Vegetable seeds to sow now
A selection of winter hardy vegetables
By sowing exhibition onion varieties now you put yourself in with a chance of growing super-sized bulbs you can also sow exhibition leeks now in a very similar way. The most important thing to remember is that any check in growth caused by cool temperatures is likely to result in failure, because this makes the plants bolt rather than bulb up, so don't try sowing outside now – use a heated propagator instead. Plants will need a snug greenhouse/conservatory till mid May, at which point they can be planted in a weed-free spot outside. Feed bulbs up with a high-nitrogen feed and who knows, you could end up nurturing a ten-pounder come the autumn.
If you've just got to have some fresh greens now, these tiny crops are your quickest route to satisfaction. In as little as a week, you can be munching on pea shoots (which taste just like fresh peas), radish greens, rocket, watercress, celery, nasturtiums – in fact, an infinite number of tangy little leaves. All you need is a seed tray, a little seed compost or damp kitchen roll, a windowsill, and a lid (clear plastic takeaway trays will do just fine). Scatter the seeds quite thickly, pop on the lid, place in a bright, warm spot, water if too dry, and then just chop off and eat. This is a great way to use up surplus or old seed, but if you want a no-fuss bespoke kit then Suttons has just launched a new range.
If you've tried buying podded broad beans in the shops (frozen broad beans are a little better), you'll know they're not a patch on home-grown ones. This is one crop that actually revels in a cooler soil: they'll emerge when the ground is just 2-3C, but try sowing them in too much summer heat and they'll fail. If you've got a free-draining soil in a sheltered site, risk sowing them outside now. If not (beans hate waterlogging) sow the large seeds 2cm deep, one per 5cm module or pot, and pop in a cold greenhouse or under a cloche or cold frame to harden off later. You can make a second, direct sowing in late February or March, to give a succession of fresh beans over spring and early summer. 'De Monica' (Thompson & Morgan) is said to give the quickest harvests from a spring sowing. Don't forget that you can eat the shoot tips as a spinach alternative (pinching these out as soon as blackfly appears is said to deter this pest). Mange-tout broad beans, such as 'Stereo' (Marshalls) are also worth a punt.
Phenomenally popular, highly productive, easy to grow from seed and with astonishing good looks, you'd be mad not to grow the odd chilli pepper every year (a collection of half a dozen plants in pots is even better). Mild types like 'Hungarian Hot Wax', and vigorous growers such as F1 hybrids ('Apache' is my favourite) can be sown in mid-March. However, if you prefer scorching habaneros, nagas and such like, then you should sow them in a heated propagator (set at about 24C) pronto. They can take up to a month to germinate, and are very slow to mature (especially in dull summers), so need all the help they can get. There is a flip side to this – the hotter species are generally easier to overwinter than milder ones, and such plants have a head start on the same varieties raised from seed. The fab folk at Sea Spring Seeds have put together some handy notes on the topic.
Pulling finger-sized carrots from a container under glass before those in open ground are even through the soil is utter indulgence. Use forcing types like 'Early Nantes' or 'Amsterdam Forcing', sowing them into deep containers now. We use 30cm deep plastic crates lined with polythene (the plastic pots rose plants are sold in are also ideal). Fill the base with multipurpose or growing bag compost, and the upper 5cm with seed compost. Water well, allow to drain and then sow your carrot seed thinly on top. Cover with vermiculite and keep at 10-12C (a gently heated greenhouse or well-lit conservatory is ideal). You'll be pulling roots in May. And as a bonus, they'll be rootfly-free – surely reason it itself to give this a go?