There are all sorts of things that can be sown in February, including brassicas of various kinds, broad beans, hardy lettuces, and artichokes. Many seeds will germinate at temperatures of 5°C and above. Cold, wet soil, though, is not the place to do it. With some undercover space, the temperature will be better, so germination markedly improved in both reliability and speed, and the compost can be kept at a more suitable moisture level, so that seed or seedlings do not sit in the soil and rot before they can get started properly.
At the moment, we do most of our propagation in the polytunnel on a couple of folding benches attached to the framework. There we have two large heated propagators, which we use for those seeds requiring more warmth to germinate, such as chillies and tomatoes. We made use of one of these to provide a little extra protection for the new sowings, but without using the heater. Even with the current cold spell, the seeds should be happy enough with this double layer of protection. With any early sowing one must be prepared for some failures, but in any case this week was just the first of the succession of sowings that will be needed over the next few months to provide a continuity of supply through late spring and into summer.
Amongst those seeds that are suitable for sowing at this time of year we started some cabbages – Durham Early, Copenhagen Market, and Red Drumhead; cauliflower Snowball; broad bean Masterpiece Green Longpod; lettuce Merveille des Quatre Saisons; and artichoke Violet de Provence. The brassicas were sown in large modules, a couple of seeds per cell, which will be thinned to a single seedling when large enough to handle. The beans, lettuce, and artichoke were sown in small pots, as they may be there until reasonable sized young plants have developed.
Then there were seeds that have admittedly been sown earlier than is generally recommended. This included a few rows of turnip Purple Top Milan directly in the polytunnel bed; kale Dwarf Green Curled; spinach Viroflay; and pea Hurst Greenshaft, sown in a couple of lengths of gutter. These are probably better sown next month. Two particularly early sowings, that ought to wait until April, are chard Fordhook Giant and endive Pancalieri. Sometimes early sowings do not pay off; the plants can struggle and may be more prone to bolting and later sowings often catch up and overtake, having been sown under better conditions and without checks in growth that the earlier sowings are likely to experience. On the other hand, for just a few seeds one can sometimes get an earlier crop; it is not much to risk. Most of this week’s sowings will be planted into the polytunnel beds, where they will give us the first greens of the year. Another sowing of similar crops will follow after around three weeks.