Sowing and planting too early in the year We can all get a little over excited when the new year comes around especially if, like now, we've had relatively warm Winter so far. We can all be guilty of a bit of wishful thinking and can easily convince ourselves that this year will continue warm unlike any other year gone by. It's a bit like how much we spend on outdoor furniture in this country, literally willing ourselves to be Mediterranean despite constant reminders to the contrary.
The Irish climate is also very different from the U.K. where the majority of seed packs come from. You will find the planting dates on U.K. seeds on the early side and this is because they tend to have an earlier, drier Spring. The ground will warm up quicker than in Ireland which makes it much more prudent for Irish gardeners to wait a while. You will also find that early sowing can be of very little benefit, you are exposing a young plant to cold, difficult conditions where growth will be slow and chances of failure will be high. As the weather warms plants grow quicker and you'll probably find the earlier and later sown seedlings will end up around the same size with the later ones likely to be more healthy. For most vegetables May is by far the best month for outdoor sowing or planting out.
Buy a diary and make a plan
Get yourself a diary this year if you haven't had one before. If you want to improve your vegetable gardening you need to keep track of what you've done in the garden. Keep a note of varieties, planting times, weather conditions etc.... You might think it'll be a chore but actually it's good fun. Stick in seed packs and odds and ends to make it a bit of a project, I guarantee you'll be happy you did when it's time to go again next year.
It is also well worth making a plan of your vegetable garden now as you are much more likely to achieve your full goal for the year. I find a plan particularly handy at this time of year when I am feeding my soil as different crops have different requirements. It can be wasteful to treat the whole garden in the same way when it comes to feeding the soil; for example high nitrogen amendments like manure will be great for cabbage family plants but will be wasted and even detrimental to crops like carrots and parsnips. A simple plan means you can think ahead and adjust your soil accordingly to suit the variety of vegetables you wish to grow.
The 2016 IONA seed range is out now and the new range of seeds is now on the Quickcrop website. As before all seeds have been carefully selected with particular attention to the Irish climate. We had some great feedback from last year with gardeners finally conquering tricky crops like cauliflower and brussels sprouts. It really is all about the variety and although we don't carry the huge ranges of many other seed companies we know if you try our select recommendations you'll find a notable difference in your successes.
Now is the time to allow yourself to dream a little and imagine the vibrant colours and delicious taste of things to come.
Sow onions in late January
Onion sets are an easy way to grow onions but you can have a go at growing from seed in January. Generally you'll have much more choice in seed than sets if you're really interested in onions. You can start them in late January but will need a propagator and warm bright area to get them going.
Onions sown from seed are less likely to bolt that varieties grown from sets so they can be worthwhile growing if Spring temperatures look like they might be erratic. Onions are biennial meaning they have a two year growth cycle before they flower or 'go to seed'. Onion sets are immature onions grown the previous year and can be fooled into thinking another year has passed if spring temperatures start off warm but change to a period of cold in early Spring. If you grow onions from seed this is less likely to be a problem.
Plastic bottles from Christmas
Get organised for the spring and start collecting plastic bottles for cloches. The sawn-off plastic bottles will protect individual young plants from slug damage and get many plants off to a quick start.
When you’ve got your seed potatoes, set them in a light, cool, frost-free spot and leave them to sprout. This is known as chitting and will give your potatoes a head start. Egg boxes make good chitting trays so start saving them now. Make sure you put the tubers with the 'eye' end - where the sprouts will grow from -upwards. Avoid an area that is too warm (a windowsill in a centrally heated room will be too warm) or the sprouts will be long and weak and will break off when planted. Ideally you want the sprouts to be stubby and green.
If you're not ready to start chitting (we recommend the beginning of February) store your seed potatoes in a cool frost free place as above but keep them away from the light.
Plant garlic Garlic needs a period of cold weather for the cloves to split and form a new garlic bulb. We have many varieties recommended for spring sowing including 'Tuscany Wight' and 'Solent Wight'.
Plant Rhubarb. You still time to put in some rhubarb. We still have some Timperely Early left which is one of the best all round varieties. We recommend planting this year and leaving it alone to get a delicious harvest next year.
Seed Germination test Before buying new seed, check through seed packets left over from last year to see what you can use to sow next season. Apart from parsnips, most seed will keep for at least a year; it will last a lot longer if the seed has been kept in a cool, dry spot. If you are unsure about a batch of seed, sprinkle a few on a piece of damp kitchen paper and see how well they germinate.
Using a heated propagator If you want to get some seedlings growing early you'll need a little heat to get you going. Be careful when growing early seedlings that you don't give them too much heat and not enough light. Remember the plants really need the heat to germinate but don't need that much to grow. If the seedling has too much heat but not enough light it will become tall, weak and leggy. Light levels are low with short daylight hours this time of year so you really need to get them out of the propagator and onto a window sill or into a greenhouse or tunnel as soon as you can.