This time of year, something always happens that bugs me. Large DIY, home and garden stores start selling six-inch-high veg seedlings, such as tomatoes and courgettes.
The annoying thing about these plants is that they stand very little chance of surviving into the summer. They’ve been bred indoors in controlled environments, and then rolled out for us to buy in a fit of mid-March sunshine excitement.
Having been a GYOer for a few years now, I’ve learnt to step away from these plants. Our weather is still far too cold for them to survive outside, and even a small frost could kill the seedlings off. A greenhouse, unless heated, won’t provide much protection for them either. It’s just far too early.
However, to a beginner, these little plants are really tempting. I remember seeing them and thinking now must be the time to plant out tomatoes, as one particular shop was selling loads. And that’s what irritates me the most: more often than not the seedlings will die leaving a disappointed grower.
The Significance of the First Year
The first year of growing is so important – the most important of all, in my humble opinion. If stuff fails, then motivation drops and there’s every chance that you’ll give it up. Shops selling plants before they’re ready to go out really doesn’t help with that one bit.
So, the moral of this blog post is don’t buy any runner beans, tomatoes, courgettes, squashes, or outdoor cucumber plant s if you see them this weekend. Or this month, for that matter.
When to Plant Out
I always aim for June 1st for planting any of these veg outside and normally think about sowing them mid-April. I find this is just about right for the south of England. I’ll sow them undercover first, in little pots of multipurpose compost, and even then keep an eye on overnight temperatures. Even the slightest chance of a frost and I’ll cover the pots with some fleece to give them some protection.
Once the plants are about 4 or 5 inches high, I’ll start hardening them off by placing them outside during the day and then popping the lot back in the greenhouse overnight. This lasts a week or so until they’re acclimatised to daytime temperatures and ready to live outside.
If you don’t have a greenhouse, try leaving the sowing until late spring when temperatures will be high enough for germination.
And if you’d rather skip the sowing still, late spring also is about the right time to buy plants. They’ll have a few weeks to grow on, and you can use this period to get them acclimatised to your environment. After all, you never know where your plants were raised, and they’ll need time to get used to their new surroundings.
So, if you’re out and about don’t make the same mistake as I did in my first year, and spend a load of money on pretty little plants that won’t see in the summer. Step away from the tomato plants!
And I’ll get back to writing cheery blog posts. 🙂