After a cold and dreary start to 2013, we are finally seeing a bit of sunshine. Most of us are behind in our gardening as until now the ground has been too cold and wet. Many plants can be started indoors by sowing in pots or module trays. These then can be protected from the cold and planted out when it warms up.
If you missed the boat on starting some plants indoors, luckily there is a wide choice of vegetables available as plug plants in garden centers and local markets. Vegetables such as those from the brassica family, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and kale as best planted this way. Lettuces, chard, spinach also do well planted as plugs. However, there are many vegetables that resent root disturbance, in particular those in the root group, carrots, parsnips, radishes, turnip, swede and beetroot, and these really need to be planted where they are to grow. Vegetables in the legume group, which include peas and beans are also not too fond of root disturbance. To get around this either sow direct into the bed or start them in guttering or module trays which have the least root disturbance when transplanting.
Ok, here is your guide to sowing directly into you beds outdoors.
1. The bed must be warm and not sticky or wet. Raised beds dry out and warm up quicker. To speed up the process, cover with clear or black plastic. Clear has an advantage which I will tell you about in tip 2... If your soil is heavy clay, then you will need to add a soil improver. Homemade compost or bought peat free loam based compost will also help.
2. The bed needs to be weed free. You may have dug it over and taken out the weeds. However, there are probably lots of weeds seeds just waiting for the right conditions to germinate. This is where your clear plastic comes in. Covering the soil to heat it up and letting light through also will encourage weed seeds to germinate...why do I want that I hear you ask. By doing this you can then hoe off the weed seedlings giving you a clean bed to start off your vegetable seeds. Not every weed seed will have germinated but it will reduce the amount you have to contend with after sowing.
3. Rake to a fine tilt. You want a nice friable crumbly surface. Larger damson sized clumps can be raked aside.
4. Use a straight piece of timber, a bamboo cane or a string line to mark out your drill. Check packets for row spacing, but usually rows are spaced about 12 inches apart. Use a hoe or hand trowel to draw the soil back to form the drill.
5. Using the spout of the watering can without the nozzel, water the row BEFORE you sow your seeds.
6. Sow seeds thinly and evenly according to the vegetable. Read packet for thining instructions. If seeds will be thinned to 4 inches apart, sow seeds every 2 inches. Being too heavy handed will create more work and waste your seed. I sow as if I am sprinkling salt, I feel I have more control over small seeds.
7. Cover in the drill. When the soil appears dry, water with a fine rose. Do not allow it to dry out as seeds will have sporadic germination.
8. If the weather is still cold, cover with horticultural fleece or a cloche, see pic below.
9. Hoe between rows to keep control of weeds. You will recognise which are your vegetable seedling once the row comes up, get rid of anything that doesn't look like them or grows outside the row.
10. Don't forget to thin to correct spacing, when true leaves appear. (Keep seed packets for instructions). Do not leave thinings lying around. For example, carrot thinings can attract carrot fly!