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Going to seed.

Byline: By Wales on Sunday

If you haven't decided what vegetables to grow this year, you need to get a move on. In mild areas, early sowings can be made directly into the ground now, but you need to wait a while if you live in a frost pocket.

In cold areas seed beds need to be covered with clear plastic sheeting or cloches for about a month prior to sowing to warm the soil.

The best way to judge if the conditions are suitable for spring sowing is to buy a soil thermometer, push it 2-4in into the soil every morning and once it has remained above 7C for a week, you should be safe to sow.

Prepare the seed bed using a garden fork to dig the soil, breaking up any large clods and picking out weeds, stones and other debris until you have a fine tilth.

You will benefit from adding some well rotted organic matter to the soil. The majority of leafy crops would benefit from some nitrogen fertiliser, as nitrogen is easily lost from the soil. If you are growing root vegetables or fruiting crops, go for a balanced fertiliser.

Outdoor sowings of early carrots, spring onion, peas, radishes, salad leaf, spinach and leaf beet can be done now, under cloches in colder areas.

Indoor sowings of summer cabbage and cauliflower, aubergine, peppers, leeks, lettuce and onion can also be made. Tomatoes can be sown for the greenhouse or for outdoors in milder areas.

Broad beans are one of the earliest vegetables to crop. Seeds sown in small pots in a cold frame or greenhouse should be ready to plant out once the soil is warm enough.

In mild areas, sow a quick-growing variety of carrot such as Early Nantes. They should be sown thinly in rows 6-inches apart, placing a seed every inch. They can then be repeat-sown at two-week intervals. Make sure you rid the soil of all stones or you'll end up with oddly shaped carrots.

Early peas such as Kelvedon Wonder can be sown in single rows, placed around 2-inches apart. If the soil is really wet, sow them in a length of plastic guttering filled with compost and keep them in a cold frame to germinate. Once they have germinated you can slip the entire contents, soil and all, into shallow trenches.

It's also time to start off celeriac in pots under glass in a heated greenhouse. Don't cover the seeds with compost but ensure they have a minimum temperature of 15C, which they need to germinate.

It's wise to lay down black plastic mulches for widely spaced crops such as marrows, cauliflowers, cabbages and Brussels sprouts. Use a knife to cut holes through the sheet and plant seedlings with a dibber.
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Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 21, 2004
Words:462
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