GIY Weekly Column February 23rd 2019

In years gone by I always sowed tomatoes, peppers and aubergines on a heated mat in the potting shed in February.  I am gradually learning some patience from Richard (Mee, Head Grower at HQ) and this year am holding off on sowing them until early March.  Though the logic for sowing them in February is that they benefit from a long growing season, he has thought me that it’s more efficient to hold off so that the tomato plants can be transplanted straight from the module trays to the ground in the polytunnel in late May or June.  A few years ago, I got caught out on this front – the plants had outgrown the module trays they were in, but it was too cold to plant them out, so I had to transplant them (nearly 70 plants) in to big pots. This was both time consuming and expensive (lots of pots, and lots of compost).

There are thankfully, other things to be getting on with to scratch the sowing itch. I have turned on the heated bench in the potting shed, to speed up germination and give the emerging seedlings a little boost.  The heated bench is a relatively straight-forward affair.  It’s a simple wooden frame (about 15cm deep), filled with sand and then a heated element is laid in the sand.  Once the element is plugged in, the sand heats up. Pots and trays are placed on top of the sand and it gives the seedlings some nice heat from beneath.  You can buy plug-in heated propagators that do the same job, but the DIY approach gets you more propagation space for less money.

This week, I sowed some lettuce, broad beans, beetroot and kohlrabi in module trays that are now sitting on the sand.  All of these will be planted out in the polytunnel in about a month’s time.  Broad beans can be sown direct in the soil in March, but I am trying them out this way to see do I get an earlier crop. The kohlrabi will be tender young roots in 10-12 weeks and I generally sow about a dozen at a time.  The beetroot should give a late-May crop of young roots.  I also sowed some peas in a length of old gutter (see below) for sliding out in to the soil in the polytunnel in a few weeks.  

Last weekend I also sowed some spinach, oriental greens and rocket direct in the soil in the polytunnel and am hoping that the increasing day length and somewhat improved temperatures by day, will help them to germinate and grow.  In theory this is a good time of the year to sow spinach and rocket under cover, since the plants are less inclined to bolt in the off season.         

Things to Do This Week – Sow Peas in Gutters

Peas can be sown effectively in lengths of old rain-guttering.  A length of about 1 to 2m would be perfect.  Fill the gutter with potting compost and sow the pea seeds 5cm apart running in a zigzag from one side to the other. When the seedlings are 8cm tall dig a trench in the soil about the same depth as the compost in the gutter and simply slide out the contents of the gutter in to the trench.   Many GIYers grow peas just to eat the growing tips of the young plants which are a delicacy and look great in salads.  You can do this pretty much all year around for a consistent supply.