When to start sowing?

At this time of year there is always lots of talk on social media about ‘when to start sowing”. If this is your first year growing veg it can be VERY confusing. There is guidance on the back of seed packets, but even this can be a very wide range of times! Kitchen gardeners are a very passionate bunch and we just want to get going. However starting very early usually isn’t the best approach!

Here I discuss our planning schedule for the year to give you an example of a working plan to manage a vegetable garden.

The first thing to note that is most of the UK is a pretty cold climate and vegetable plants are (mainly) summer crops. You can grow vegetables out of the main growing season (the Victorian’s were very good at this!), but generally people who start very early crops are quite experienced. They are pushing the boundaries to see what they can do. I am not saying it can’t be done, but for the amount of effort to keep things healthy is huge and (often) the difference in cropping time is small. Plants are great at just cropping when they wish. If your plants are too cold they will just sulk. Plants sown too early can become weak, or end up too leggy reaching for light and die when transplanted out. As most vegetable crops are not frost hardy they can’t go out until after the last frosts. Here in Manchester that is about the second week in May. You don’t want to have to manage loads of massive plants too early with nowhere for them to go.

The best advice I was given as a newbie was to concentrate on preparing your growing area for spring. Late autumn and winter is precious time for structural projects, organising and clearing. Come spring, it is plant plant plant! You can see our layout for 2020 here.

Whether you are choosing to dig or going no dig spend you time getting things ready. You will have a much better chance of success with a tidier plot than having overgrown weak plants and a weedy growing area come May. Really it is better to plant late than early as crops catch up very quickly.

Composting, seating areas, storage etc. If you want to change the layout or do significant structural projects then do them now! You won’t have time later on!

There are a few crops that you can start at the beginning of the year like chillies from seed etc, but you need the right conditions.

We plant very little until March and most crops are started in April-May. I have found it useful to put together my own schedule to cover the main crops that we grow. I have also included some of the important jobs such as pruning, pest control and structural maintenance.

This plan is for every month/every 2 weeks in the main planting season. There is still quite a bit of flexibility. These are the earliest times I plant to – often I run at 1-2 weeks behind on many of these jobs!

Hold back on the planting just yet!

Click here to view a large image of the plan