It was this time last year I was writing about waterlogged soil, and here we are again. Unprecedented rainfall and high winds wreaking havoc across the nation are hardly likely to encourage us to get out in the garden, but let’s look for a silver lining.
First, despite everything, spring bulbs are pushing up and flowering. In fact, although the winter’s been wet (something of an understatement), it’s been pretty mild. This week’s snows are the first real cold snap most of the country has seen, with the result that bulbs are getting underway slightly earlier than they usually would.
Second, with a bit of protection from a greenhouse, cold frame, cloche or inside on a sunny windowsill, there are things you can be growing now. Seeing the first blob of green breaking the surface of the compost in a seed tray – now that brings the hope of spring like nothing else. It’s easy to get carried away and want to sow everything – but it’s best to rein in that enthusiasm for a few more weeks. If you sowed all your seeds now they won’t get the light levels they need, and will grow thin and leggy (in the world of seedlings, unlike fashion, short and stocky is best) – a process called etiolation. Plus it’ll still be too cold, especially with the soil being so wet, to plant them out the requisite number of weeks after sowing.
So, don’t sow. But you can still get the seed packets out for things that you can grow all year round, like micro-leaf salad. Any salad leaf or greens seeds will do – lettuce, rocket, cut-and-come-again mixes, chard, spinach.
Fill a tray with compost, and give it a few taps on your worktop to shake out any big air pockets underneath the surface. You don’t need any specialist equipment here (not that seed trays are expensive in places like Wilkinsons) – save plastic veg trays from the shops. Water the compost so it’s moist all the way through, then sprinkle your seeds, quite densely, on top. Cover with a thin layer of compost then put it on a sunny windowsill. Keep the soil moist – a spray bottle is ideal – and you should have sprouting leaves in no time. Harvest them by snipping off with scissors at whatever size you like.
If you don’t have space for even a seed tray, what about sprouting seeds? All they require is a jar and a daily rinse of water. Specialist sprouting seed mixes are available, or mix your own – lentils, chickpeas, aduki, mung and alfafa beans are all a good base, radish and cress add a peppery hit.
Finally, you can make sure you’re organised and ready to strike as soon as spring arrives good and proper. Plan what you’re going to grow this year, mark up a diary with when you need to sow it, make sure you’ve got enough seed, sort your seed packets into sowing order. All jobs best done inside with a cup of tea! Another post on how to plan your plot coming soon – in the meantime (shameless plug alert), try my book!