9 Jan 2021

Sowing seeds in January

A jumble of seed packets
The cull. Most are only just 'out of date' .. but perhaps good enough for micro leaves?

With the start of a new year heralding a third lockdown, the arrival of seed catalogues is especially welcome, steering my thoughts away from grey sleet-filled skies towards the colourful harvests of spring and summer. And with the itch to hurtle towards spring and embrace the new growing year, it’s exciting to discover a number of crops that can be started off this month. 

Aaahh, that's better. 

While I still have a few winter crops to pick from in the veg patch (kales, chard, purple sprouting broccoli, brussels and hardy herbs), and usually rest on my laurels in January, I learnt my lesson last year about getting my seed order sorted and starting off seeds in a timely fashion.  Now is the winter of our discontent ... ahem, apologies ... no, now is the time to think about early crops and plants needing a longer growing season. 

I’m pleasantly surprised as to what I can be sowing this month, obviously both indoors and with the safety net of living in the more temperate urban environment of north London. In a colder area I definitely wouldn’t start sowing this early and, in truth, this is a bit of an experiment given the lower light levels inside my home. Then again, "why not?" I thought. 

It is, of course, too cold to expect seeds to germinate outside - they need a minimum soil temperature of 5°C - but it is very possible to start off a few seeds indoors or under cover and then plant out in a few weeks under fleece for protection against frost.

I choose my spot carefully for indoor growing. I have a lot in common with my indoor plants - a low tolerance for being either too hot or too cold and I love a bit of fresh air. So no sitting seedlings on top of radiators please! (Or behind a curtain on a chilly windowsill overnight.) I’m tempted to buy a small heated propagator to take the guesswork out and have considered getting some grow lights in the past (but didn’t) but where would be the fun in that. No, I shall soldier on with what I’ve got.

 Experience has taught me that I have all I need to start plants off ... seed trays, plastic covers,  a bright windowsill, an unheated greenhouse, (the small plastic one that I have in my sheltered salad garden) and a roll of fleece for protection, 

So, which seeds will I be sowing in the next couple of weeks when the air temperature is forecast to be a balmy 8°C? 

  • Chillies. These need a long growing season and, when a good size is reached, will eventually be moved to the little greenhouse.
  • Aubergines. Same as chillies
  • Kales such as Cavolo Nero (my favourite) 
  • Broccoli raab. A fast growing vegetable that has piqued my curiosity in past years. 8-9 weeks growing time from planting out? Yes please. This year I’ll find space to try this.
  • Broad beans. In autumn 2019 I experimented with sowing Superaquadulce seeds and growing the plants on through winter but the results weren’t worth it. This year I’m returning to my favourite Karmazyn spring sown beans because the taste is just so much better.
  • Baby leaves for salads and sandwiches. I have seeds for winter lettuce and super hardy winter greens; these are supposed to be sown in late autumn for a winter crop, but the urge to grow is strong. My thoughts? Why not try sowing into a shallow covered tray of compost and see what happens?  Otherwise oriental greens such as mizuna, komatsuna, mustard greens and Pak Choi are hardy little souls, plus peas for pea shoots - which leads me onto ...
  • Early peas (the smooth round seeded type) can be started off in modules. Outside, the seeds will just provide a tasty snack for mice. By the end of April I hope to be picking fresh peas from the garden. 
  • And their scented  cousins, sweet peas. No, I haven’t started mine yet, and didn’t get round to sweet peas at all last year so missed those frothy blooms come summer. Definitely one to remedy this year.
One last thing ... for sowing seeds indoors, I always bring the compost in a day ahead so that it warms up to room temperature. Obvious perhaps, but it makes a difference to germination times.  

So, anyone else starting off a few seeds this month? 


  1. Good to be looking forward to summer. I will go out in my garden and get started this week.

    1. Hope the weather is kind to you when you do! There's not a lot that can be done outside in January but even a bit of tidying will help.

  2. What about alliums? Leeks and onions and shallots from seed (yes, shallots from seed!) are all on my list for January indoor sowing, to plant out later outdoors.

    1. Ah, yes, Alliums! I have shallots on my seed list but will wait to see if I have room to grow some - the ever present problem of too much choice and not enough space. I may have to forego a few flowers in favour of food this year!

  3. I don't like to do a lot of early sowing as most things seem to catch up later, but now you've mentioned it I might put chilis on my window sill. I presume peppers would be a similar proposition? They often are just getting going at the end of the season.

    1. Seeds do catch up as they respond to daylight levels, and growers who have enough space will use early and late sowings to grow several crops. But, like you, I usually sow chillies along with tomatoes, etc, around early March and wait in frustration as the fruit ripens too slowly. This year I'm hoping an early sowing will give me bumper harvests. And yes, peppers will be a similar proposition as they also need a long growing season. Give it a try and good luck!

  4. I'll be interested in seeing how your seeds get on. I'll be starting to sow a few at the end of the month.xxx

    1. That sounds like a good plan, Dina - If you have somewhere warm and light for your seeds, go for it! I'm hoping that an early start will give time for chillies, etc, to ripen this year! hope you're well? xx

  5. Yes all good here. I hope all is well with you and yours.xxx


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