The cold start to the year has left the greenhouse relatively empty of new inhabitants, as it should be, really, at this time of year. It has been very chilly, a proper winter, and there has even been snow on the roof of the greenhouse some days, but this is all to the good for the season to come, I hope. A mild February is seductive and not a bit treacherous. In a mild year we can feel that the days are lengthening and hear the birds starting to sing, and if the sun is shining too and the temperature is rising it can be hard to suppress the urge to get on with the growing year. Although we know in our heads that it is early, our hearts tell us that it is spring. We set about sowing with gusto and end up with a greenhouse full of tender plants during a cold snap at the end of March, and all of our efforts go to waste.
It seems a little crazy to be urging restraint now, when within a month it will be the opposite and we will all have to be all hands to the pump in order to get the spring sowing done, but urge I must. Helped by the weather, this is the time for thinking, planning and preparing, not too much doing. First things first is to make sure you have all of your seed ordered or bought. There has again been a big rush on seeds as people contemplate another year of spending lots of time In their homes and gardens, so if you haven’t got yours yet you need to get a scoot on. This is the time to buy seeds and also to order plug plants that will take a lot of the work out of propagating. I know that for so many people the propagation is a huge part of the fun and point of it all, but I have to admit that having now found a source of really good, large, well grown plants (Simpson’s Seeds, if you want to buy your own) I order a good few of the tender plants such as tomatoes and chillies in, and let the professional propagators take the early spring strain. It means that you pot up once, putting the plug plants into their final pots, rather than having to go from seed trays to small pots to large pots, and all of the work and potential neglect that that entails.
Which brings me to another part of the February preparation: equipment. Even with those tender plants taken care of elsewhere there will be lots of other sowings required, and that means compost, seed trays and pots of many sizes. In my case the pots are all there but I need to put aside some time during this colder weather to give them all a good scrub and to evict spiders and – more importantly – baby slugs hiding away in the crevices. And I need some fresh compost too, to get everything started off at a cracking pace. Some other things that I will always make sure to have to hand ready for spring sowing: some pieces of horticultural fleece, to throw over seedlings during cold snaps and during cold nights, and there are always plenty of them throughout spring; and seed labels and a good permanent pen, always needed in ridiculous quantities, I have never bought or made enough by the time spring rolls around. With all of this in place it should be a good spring. And getting everything ready will keep my hands busy and prevent me from getting to too many sowings before spring finally appears.