It may be too early to sow most seeds in the midst of February as it’s still very cold, but there are a few things you can get going right now in order to get a head start on the coming growing season. If you’ve got a heated propagator and a bright windowsill then you might want to consider starting off some peppers and tomatoes indoors for good strong plants in early spring. Now is also the time to be chitting potatoes ready for planting out in late March or early April.
Our friends at Pots & Trowels have plenty of advice for sowing early seeds indoors and chitting potatoes, so read on to find out more and watch the video below where Martin Fish of Pots & Trowels shows you how.
How to chit seed potatoes
Seed potatoes are now available, so whether you’ve got some being delivered or are buying them from a garden centre it’s a good idea to start chitting them as soon as you get them. Chitting is the process of encouraging your potatoes to sprout so that they can be planted out having already made a start. You won’t be planting out your seed potatoes until the soil has warmed up and drained a little in the spring. It will be at least the end of March, or even early April depending on where you are in the country, so chitting helps you to urge the potatoes onwards in the meantime.
Keep them somewhere cool and light and the “eyes” of the potatoes will develop into short shoots so that when they’re planted out into the garden, they’ve got a bit of a head start. You can stand the tubers in a tray or egg box with the “eyes” to the sky, and over the next few weeks the small shoots will develop into stronger shoots. When planting out time comes, these shoots will then start developing into potato plants much more quickly once you have planted them out in the garden.
How to store your seeds
Receiving your delivery of seeds for the upcoming season is always exciting, and perhaps you’ve been gradually adding to your 2021 packets with the remaining seeds from last year still squirreled away. To keep seeds at their best, you need to store them somewhere dry, dark and cool to prevent damaging them or killing them off.
The salad drawer of the fridge is the perfect place to keep seeds in optimum condition, which is great if you have a second ‘outdoor fridge’ in the garage to use for this purpose. Otherwise, as you will see in the video below, repurposing a container such as an empty tin of chocolates leftover from Christmas, is ideal for storing your seeds as it’ll be airtight and keep the damp out, keeping your seeds nice and fresh. If you keep your seeds in a cold shed, an airtight container will also keep the mice out too.
Wherever you store your seeds, make sure they aren’t in direct sunlight or near a heat source like a radiator and choose a cooler spot.
How to sow seeds indoors early in the season
Peppers, both sweet and hot varieties, and tomatoes can be started indoors from seed now to give you good, strong plants ready to go out into a greenhouse or conservatory in early April, where they can be kept frost-free. Other varieties for the edible garden that can be sown indoors are aubergines, onions, greenhouse cucumbers and cucamelons.
Only sow seeds now if you’ve got conditions warm enough to germinate them and can give them frost-free conditions to grow them on in until they need transplanting into their permanent position. Waiting a few weeks to sow if space is tight won’t set you back too much, as later sown seeds can catch up quite quickly.
Apart from the usual seed sowing equipment, all you need to start off your seeds is a simple heated propagator, nothing fancy or too expensive, that can go out on a bright windowsill. If you have a warm and sunny windowsill you can also start some seeds off in an unheated propagator, though beware of overnight lows on windowsills that can get quite chilly at night and can give poor results in seeds that need specific temperatures to get going. If in doubt about the temperature or conditions you can provide for your seedlings if you don’t have a heated propagator, then wait a few weeks before sowing your seeds.
So, to start your seeds off indoors, this is what you’ll need:
- Small pots
- Multi-purpose compost
- Something to press the compost down with, pressers, a glass, the base of another pot etc
- Heated propagator
- Bright windowsill
- Our Mini Essentials Tools are also perfect for a spot of indoor gardening
Once you have gathered everything together, then you are ready to sow.
- Fill the pot so that it’s slightly overflowing with compost, level it off with your hand so that you’ve got a nice level surface to sow on and give it a tap on the surface you’re working on.
- Use a presser, a glass or even just the base of another plant pot, to very lightly firm the compost down. You don’t want to compact it, but you want it to be firm-ish so that that the surface has a springy feel. Having a level surface to your compost makes it easier to space out your seeds.
- Sow the seeds evenly across the surface to give each seed the same amount of growing area and the same amount of light.
- Next, cover the seeds over with a light cover of compost. You can use a sieve if you want to, or simply do it by hand. Break up any lumps and crumble it over the pot with your fingers to make it nice and fine and get rid of any lumps as you go. Do this until you can no longer see the seedlings.
- Lightly firm it down and level it with another little tap.
- Give the pot a light watering just to moisten the compost, which will soak down into the pot very quickly.
- Don’t forget to label your pots!
- Place in your heated propagator to germinate.
- If the top starts to look a little dry, then mist it over to keep it nice and moist.
Then you just need to wait for those green shoots to break through the surface of the compost!
Be sure to subscribe to Pots & Trowels on YouTube and to follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for weekly practical videos all about gardening.