Q&A: Sowing Seeds in Early Spring
Want to know more about sowing seeds early? Read my Q&A to find the answers to common questions about it!
I recently did a sowing of radishes in a growing frame outside. We have slightly more forgiving temperatures ahead of us and I thought it was time for a little experiment. Radish is not the best choice for winter sowings. The radish seeds germinate very quickly, even in very cold soil. But the plants are on the other hand not as cold-hardy as for example spinach, lettuce and kale. So, we need to make sure that the seedlings don't freeze if the temperature drops again. Let's see how it goes!
I recently asked some of my Swedish readers to send their most burning questions about the first sowings of the season. I hope that this Q&A can help my English-speaking audience too. Enjoy!
Q&A: Sowing Seeds Early
Mikaela: Can you tell me about your early sowings outdoors, what do you sow and how do you pick the vegetables? Do you have a plan for these projects already during fall?
This is a great question! Of course I make a plan for my growing spaces already in fall. This plan decides where I fertilize this time of the year and which beds I keep free of mulch. I often prepare a few raised beds and four large areas in the garden that I can use for winter sowings and early spring projects. I also make sure to have my greenhouses ready for winter sowings too. My favorite vegetable to winter sow is probably spinach. Lettuce, arugula, dill and spring carrots are a few of my other top choices.
Jane: I grow arugula in my polytunnel (in the UK) and I'm wondering if it's too soon to take them outside? They seem to be the right size.
It's difficult to determine the right time. It depends a bit on the weather and how sensitive your seedlings are. If you grow your plants in a polytunnel, then I assume that they can deal with the cold. But they most likely don't like freezing temperatures, snow and rain. You can always put a few plants outside to see how they react and then hold off on the rest until mid-March?
Kajsa: When should I put a lid on the frame?
I'm going to leave the sowing I did the other day without a little bit longer. Basically until I see that the soil is damp and the weather report shows warmer temperatures in the near future. I decided to sow radish (which can be sensitive to cold) here and the reason why I'm waiting a bit with the lid is that I don't want the seeds to germinate too soon. The other leafy greens are covered with a lid already now in late February. It doesn't matter if they germinate. Most of them will be just fine even if we have a cold spell.
Ann: What works best: Sowing in smaller containers with lids or directly in a growing frame with a plastic cover?
I think that it's very convenient to use the smaller plastic containers for the sowings that I plan on putting outside later. Then I use my raised beds and growing frames for the vegetables I sow and harvest right there. It's easier for me to move the plastic boxes around and put them in a warm and cozy spot. Of course, I can't really do it that with my raised beds. However, you can always start your plants in a raised bed/frame and then move them. Kale and lettuce are two examples.
Check out the clip below to learn more about winter sowings:
Therese: I noticed that you use a lot of natural fertilizers and green manure, but I was wondering if there are any products out there that you would recommend?
Questions about store-bought fertilizers are so tricky! My short answer is no. I don't really have any recommendations for the simple reason that I rarely buy my fertilizers from the store. So I don't actually know that much about them. If you want something that works quickly, my best tip is to just use urine as fertilizer when you sow seeds. You can also go for nettle water or other homemade liquid fertilizers in spring. I promise that the urine won't smell if you use it outside, especially since it's so diluted.
Lisa: What should I sow between my garlic bulbs in a growing frame or raised bed?
Something that grows quickly! Spinach or the De Dix Huit Jours radish work great. The latter is the fastest growing radish variety I know of. You can start harvesting it only 18 days after sowing.
Kristina: Can we sow bok choy in a growing frame in zone 3 already in February?
Bok choy is the perfect choice for a first crop in growing frame/raised bed. You can sow the seeds in rows or do broadcast seeding to harvest microgreens later. The light gets stronger very quickly in spring and your bok choy might bolt in May. But you can look forward to a nice harvest before that if you sow early of course.
Sarah: I've been overwintering leafy greens in a low polytunnel outside, where I also protect my plants with a row cover. Do I need to remove the snow on top of the tunnel to let the sunlight in?
How fun to see how the overwintering works! When the daylight gets stronger and we get warmer temperatures outside, the overwintered plants want to get access to as much light as possible. So, that's why you should remove the snow. Every layer of plastic and row cover blocks the sunlight, so this is a major factor if you want to give your seeds a good start. Watering is so important too, but when the soil isn't frozen of course. Condensation on the inside of the tunnel is going to help keep the soil damp, but you also need to lift the tunnel to water properly. Just make sure to wait for warmer temperatures. You don't want blocks of ice in your soil!
Malin: How can we protect the sowings in the best possible way?
I think it's important to protect the sowings in my garden from my cats. They love to dig in my beds. I often put a wire mesh panel on top when I'm sowing seeds. A row cover is another option. Row cover also helps raise the temperature a little, which might be exactly what the seedlings need to get going. You can of course use a lid for your growing frame.
Leonna: What are your best tips for sowing seeds during winter inside the polytunnel?
My best tip is to start sowing seeds in the greenhouse, as many as you can basically. This is the perfect spot for leafy greens, herbs and spices and radishes in early spring. Sow your seeds in blocks or rows, preferably in a way that you can make room for other plants around your earliest crops later. For example tomato. Don't be too cautious in the greenhouse! Try to sow seeds and plant early, just to test your garden and see what might work for you going forward. Watering, a nice air flow and fertilizers are important too of course.
Elisabet: Can I put sheep manure in my hotbed?
You can basically pick any type of manure for your hotbed. But this isn't the most important thing though. The material that you mix the manure with matters more. This is what develops the heat and "burns" in the hotbed. One example is straw. The heat builds very quickly if you use straw. Old leaves take a longer time but actually keep the heat going. It might be a bit tricky to build a hotbed with leaves or similar materials as a beginner. Straw is a much more common material. I think that straw, sheep manure and warm water mixed with a little bit of urine is the perfect foundation for any hotbed!
Annika: Can I put my frame on top of 3 ft (around 1 meter) snow, fill it with soil and grow there?
In theory, yes. But perhaps not in real life. The soil can start to fall out if the snow melts at an uneven pace or the frame gets wonky. Of course, you can always adjust the area as you go along. If you don't know what the area underneath the snow looks like, you might as well put a layer of newspapers (non-toxic ink) on the ground before you add your frame and start sowing seeds. This will stop weeds from growing there. Exciting!
I live in southern Sweden and I finally feel like spring's in the air. The snow is melting and the days keep getting longer! Didn't I hear a twitter of birds the other day? I think I saw some spring bulbs recently too! Growing is just the perfect way to meet the new season. I stay prepared and bring some seeds with me everywhere I go. After all, an early sowing can be harvested soon too! Good luck sowing seeds early this year!
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A beautiful Swedish cottage garden
Winter Gardening with Monty Don
Growing vegetables in compost
Mixed yellow bouquet