Sowing seeds and growing your own vegetables is one of the most satisfying things you can do. A sowing plan will help organise your propagation and ensure seeds are sown at the right time, plants are strong and healthy, and you’re not having to bin straggly plants or lose out on harvests.
It often pays to be patient and not rush. You will see all over social media other gardeners sowing a plethora of seeds in January and it will be tempting to follow suit. However, unless you have heated indoor growing conditions, and most likely grow lights, then it might be futile to copy. Sowing plants too early when there is not enough light for them will cause seedlings to go leggy and this will leave them with weakened stems and more susceptible to pests and diseases. The best guidance for most gardeners is to be savvy and wait; January is always best left to planning rather than sowing.
Come the middle of February the seed sowing starts, but only under cover. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need a fancy greenhouse as simply starting seeds on a windowsill above a radiator can give them the light and heat they need to germinate. It is all about timing, especially if your plants are to be ultimately going outdoors as the aim is to have them ready when the last frosts are over.
The word timing is key when it comes to putting together a sowing plan. Work out when the plants need to be ready to go in the ground and then research to find out how long they should take to go from sowing the seed to big enough to plant out. That timing should factor how far ahead you sow the seed. Seed packets tend to show the ideal sowing dates undercover and outside for crops.
As the ground warms up outside this opens up the possibility for direct sowing outdoors as well as indoors. For some crops, you can do a combination of both, grow some earlier indoors and then sow later outdoors to extend the harvest season.
Another way to ensure a steady crop over an extended season is successional sowing. This means regular sowings a few weeks apart to get crops ready for harvesting in staggered stages over an extended period, and this tactic works perfectly with the likes of lettuces, radishes and beetroots. On any sowing plan, the same crop could appear multiple times at set intervals.
Successional is a term that can be used when it comes to planting as well as sowing. Successional planting means having a crop ready to go into a space after another crop is harvested. This is again where timing is key for planning this successfully, knowing when to sow something to be ready at the time the bed is going to be empty. You can either grow plants undercover in preparation to go in the cleared space or opt for potentially a simpler route of just identifying what quick-growing seeds you can directly sow in there.
It can get complicated as there are undoubtedly going to be periods where large numbers of seeds need sowing at the same time. Also, there will be the pricking out and any that were sown too early might need potting up again, which will add to your total compost cost. Direct sowing in the ground can be the most time-efficient way to sow come the busiest times, however, the results can be a bit more erratic. It all depends on the space you have to sow indoors, the time you can give, and your expectations. Everyone suffers failures and that is all part of the experience of growing your own food.
As part of a sowing plan, I also consider what container the seed is going to be sown into. Some go into trays to be pricked out (you can sow multiple different types in one tray to save space, as long as they are labelled well) and some go into transplant trays. These save time as the seedlings can be pushed out and planted into the ground straight from the tray – which makes it all the more important to get your timings right as any seedling won’t like sitting into the tray much longer than absolutely necessary.
When I put together a sowing plan I put a sowing date, how much to sow, the method of sowing, whether it’s a successional and also an estimated time of when I think the plants will be ready to be planted out. This might be a bit too much for you, but the main focus should definitely be on getting your seed sowing organised in date order.
Many magazines, gardening websites and seed companies will have guides to what needs to be planted each month and getting your seeds organised into monthly sowing order is a good start. A simple hand-written plan or folder to separate your packets into months can work for this. Depending on the intricacies of your plans, or your organisational nature, you could put together a spreadsheet and list things either monthly or weekly – that will help keep on top of successional sowing and planting.
For me, I do enjoy putting together a spreadsheet and that document often ends up grubby, covered in notes and looks in a sorry state come the end of my propagation season. But without it I would not be able to grow everything I do at work. Admittedly for the allotment, I was not quite as organised last year but this time around I vow to be more organised and do intend to at least have a monthly plan.
Whether you have a full plot to grow in, space in a garden, or just in pots, I definitely think it is a smart move to make a sowing plan for the year and fingers crossed you’ll reap the rewards with a year of great germination, strong plants and bountiful harvests.