Perfect Planning Prevents Poor Performance
At this time of year there is an almost irresistible urge to start sowing vegetable seeds and planting out. But, unless your soil is very well drained and you live in a sheltered mild district, it is too cold and it is far better to wait until late February/spring.
Most vegetable seeds that are normally sown outdoors in spring won’t germinate until the soil temperature reaches 7C (45F). If sown in cold soil they will just rot. Sowings made later in spring will catch up with those sown now and usually produce better, stronger plants and crops. So, whereve possible, try and curb your enthusiasm.
Instead, it's far better to spend the time drawing up your plans for this year's vegetable cropping and order or buy your seeds and other planting material, such as onion sets and seed potatoes.
It's also worth working out how much of each crop you want to grow/need to feed yourself and your family. There's no point sowing a 3m (10ft) row of lettuces, which will produce 10-20 hearting lettuces – depending on type and variety – all coming ready at the same time if you live on your own and one lettuce will do you for a fortnight! It's far better to sow and grow a couple at a time, making sure you sow every 10 days or so to ensure a succession of crops over many weeks.
You can get ready for an earlier start in the veg garden by covering the soil in beds needed for early sowings with clear polythene. This warms the soil, keeps it from getting too wet and soggy (which can lead to seed rotting) and encourages weeds to germinate. You may think that having a bed of weeds is a bad thing, but these can be dealt with before sowing to produce a ‘weed-free’ bed – and less hoeing and weed control when the crop is growing.
Stay warm indoors
Indoors, some sowings can be made, but be aware that windowsills can be rather dark and seedlings suffer if grown on them for prolonged periods, becoming weak and spindly. Greenhouses or conservatories offer better conditions, but some heating will be needed to raise healthy well-grown plants (a minimum temperature of 7-10C/45-50F for most crops). Broad beans, brussels sprouts, early summer cabbage, calabrese, cauliflowers, leeks, onions, peas, radish, shallots, spinach and turnips are all suitable crops for sowing in these conditions.