IT’s a new month, the days are lengthening and it’s time to get your seed trays, propagators out and buy seed and cutting compost.
Seed sowing doesn’t really get going until next month, but there are several plants that will benefit from an early start.
I didn’t sow my castor oil plant (Ricinus Impala) until March last year and although the gorgeous red leaves looked great in the borders, they didn’t reach the 5ft in height I’d hoped for.
After seeing Carol Klein sow hers in January and planting them out in late May at about 4ft high, I saw where I’d gone wrong. They really need the extra frost-free time to get to a decent size.
They’ve been sown singly in 3” pots, sealed in plastic bags and put in the electric propagator at about 70degrees.
Joining them there are sweet pea White Supreme. Now there’s much debate about how and when to sow them. You don’t have to sow them this early, yu can hang on a bit. Some people start them off in the autumn and overwinter them in cold frames, some sow them direct outside when the soil’s warmed up.
Some people soak the seeds in warm water overnight, others swear by filing one side with a nail file and yet others do nothing.
I can honestly say I’ve tried all methods and the only one that hasn’t worked was direct sowing outside - but it was a chilly, damp spring.
They’ve gone in a mix of empty loo roll tubes, tied together with string and three seeds sown in a tall family yoghurt pot.
They too are sealed in transparent plastic bags (large, cheap freezer bags are the best) and put in the propagator.
One vegetable you can start off now without heat are broad beans. This year I’ve gone for the old favourite The Sutton, a dwarf variety that still produces a heavy crop.
I sowed a third of the packet, two per large yoghurt pot. They will stay in the conservatory to be hardened off in the cold frame and planted out later in the spring.
The other two-thirds will also be sown in pots, 14-21 days apart, to give successional harvests.
So that’s the heated propagators filled up, what with the lily scales still taking up room.
Luckily it’s my birthday on February 8 and i’ve asked for a seriously big thermostatically-controlled one...