We’re having some fun with a serious topic today. Looking at social media feeds just now makes it look like everyone is sowing all of their seeds in January and that it’s the done thing. A real pressure for any newer gardeners out there.
So today I want to chat about why you might choose to sow your seeds in January or February and why you might choose to wait until the more traditional months in early spring. That way, you are armed with all the information you need to make that decision.
I’ve actually done this over the last two years, even though for the ten years previous I didn’t. But it’s given me a great experience of the process and has let me find the pluses and minuses. Which, of course, I’m only too happy to share with you.
So why might you choose to sow seeds in January and February? After all, I do this quite often.
Basically, it comes down to 3 simple reasons.
- You have some plants you want to grow in your garden but they need a longer season of particular weather than you can give them naturally. So you might start them indoors or in the greenhouse.
The very best example of this, and maybe the most common thing you will see on the internet is sowing chillies, peppers and aubergines (eggplants) in January, using heat mats, lights and heated propagators. Or even inside on a sunny window sill. I specifically listed these three plants as these are known to be plants that need a slightly longer season of warmth and sun than my natural season can provide for them. That means I can’t sow my seeds until mid-March unless I use artificial heat and light to boost the environment for them. Now if I leave sowing until March, I will still get good strong plants and plenty of harvests. I know this because I had years of being very happy doing exactly that. But, sowing the seeds that little earlier, means that I get harvests a little earlier and a slightly bigger harvest overall for each plant. I can’t emphasise enough though, the difference isn’t enormous.
- The second reason is very similar, but instead of it being about stealing some extra time for plants that need warmth, it’s simply about those plants that cope well in your environment, but you want to get them going a bit earlier so that they are slightly more mature plants when you do finally plant them outside into the garden. The hope is that once the warmer spring weather comes, those plants will take off.
- Now the third reason I think needs to be acknowledged is simply that, in the darker winter months, some of us just want to get a little bit of gardening going to give us some smiles. And that is 100% OK and we shouldn’t be knocking, harassing or diminishing people choosing to do this. They acknowledge the potential pitfalls and they accept them. They just want to feel the happy gardener feeling.
Or not to sow?
The question now, I suppose, is what do you have to think about or be aware of before you jump right in and start sowing seeds with gay abandon?
In our video, I listed 6 things I thought folk should be aware of, from my experience of starting seeds early and they are:
- Germination rates are generally less favourable when you are trying to get seeds going in the colder months. It’s not the perfect environment for them, so you need to keep on top of heat and light and soil temperature etc. etc. You can obviously nail it, and I did, but you do need to be are that there are no guarantees.
- Once you have germination, you now have very tender little seedlings which you need to keep alive and help to thrive. It’s not as warm as they want, it’s not as sunny as they want, there are all sorts of issues with sowing and growing enclosed spaces such as fungus, watering problems pathogens and that’s before we talk about controlling heat and lights artificially. Basically, the job Mother Nature would normally do for you in spring now becomes your responsibility.
- Leggy – yup the dreaded leggy. It’s a fact, in winter there is just a whole lot less light than the plants need. So they grow and stretch and desperately try to reach the light. It’s less than ideal and can cause problems as these little seedlings are weaker than you’d like. In saying that, some seedlings, like tomatoes, you can plant deeper each time you pot on and that can help. Although it isn’t ideal.
But, and I think this needs to be said, once a seedling is leggy, you cannot fix it, you can’t make it get shorter. It’s just the way it is. So something to think about.
- Costs! Did that get your attention? So we mentioned about sometimes you need to provide additional heat and light, well I hate to say it folks but that costs, and these days it costs a fair bit more. So something to consider, the costs of additional heat and light but also, of buying that equipment if you don’t already have it.
- Space is the next one, and it might not be something you think of. So imagine then that you have done brilliantly, and all your plants are healthy and happy and growing. Now I’m going to use tomatoes as an example for this. Plants get a whole lot bigger than seedlings and very quickly. VERY quickly, and if you’ve started those plants really early and they are too big for your growing space before the weather is amenable to you moving them… well you have a problem. So take a second before you sow and think, how many plants can I actually accommodate?
- Now this is the last one and I think it’s really important. Again this is from my personal experience. As much fun as the idea of getting seeds going early may be… it can actually become quite stressful trying to look after all those little seedlings, come baby plants and keep them going in your growing space. And it can quickly turn from fun to horrible. It’s very different from sowing and growing in your spring months. So just keep that in mind before you make up your mind.
Obviously folks, there is a little bit more detail to this in the episode below, but that was your quick guide to just thinking about whether you want to sow or not.