What to sow where

By Sally Nex

Hold on to your hats – it’s sowing time! This is the month your veg gardening moves up a gear as you can, at last, start sowing most kinds of seed.

So your seed stash is spread over the potting bench and you’ve stocked up on seed compost for smaller seeds, and multipurpose compost for larger ones. You’ve even bought a new pack of bamboo plant labels. Now what?

For now, you’ll need to sow everything under cover, in a greenhouse or on a sunny windowsill – it’s still too cold to sow direct and expect good results in the UK, and even then it’s hardy veg like beetroot, carrots and chard only.

But the array of seed trays, modules and every size of pot you can think of can be bewildering. Whatever do you sow where?

The trick is to match your container to the type of seed you’re sowing – then you can give them exactly the conditions they need. Just four different types of seed container cover all my seed-sowing needs: stick to these and you can’t go far wrong.

Seed trays are great when you want lots of one particular vegetable

Seed trays

Suitable for: Baby-leaf salads, lettuces, onions, leeks, annual flowers like marigolds and nasturtiums

Seed trays are useful when you want lots (and lots) of one type of vegetable. So I sow my baby-leaf salads thickly across a full-sized seed tray, raise them under cover till they have their second pair of leaves, then scoop handfuls of seedlings out at a time to transplant into a roomy container to grow on outside my back door, where they’re handy for picking. Fill your seed tray with compost and water, then simply scatter seed sparingly across the top: aim to space seeds about 1cm apart (I move mine around with the end of a pencil). Cover lightly with more compost.

10cm pots are ideal for sowing peas under cover, where they’re safe from mice and slugs

10cm pots

Suitable for: peas (including sweet peas), brassicas (cabbages, Brussels sprouts, broccoli etc), courgettes, squash, melons, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and chillies, sunflowers

My favourite containers to sow seeds into, as you can sow just a few at a time – four or five courgettes, for example, or 10 or 15 tomato seeds when that’s all the plants you can accommodate. It gives you just the right number of seedlings without swamping you with unwanted extras. When seedlings have their second pair of leaves, tip them out the pot and gently tease apart before potting on into individual containers. I also have to sow peas under cover to avoid mice and slugs scoffing them before they’ve germinated, and 10cm pots are ideal: sow five peas to each pot, then once seedlings are 8-10cm tall plant out each whole potful, without separating the seedlings, about 15cm apart.

I prick out all my seedlings into 5cm newspaper pots

Newspaper modules

Suitable for: Parsley, early sowings of beetroot and turnips, also pricking out seedlings

The next stage for most of my seedlings is pricking out into their own individual containers – and newspaper modules are the ideal size. But some vegetables really hate root disturbance – mainly the carrot family, which includes parsnips, parsley and celeriac – so sowing in trays or pots then pricking out isn’t an option. Mostly, it’s better to wait till next month and sow these veg direct into the soil, but parsley is an exception: it takes ages (up to a month) to germinate so it pays to get it under way early. This is when sowing direct into modules is a lifesaver: sow into the top of a 5cm newspaper pot filled with compost, cover lightly with more compost, then let seedlings grow undisturbed till they’re sturdy young plants, when you can plant the whole thing out, pot and all. No root disturbance, and a nice early crop of parsley to enjoy!

Beans like the deep root run provided by toilet roll inners

Saved toilet rollinners

Suitable for: Broad beans, French beans, runner beans

Bean seeds are real powerhouses, sending down big, sturdy taproots that soon hit the bottom of ordinary pots and seed trays. For these, you need deeper containers. You can buy special plastic long modules, known as root trainer modules, but I find cardboard loo roll inners work just as well (and are much cheaper, as well as avoiding plastic waste). Stand them in a seed tray, fill with compost, then sow one seed into the top of each, 1-2cxm deep. Once seedlings have two pairs of leaves, plant them out, cardboard and all, alongside their supports.

You can learn lots more about seed sowing, including which varieties to sow and how to plan your sowing year, on my course, Self Sufficient Veg Gardening: sign up here!

Sally Nex

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