The Kitchen Garden . . . sowing the seeds of success
PUBLISHED: 10:27 03 March 2015 | UPDATED: 10:27 03 March 2015
March is my kick-off time for seed sowing indoors and out. The potting bench, with its gently warming propagating mat - best purchase ever - hastens germination by providing basal heat, and enables multiple seeds in modules and trays to burst through the soil.
Once shoots are seen, they can grow on in cooler conditions into strong, healthy seedlings.
Deciding what to grow is great fun, and if you organise your sowing year chronologically from March to October in packets in an old shoebox, you will always be ahead of the game.
Don’t go mad at the garden centre or with online seed specialists – grow what realistically you will eat, what other family members like and what will render you as organically self-sufficient as your gardening time allows.
What to grow
Grow the expensive to buy – Florence fennel bulbs are pricey yet delicious. Where can you source organic celeriac, parsnips, salsify and scorzonera? Grow plenty of the super food vegetables high in anti-oxidants for a year-round glow, with a good supply for juicing like kale, beetroot, spinach, broccoli and wheatgrass.
Grow with favoured culinary influences – citrus Kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, coriander, fiery bird’s eye chillies for Thai food lovers, bell peppers, aubergines, giant heirloom tomatoes and plenty of basil and rocket leaves for Mediterranean cooks.
Grow plenty for the leaner months of early spring through to May, aptly named the ‘hungry gap’. I grow more autumn and winter crops than spring and summer so I am never short of fantastic produce when temperatures and daylight hours dip.
Grow plenty to store. Soft neck garlic is the longer storer – up to six months. Search out the favoured varieties of squash and pumpkins for lengthy storage after harvesting in October. Main crop carrots and potatoes will see you through until late spring if dug-up and stored in a cool, dry place. Roots like beetroot, celeriac and salsify store well in slightly damp sand in a protected place. Try plenty of delicious legumes for drying like the stunning, pink speckled borlotti bean, or creamy, sweet cannellini, and all those vegetables that go into your favourite soups, ratatouille, passata sauce and winter tagines and stews. It’s reassuring to have them stashed away in the freezer, quick and easy for last minute meals.
Finally don’t neglect plenty of cut-and-come again crops, which are worth their weight in gold with two or three harvests from the same plant.
Choose carefully as certain varieties like certain seasons. Boltardy beetroot can be sown direct outdoors in March, whereas the golden type or pink and white stripy Chioggia prefer a later sowing. Look for AGM – the RHS’s Award of Garden Merit given to their tried and tested top growers. Check out their website (rhs.org.uk) for the varieties they rate, and search out the winning varieties.