Summer seed sowing

Posted: Monday 6 August 2012
by Adam Pasco

This is the first year I can recall when it's been almost impossible to sow outdoor crops directly into a well-prepared seedbed.

Close-up of a gardener sowing salad seeds in a modular tray

This is the first year I can recall when it's been almost impossible to sow outdoor crops directly into a well-prepared seedbed. Gardening books offer well rehearsed advice about preparing soil for sowing – lightly forking over an area to remove weeds and stones, mixing in a little compost, then raking level to leave a light and crumby 'tilth' on the surface to sow into. In an ideal world that would be just fine, but as we all know, 2012 isn't turning out to be very 'ideal', is it?

I've been waiting since April for a period of a few dry days long enough for surface soil to dry out, but it just hasn't happened. While I have managed to sow crops with large seeds, like peas and beans, directly outside, I just haven't risked it with finer seeds like salads and carrots.

My soil is slightly on the heavy side, containing a good proportion of clay, so it's been impossible to crumble soil to cover seeds thinly to a shallow depth. Heavy rains have then given the area a pounding, washing away a river of soil and seeds, and nothing has germinated. Temperatures have also been much cooler than would be expected for that time of year.

And all this started, if my memory serves me right, just after April 5th, when drought orders and hosepipe bans were introduced across wide swathes of the country!

The solution has been to raise vegetable plants in modular trays, keep in the greenhouse to provide protection and warmth. Robust and well-rooted young seedlings have then been planted directly outside into moist soil (provided it hasn't been waterlogged).

I'm no weather forecaster, so I'll be continuing to raise vegetables and herbs in this way during August to provide crops for picking through autumn and winter, and even into spring. Things to sow in modular trays now include:

  • Lettuce and salad leaves – I love the cut-and-come-again varieties that provide pickings over a long period
  • Rocket
  • Raddichio and chicory
  • Mizuna – a useful hardy member of the Brassica family for both baby leaves and winter pickings to add to stir fries
  • Spinach, beetroot and turnip – mainly for baby leaves
  • Corn salad and land cress – both hardy enough to continue cropping through winter
  • Pak Choi, Chinese cabbage and other oriental leaves
  • Spring cabbage
  • Hardy spring onions to stay in the ground over winter and provide spring pickings, like 'White Lisbon'
  • Herbs like parsley and coriander

Cloches have also come in useful during these conditions, covering areas to keep them dry before sowing and protecting them afterwards.

I can't say 2012 has turned out to be a vintage year, unless you take a lot of water with your wine that is!

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