seeds in one module, or leaving a module empty, leave them all uncovered until you've dropped all your seeds into position. Then you can see all the modules are used before covering them over. That's what I did here when sowing beans in toilet roll tubes.

Sowing seeds Start growing your own Green Fingered Blog
Sow all your seeds before covering them up

Sow little and often

Early in the year I tend to sow small batches of seeds in trays or modules. I sow a few every couple of weeks. This means if it turns out I'm  sowing a bit early and the seedlings don't do well, I haven't wasted too many. 

It also makes it easier to manage the space available, as I don't have a greenhouse. My seedlings start off in what is effectively a corridor in my house, and it's also housing my overwintering pelargoniums at the same time. Until the weather is warm enough for these to be put back outside on the patio, space is limited.
Sowing in small batches every couple of weeks keeps it manageable. It can also help stagger the time when crops will be ready later in the year. With different batches ready at different times, it is possible to be harvesting over a longer period.

Be patient

Tempting though it is to grow as much as you can as soon as you can, I've learned the hard way that trying to grow too much too soon doesn't pay off. Seeds sown too early, before the days are long enough or the sun strong enough, can result in weak, leggy seedlings that don't grow as well.

Although the successional sowing I described above can sometimes extend the harvesting period, in other cases, the later sowings simply catch up with the earlier ones anyway, negating the advantage of sowing earlier. That depends on the weather really, which we can't know in advance. Hence the early sowings are a bit experimental, and why I spread them out.

It's better to start slowly, in the knowledge that there is plenty of time.

Some crops don't transfer as easily as seedlings and are better sown direct in the ground anyway. This means it usually pays off to wait until later in the spring before sowing them straight in their final position rather than sowing indoors now. These include roots like carrot, parsnip and beetroot. 

Give your seeds the conditions they need

When sowing indoors, I check the sowing instructions on the packet. Some seeds need a temperature of 15C to germinate, but others need at least 20C (70F). Some need lots of light. 

Their requirements determine whether I put them under a propagator lid or leave the seed tray uncovered, how close to the window I put them, or how close to a radiator. 

Don't let a lack of space stop you growing your own

All sorts of things can be used as a container and all sorts of things can be grown in containers.

For example, I grow lettuce in a recycled car tyre on top of a water butt! This helps keep the lettuce out of the reach of slugs.

See also: How to stop slugs eating your lettuce without using chemicals

Lettuce growing in a car tyre Start growing your own Green Fingered Blog
One way to keep lettuce out of slugs' reach

What are the best seeds to grow first each year?

The first seeds I sow are usually broad beans (fava beans). They germinate at quite a low temperature and are very hardy so can go outside before anything else. They grow well even when light levels are low early in the year.

Other crops suitable for early sowing are lettuce, spinach and rocket. Tomatoes are also worth starting as they will be growing indoors anyway because of the risk of blight. Starting them early also increases the time available later in the year for the tomatoes to ripen before autumn sets in.

Other crops that will eventually need to be grown outdoors may be ready too soon if sown too early, before the soil outside is warm enough to plant into successfully. These include peas and french beans. For these I'll wait a few more weeks and sow a few at a time until the weather really warms up.

How many plants do you need to grow?

I've worked out roughly how many of each crop I can fit into my allotment plot. This helps me sow the right number of seeds, so that I don't have loads left over with nowhere to put them, but enough to fill the space I have. Always worth having a few spare just in case of mishaps though! 

It's quite quick and easy to work out a rough number that you need. Here's how I did it:

Allotment planting plan - a step by step guide

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If you're starting to grow your own and sow seeds this month - good luck!



  1. This is a great blog post - very informative. Chard, radishes and kale could also be planted at this time of year.