spring sprouts

Spring: How Do You Decide the Right Time to Sow?

When I write a smiley, happy post that excitedly extols the virtues of seeds you can sow in February, it is very easy to forget that I live in the South East.

Compared to other areas of the country, temperatures can be balmy down here. Snow? What snow? Around these parts, it’s headline news in the local paper if we have to scrape our windscreens in the morning.

Posts such as ‘7 Seeds to Sow in March’ can, therefore, be met with gentle laughter from those in the North, just as my twitter buddy @aplottoofar did this week.

Luckily, there are a few tell-tale signs and the odd bit of useful guidance to help us decide the right time to sow, regardless of where we live.

It is universally agreed that weeds are a pain. They take over beds before you know it and keeping them under control is one of the dullest allotment jobs.

However, they do have one redeeming feature. They give us a clue as to whether the soil is warm enough to sow seeds.

If there are weeds coming through in your soil, this means it is of sufficient temperature for plant life to survive so seeds that are sown should germinate and grow on.

Temperature and seed packets
I’d definitely recommend investing in a cheap thermometer for the allotment, particularly if you have a greenhouse. Getting an idea of temperatures during the different times of the day will help you determine whether the time is right or not.

Seed packets will tell you the correct temperatures required for germination, which will help you work out when to sow what.

As silly as it sounds, don’t forget to read the seed packets. I have ignored this before with a number of plants that enjoy the warmth, such as aubergines and tomatoes, and not ended up with much to show for my early season enthusiasm.

When are the last frosts?
Tender seedlings such as tomatoes and squashes are very susceptible to frost, so trying not to subject them to cold nights is vital. There are useful last frost predictors available on the web, including this map from vegetableseeds.net.

If you’ve sown seeds and suddenly BBC Carol is telling you over Breakfast that there are frosts ahead, there are some measures you can take to help your plants survive. Covering with horticultural fleece or bubble wrap will help bring the temperature up a degree or two, and if you’ve sown in pots you can huddle them together to help create this effect too.

Don’t Rush
One thing I’ve definitely learnt over the years is not to rush into sowing. From my experiences, if you think you’re behind with sowing, you’re timing is actually just about right. Waiting until mid-April or even early May to sow is really no great shakes in the grand scheme of things, and seedlings will grow quickly in the higher temperatures and longer days of these two months.

Of course, none of this stops me from the temptation of early sowing, but it’s definitely worth viewing these as bonuses – fingers crossed for an early harvest, but don’t rely on these. Keep those seed packets at hand and carry on sowing!

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