It may bea shitty, cold, wet day but that should not stop us from getting lots of stuff going for planting out in May when all danger of frost is past. At the weekend I sowed runner beans – an HSL black-seeded variety called Meesna, Borlotto climbing French beans and Ryder top of the Pole, all from seed I have saved in previous years. I sowed seed individually into root trainers and put on the greenhouse shelf to germinate. I already have squash, courgettes and cucumbers growing on in the greenhouse, but it is not too late to sow seed of these vegetables now. Being lucky enough to have several greenhouses and polytunnels to grow crops in, right now it is gratifying to see early potatoes making good growth, broad beans flowering and setting freely – helped by an army of bumble bees – and peas swelling in their pods.

I transplanted sweetcorn into one of my polytunnels which should be ready to eat in July. I will sow a second crop next week to give me cobs in August. Again using root trainers and the greenhouse so the plants will be hardened off and ready to plant outside at the end of May. If you have got room in your greenhouse border or polytunnel then sowing carrots, beetroot, salad crops including radish, rocket , spinach and lettuce in early February promises crops throughout the spring.

If you haven’t got salad crops on the go start now outside and continue to sow a pinch of lettuce seed every couple of weeks for the next few months to give a constant supply of leaves into winter. Now is also an excellent time to plant up your main-crop of potatoes. Plant 30cms apart in rows 75cms apart using a dibber to make a deep hole so the tuber is at least 10cms below the surface. As the shoots appear in a few weeks time earth up to protect from frost and encourage a bigger yield.


I have had some success growing sweet potatoes through black polythene in a polytunnel. Last year I found mice also liked my crop and I had to remove a number of very lovely nests and badly nibbled tubers. But even in April I have some of last year’s crop to finish eating. Sweet potatoes are magnificent keepers if they are cured properly after harvest. To do this I put them in trays in the airing cupboard for about ten days!

For reasons I do not understand other than profit, buying sweet potato ‘slips’ for planting up in May can set you back a small fortune – at least £1.50 per plant. so, I prefer to grow my own slips using some of last year’s crop. Avoid trying with commercial tubers as these are often treated with a sprouting suppressant and, unless grown in the UK, can struggle in our climate.  There are many modern cultivars of variable quality sold by seed companies.  Beauregard is my favourite with a deliciously sweet orange flesh. Last year I dug just over 20 kilos from six plants.

In late February either fill a large plastic container or a polythene bag with damp sand, put it in a cardboard box to keep its shape and bury two or three medium-sized tubers about two inches deep. Put the box in the airing cupboard if you have one, otherwise the warmest place in your home – I use a cupboard above the stove – as sweet potatoes need a temperature of at least 22 degrees to sprout.  Check regularly.and after three or four weeks the first sprouts will emerge.  Make sure sure the sand doesn’t dry out. At first a few fibrous roots can appear on the surface but then the first shoots stuck their noses up and now the tubers need to be moved to the sunniest part of your home.  If this gets cool in the evening move the plants at night to a warm place., although any warm spot in the house is fine.

Towards the end of March lift the tubers and select the longest and strongest shoots which should be removed from the mother tuber.  I like to leave a small amount of tuber on the slip as it provides nourishment whilst the slips are starting to establish.  If there is good evidence of young roots growing from the stems, plant the slips up to their first leaves in potting compost mixed with some sharp sand. Alternatively put the slips in a jar of water so most of the stems are covered  and after a few days roots will appear.  These slips can then be potted on.  I like to keep the plants on a sunny windowsill in the house for a week or so because the night temperature is greater than my greenhouse.   The slips in the following image are of another purple-skinned variety I was given which are native to the Atacama desert in Chile.

By mid April the plants are ready to grow on in my greenhouse where they should stay until mid May when I plant them through polythene in a polytunnel about 30 cms. apart.

It is important not to plant out to early as sweet potatoes do not like cool weather!

Sweet potatoes plants will grow to a huge size so be prepared to create a jungle!I have also grown them in a cloche with good results.

They should be ready to harvest in late October.  Frost or cold nights will kill off teh haulm.  Collect up the tubers which can grow to a great depth, brush off any soil and spread out in a box to dry and cure.  I leave mine in the boiler house for at least ten days, although an airing cupboard is ideal.  They should stor until April and I find the flavour improves with keeping.


In the last month I have not been idle.  Despite a very unplesant cold snap in February I have been able to keep on top of my sowing schedule and hope that you all will now be limbering up to get a load of veggies going if you haven’t started already.

I started a second sowing of onion seed in mid-February.  It is certainly fine to sow more now.  I like Franchi Seeds who sell large packets of seed for a fraction of the price of their competitors.  I like to grow red onions which are as a easy to grow as white ones, but, for reasons I cannot understand, cost twice as much in the shops!  Try Rossa Lunga di Firenze.  I also planted a Dutch variety of shallot called Ouddorpse Bruin given to me by a fellow vegaholic.  Due to problems last year with white rot on the allotment I am growing alliums now on a new plot I have been given nearby which hasn’t had alliums on it for many years.  I also planted out a brilliant garlic, Solent Whight.  Highly recommended.  Just yesterday I saw shallots, onion sets and garlic for sale in a garden centre, so there is still time to get these in the ground.

By the end of February my tomato seedlings were reay to be transplanted into 3-inch pots.  I also transplanted the Syrian mini broad-beans I sowed a month ago into the allotment under a cloche.  I also transplanted under bell-cloches some rather pathetic cauliflower plants, All The Year Round, which I had been overwintering in the greenhouse.  The seed of the same variety I sowed at the end of January are growing well and are now hardening off in a cold-frame.  I will be interested to see how the two crops perform.

I also sowed a quantity of my favourite broad bean, Bowlands Beauty, into my new plot in a rasied bed which had a foot of wonderful compost added.

In the last couple of days I have sown more lettuce, Little Gem and an HSL variety, Brown Bath Cos.  If you want to have a continual supply of lettuce througout the year successional sowing is essential.  I have lettuce seedlings in a polytunnel which I will transplant in a coule of weeks’ time.  My over-wintered lettuce in the polytunnels are almost ready now that the endive and radicchio on the allotment are all but finished.  I will sow more lettuce later in March – just a pinch of seed at a time.

Now too is a good time to start off a few leeks in pots in the greenhouse or on a sunny windowsill.  And today was a bit of a marathon as I sowed parsnip, spring onions and radish on the allotment under cloches and in the  greeenhouse, fennel, celeriac and artichoke in modules in the propagator.  I also sowed some patio tomatoes, Tumbler To and Maskotka, which will be planted up finally into hanging baskets in late April.  And finally I sowed a nice purple-flowered climbing French bean called Cobra which gives a good crop of green beans and a yellow wax bean called Gialli.  These will be planted out in a polytunnel for an early crop at the end of March or in early April along with sweetcorn.

With sowing over it was time to pot up some chillies and spend a considerable amount of time reconfiguring everything to fit in the greenhouse!


With sowing over it was time to pot up some chillies


I am a passionate believer in the virtues of polytunnels. If you have the space they provide a far cheaper alternative to a greenhouse and will extend the growing season dramatically. I am fortunate to have three of them; two which are 30 feet long by fourteen feet wide and one which is ten feet wide by 15 feet long. This gives me the best part of 1000 square feet to grow in.

Succession is very important to get the most out of one’s polytunnels. In late Februaruy I will plant new potatoes. In March I will be planting up French beans and sweet corn. I use these poltytunnels to grow crops in isolation for seed so this year i will also be sowing Stenner runner bean as I have very little stock of this magnificent variety and in another polytunnel I will grow climbing beans.

Come June things can get a bit crowded as you can see!

Squash and sweet corn do particularly well


As we enter the last week of January I get very itchy fingers and the urge to sow becomes all consuming.  So today I set the thermostat in the propagator in my greenhouse to 24 degrees, mixed a load of seed compost (3 parts John Innes soilless seed compost with one part low peat multi-purpose), selected my seeds, prepared some trays, loo-rolls and root-trainers and got to work.

This year I will be growing fewer new varieties of tomato and capsicum, concentrating on some old favourites and grwoing for fresh supplies of seed.  So, I sowed into four inch pots a sprinkling each of these tomatoes; Nello’s Plum, an heirloom Italian tomato from Tuscany; Washington Cottage, an escapee from a US research centre which yields an abundance of small super-sweet fruit; Sungold, a popular yellow and very sweet cherry tomato; Small Red Pear, a gift from an HSL seed guardian which produces bunches of long trusses of tiny fruit and a local variety of Syrian indertimante that I am intrigued to see how it will turn out.

I sowed eight varieties of capsicum – Ukraine, one of my favourie discoveries which I have been growing for the last 25 years, having discovered this hot, sweet, three-lobed pepper in a market in Donetsk.  This year I am growing from seed saved in 2003 inorder to refresh the supply; a long Syrian chilli from a local seed supplier – Future Seeds – simply called Flefleh; another sweet pepper with a rugged shape simply called Flefleh Helweh; a hot sweet small pepper from Syria given to me by a local farmer; a small sweet pepper from Tobago, originally collected by my dentist’s husband; Pasilla Bajo, a south American hot sweet paprika type which is a deep chocolate colour and one of my favourite sweet chilli peppers I found many years ago in the Moroccan desert I simply call Morocco.

I also sowed some Up to Date onion seed that I had saved in 2010 and a very exciting broad bean I found in a market in Damascus.  These I sowed individuallu into loo-roll centres and put onto teh greenhouse floor.  I call it mini because it is grown specifically to be eaten as an immature bean pod.  I ate  this bean many times when I was in Syria in March 2011 and found them utterly delicious.  Finally I sowed in root trainers two varieties of early summer cabbage, Greyhound and an F1 variety Sherwood, which I am trying for the first time from D.T. Brown.  I also sowed the cauliflower All The Year round and the magnificent perpetually flowering hybrid broccoli Olympia.

It was a busy day today because I also recorded a number of videos which I hope to have on the site in the next few days.


The last few days have been hectic and very rewarding.  Now is one of the sweetest times for a vegaholic as we can see spring is well on her way, the ground is warming up and there are a whole host of seeds to sow, plants to pot up, pot on and put out.

BUYING SEEDS: Although I save seed of about half of all the vegetables I grow, there are many, like roots and salad crops and especially hybrid seeds which I buy.  I am enraged at the cost of seed in the UK.  Compare a packet of seed from any of the main suppliers here with what you can buy from say the Italian seeds people Franchi and you might share my view.  However, sowing just the right amount of seed means one can get best value from a packet and properly stored, most seed will remain viable for years.

SOWING SEEDS: By far the most expensive seeds are those of F1 hybrid varieties.  Recently I bought a packet of broccoli seed called Olympia which contained just 24 seeds.  I sowed 2 into twelve small pots and they all germinated, so I transplanted the duplicates into twelve more pots.  I nly wanted twelve for my allotment so the other twelve are now in the hands of a couple of gardeners in the village.  There are two lessons from this experience.  Firstly, only sow enough seed to give you the quantity of plants you can comfortably eat as they come to maturity.  Crops like broccoli, calabrese and cauliflowers are in thehabit of maturing all at thesame time.  For me, even twelve of any variety is probably six too many.  With just two mouths to feed most of the time I know that over a three or four-week cropping period I will only really want to heads of broccoli for example per week.  The second lesson is to only sow one seed per pot of Olymia next time!

I am sure seed companies just love us to sow too thikly and too many and to buy fresh seeds every year.  But a packet of lettuce seed which contains 300 seeds will give you, as near as damnit, 300 lettuce to eat.  Sowing at monthly intervals through the season, maybe just a two-foot row of something like Little Gem means there are four or fiveto be left to grow on and maybe a dozen to transplant.  the transplants will mature a few days later than those left in the ground.  Sow the lettuce seed individually at one-inch (25mm) intervals.  The two-foot row will yield up to 24 plants, so even with this method you will end up either giving a few seedlings away or chucking them on thecompost heap.  But for a family of four, that packet of lettuce seed should last you at least two or three growing seasons. Small seeds like carrot should be sown as thinly as possible.  certainly no more less half an inch (12mm) apart.  Ditto radish, which can be thinned and eaten as you go.  Beetroot is another vegetable that should be sown very thinly and in short rows.  A 2-metre row will yield at least 40 beetroot and the seedlings can be transplanted when they have four true leaves.  Parsnip are slow to germinate and require warm ground, so starting them under a cloche is a good diea.  I put three seed at 6 inch (15cm) spacing and this out the two weakest seedlings.  Parsnips can grow very large – see my intro video – so just how many does the average family need through the winter.  I always grow too many – that is an five-metre row.  But many are given away.  If I was just to grow for Julia and myself then perhaps twent roots would be enough – a ten-foot (3 metre) row.  Parsnip seed have a reputation for not storing well.  This year I sowed  the last of a packet of seed I bought in 2009and every seed germinated!

Soon it will be timeto sow beans of all sorts – Runner Beans, dwarf and climbing French beans. But how many to sow?  Too often come August the world and her husband are giving away their gluts.Sensibly, a family of four can feast on 10-foot row of kidney beans and still have plenty for the freezer and to give away.  I only grow a one-metre row of kidney beans, but beans for drying I want lots of so up to ten metres or more of Borlotto or Ryder’s Top of the Pole for me!  Peas are another crop I can never have too much of.  The siurplus end upin teh freezer for consumption as a winter treat.

KEEPING SEED SAFE:  The best way to keep seed so they remain viable for several years is to store them in an airtight box or jars in the fridge.

Enjoy your gardening and see how much money you can save on seeds by a judicious use of this precious resource.