Today has come to be known as Sowing Sunday here at the Zia Maison. The Mediterranean vegetables that like a nice long season are sown today: tomatoes, aubergines, chillies, peppers, and also the first tranche of basil and lemon grass, if there is none left from last year (and there never is). It feels like the right time to sow all of these, although I have started tomatoes earlier and will sow another batch later – the first lot will hopefully begin to ripen before any blight strikes and the second wave can take advantage of an Indian summer, should we be lucky enough to have such a thing.
However, there’s nothing significant about the date except that it’s the Sunday at the end of half-term, which makes it easy to remember. Most of the packets for the seeds I used today say ‘Sow Feb-Mar’ or ‘Sow in early spring’ and it can be frustratingly difficult to know when the best time within that window might be. It’s not even so much about whether we’re under snow in February or enjoying early spring sunshine, since the seeds will all be sown in a heated propagator anyway. It’s more to do with what the weather will be doing in 4-6 weeks time, when the seedlings need potting up, on, or even outside altogether. Kept in tiny windowsill pots too long, they’ll grow leggy and weak; transplanted too late they won’t set fruit until late summer, but then again, plant out too soon and the cold nights could finish them off.
It’s no wonder gardeners have come up with some easy-to-remember traditions for sowing and planting. 'Plant garlic on the shortest day and harvest on the longest', for example. In truth, garlic will grow best if planted just before the temperature plummets towards zero for a 10-day chill … so, yes, just before Christmas seems like a good bet. Leeks should be transplanted on the longest day as well, apparently. Mine are usually more like blades of grass in mid-June, but the saying does serve to remind me that it’s a job moving inexorably towards the top of the to-do list.
It’s also traditional to plant potatoes over Easter weekend, which could make you a hostage to fortune given that Easter can fall at any time between late March (which would leave your spuds very vulnerable to frost) to late April (fine for maincrops, but cutting it fine for your earlies).