So What Now?
How many of us can’t seem to resist the urge to rip open a few packets of seeds we’ve had in an old wooden drawer somewhere and see if we have enough reason to get our hands dirty? We are amply vindicated to lay all the blame on the winter gloom stretching remorselessly from front horizon to back.
So if a few spare packets of seeds have got you all impatient, don’t worry, planting some varieties early will definitely pay dividends. Some crops just take longer than others and some green leaves are best served young and tender, picked straight off the stalk. Try some of these to fill idle hands and discerning palates.
First of all we should all agree how much better home-grown broad beans are compared to the tasteless excuses sold in stores. Broad beans are incredibly versatile, especially when you start mashing them after they’re cooked to add texture to pasta dishes or soups. They also make great snacks when roasted and rolled in a pinch of salt and paprika powder.
Broad beans revel in cold conditions. They can emerge, no problem, from soil no more than 2-3C. They actually flounder in summer heat. If you have a sheltered patch of free draining soil then you can risk them outdoors very early. They can stand the cold but not waterlogging, so keep an eye on drainage.
Just to be on the safe side, sow your seeds 2cm deep in pots and keep them in the greenhouse or under a cloche if the conditions are still freezing. You can make a second sowing directly in the ground by late Feb into March. This way you will stagger your harvest over a spring and early summer succession. Pinch out the shoot tips and eat them! This helps make the plant stronger and deters blackfly which you can contemplate while munching on a very healthy snack.
This basically covers a whole host of summer greens that can sprout green shoots early. These baby new shoots are not only delicious more nutritious due to all that youthful goodness. You won’t believe how addictive you will find them.
Pea shoots, radish greens, watercress, rocket, celery and nasturtiums are all equally packed with health and flavour. You will be experimenting with combinations and have home-grown designer salads in no time.
Just get together a seed tray, some seed compost, damp kitchen paper and a clear plastic lid and head to your favourite windowsill. Scatter the seeds onto the damp kitchen paper and very lightly cover with the soil. Use a fine mist spray every day to keep the soil just moist. You can scatter the seeds thickly if you have plenty of spare old surplus seed. The shoots will soon pop up and you’ll have a bed of indoor fresh green leaves to snip of and enjoy.
Pulling up baby carrots, no bigger than your finger, while all other plants are still hibernating below the frozen ground is an absolute joy. Make the most of pot planting some specialist cold weather varieties like ‘Amsterdam Forcing’ or ‘Early Nantes’ and you’ll soon have a crop of tasty miniature carrots that will feel like pure indulgence while the robins and blue tits scratch around for titbits.
I find that 30cm deep plastic crates lined with polythene work best. Multipurpose or growbag compost for filling the crate but save the top 5cm for seeding compost. Generously water and sow your seeds thinly across the top. Cover with vermiculite and try to maintain around 12C. A conservatory would be ideal.
Have a good look around for other hardy cold weather varieties that can be sown and grown through winter’s worst efforts. With a little TLC a new crop of shiny shoots may be quicker than you think. Try spring cabbages, baby turnips, mustard and rocket shoots and down-size your thinking of what a tasty salad can look like. Pumpkins, runner beans, sweetcorn and courgettes are firmly on the ‘don’t bother with until sowing outdoors’ list.