Gardening column: indoor sowing

01 February 2019

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MANY gardeners have been itching to start indoor sowing of seeds since the Epiphany, but, unless you have specialised supplementary lighting, that would have been a tad early.

The first day of February is when I allow myself the pleasure, starting with chillies, that need a long growing season. I would leave it until next month if I didn’t have a small electrically heated propagator to make a free windowsill sufficiently cosy. The key is to be patient and get organised so that when the little calendars on the backs of your seed packets are all calling for action, you are ready.

If you have never tried it, resolve to sow just one packet, and, if you are going to grow more than that, find a small box in which you can arrange your envelopes of seed in order of sowing month. Apart from the seed you will need some containers and trays to fit your windowsills. Re-use plastic pots, or, if you are buying new, I suggest biodegradable coir pots which can be planted out with the developing plant. To fill the containers I would recommend Melcourt SylvaGrow peat-free growing medium, with added John Innes.

That leaves the question what to grow. Here are my desert-island plants to grow from seed, roughly in sowing order:

  • A couple of chillies: “Trinidad Perfume” has an intense flavour without too much heat, and “Spaghetti” has extraordinarily long, thin fruit.
  • Cobaea scandens: the cup-and-saucer vine will clamber freely, displaying its white or mauve exotic bell-shaped blooms late into autumn.
  • A few tomatoes: “Sungold” is a heavy-yielding, flavoursome cherry tomato for greenhouse or outdoor cropping. “Tumbling Tom Red” is particularly suited to patio containers and hanging baskets.
  • Parsley: it is worth growing your own for plentiful supplies. Flat-leaved varieties have the most intense flavour.
  • Broad beans: easy to grow. “Crimson-Flowered” is pretty enough to mingle into an ornamental border, and “Karmazyn” is compact enough to grow in containers and provide large flavoursome beans.
  • Cerinthe major “Purpurascens”: a sophisticated-looking annual with silvery foliage and pendent purple flowers.
  • Courgettes: in a good year, you will be giving produce away, even if you have only, say, three plants. “Defender” is a particularly reliable high-yielding variety.
  • Runner bean: white-flowered “Moonlight” is a modern variety of this traditional allotment staple and an example of successful plant breeding. It is self-setting, thus ensuring a good continual crop and the beans are stringless.

If the scaremongering about empty supermarket shelves later this spring has some truth in it, 2019 may be the year to get ahead with some homegrown produce.

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