All across the UK we’re getting glimpses of Spring with warmer, longer and sunnier days! In my previous blog I covered sowing seeds indoors and this time we’ll be looking at how to sow seeds directly outdoors.
Now’s the time to get ahead of the game when it comes to growing your own, so use the tips from this article to help you plant out some seeds now and you'll be able to reap the benefits later on in the growing season. Whether you’re blessed with a large garden and raised beds or you simply have a small balcony, I will cover exactly how you can grow a delicious variety of vegetables to nourish you later this year.
What is Direct Sowing?
Direct sowing is the act of sowing seeds directly into the soil in which they will grow for the entirety of their life cycle. This is different to the process of starting seedlings indoors in trays (check out my last blog for what to plant indoors in Feb/Mar).
Direct sowing is ideal for gardeners who do not have the space to propagate seeds indoors in trays. This method also makes it easy to plant seeds in neat rows, which helps us manage the plants and any weeds later in the season. Not all types of vegetables are suited to direct sowing. Those sown at this time of the year need to be hardy to withstand the potential frosts and shorter days.
For those which need a little extra protection we can plant them in trays or the ground, under a cloche or cold frame, this keeps the soil temperature a little bit warmer for certain crops like parsnips, carrots and summer cabbages.
How to sow your seeds outdoors
1. Find out what hardiness zone you live in
When it comes to direct sowing at this time of year, you want to make sure that you live in a ‘mild’ area, by this I mean the hardiness zone of the UK in which you live. It goes without saying different parts of the UK have different temperatures, here you can find what zone you live in. If it is any colder than 8b or 9a (H4) then it’s best to delay sowing outdoors until the temperatures warm up around April. You can also make more use of cloches and fleeces to keep seedlings warm.
2. Source your seeds and compost
Next you will need to source your seeds, you can order online from a multitude of suppliers, I find the variety on “realseeds.co.uk” is really good. Large hardware/gardening stores have a good variety of seeds too.
Any of the following can be sown directly now (March) in milder areas: beetroot, broad beans, carrots, kohlrabi, lettuce, leeks, onions, parsnips, peas, radish, spinach, summer cabbage, summer cauliflower, swiss chard and turnips.
You will also need a good quality compost. I find Melcourt’s Sylvagrow is a great all round compost. It is peat-free and will provide all of the nutrients your plants need. For planting into containers, you will find perlite or horticultural sand is worth getting too, it will improve the drainage of your compost.
3. Prepare your growing space
If you’re planting directly into a raised bed in the garden it is a good idea to mulch your patch with a liberal amount of quality compost. It is unnecessary to cultivate (or dig up your soil), this only disturbs and destroys the soil and its organisms by exposing them to oxygen and light. The natural process of plants roots growing and rotting will cultivate the soil for us, along with the efforts of earthworms and the billions of other soil biota in a healthy soil.
If you’re planting into plant pots/containers, ensure that you have sufficiently large and deep ones (around 25cm deep for most plants, although spinach and lettuce can grow in smaller pots).
This is especially important if you're growing plants with extensive rhizomes and roots like parsnips, carrots and turnips. Once you have some appropriately sized pots, fill them up with compost and some perlite/horticultural sand at a ratio of approximately 5:1.
4. Sow according to each plant’s needs
Top tip 1: use a ruler to make seed spacing easy!
Top tip 2: if you want to grow a great variety of these plants it’s worth investing in a few cloches and some horticultural fleece so your seedlings will survive the cold.
Beetroot (grows well in containers) Sow three seeds at 10cm spacings, 2.5cm deep. If planting multiple rows, space them 30cm apart. You can sow small batches from March to July every 2 weeks to get a constant supply of Beets! If you’re growing in containers choose one which is at least 25cm deep.
Broad beans (grows well in containers)
Sow seeds 5cm deep and 20cm apart. They are best planted in double rows, with the parallel rows planted 20cm from each other. Dwarf Varieties can be sown 15cm apart.
If planting in containers, only choose dwarf broad bean varieties.