It’s not too early to start chillies, tomatoes, leeks and more
Ready, steady, grow. It is time to start sowing. There’s no rush just yet; this is a gentle start. The only things worth sowing now are chillies, peppers, aubergines and tomatoes, as well as celeriac, brussels sprouts, sprouting broccoli, summer cauliflowers, celery and leeks.
Essentially, it’s time for either warm-climate vegetables that need to be well established by the beginning of summer to fruit, or long-season vegetables that need plenty of time to fatten up. The toms, chillies and aubergines do best under a heated propagator. All of them will do better under grow lights if you don’t have bright conditions. Outside, you’ll be able to get away with broad beans, hardy peas and perhaps parsnips – providing you fleece over after sowing if the conditions look anything less than favourable.
If you don’t have good indoor growing space, I suggest ordering young plug plants now. These will be delivered to you in May; for chillies, peppers, aubergines, cucumbers and tomatoes, I think it’s well worth doing. Some companies, such as Simpson Seeds, let you do a pick and mix of varieties, which makes a lot of sense for a new grower, as you’re not buying a lot of seed for just one or two plants. Growing six different varieties of tomatoes makes for more varied eating, rather than getting lumbered with a glut of Gardener’s Delight.
Although the days are growing longer, we are a long way off warm nights, and there are plenty of hard morning frosts and deep winter chills left in the season. The majority of seeds can wait almost another month before you even think of opening the seed packet.
If you are growing on windowsills and countertops, then most things should wait. Some things sown now might come up quickly but will then tussle with the limited light conditions and cossetted indoor temperatures. This always, however hard you try, results in leggy growth. As the cells stretch for the sun, the plant loses the ability to support itself. A floppy plant is manna to hungry slugs once transferred outside. It’s like baby food: soft and easy to digest.
Thus, pumpkins, squash, courgettes and cucumbers should wait until at least the third week of March. These grow fast and resent low light levels. The same goes for tender beans, sweet corn, kales, lettuce, spring onion, parsley, beetroot – the list is endless. By the end of March, if the weather is kind, you can either start sowing direct into the ground, or seed trays. If it isn’t playing ball, then start them off indoors, safe in the knowledge that they will be outside within a week or two.