Early starters

Is there anything to be gained by being an eager beaver on the veg patch? Well, if you can supply your crops with the right growing conditions, then the answer is a definite yes. They key here is to focus solely on the crops that revel in an early start: first early potatoes, super-hot chillies and hardy peas and broad beans. Leave the likes of courgettes, sweetcorn and runner beans in their seed packets for a few weeks more at least. Ample light is also crucial – even the hardiest of crops will become lanky, weak and disease-prone if they’re grown in dimly lit conditions. There’s never been a better reason to scrub greenhouse, conservatory and cold frame glass with warm, soapy water.

Young girl holding llek seeds before sowing them in seed trays in a greenhouse in early Spring - © Fiona Lea/GAP Photos

Young girl holding llek seeds before sowing them in seed trays in a greenhouse in early Spring – © Fiona Lea/GAP Photos

Show stoppers
Fans of exhibition onions should know one secret: sow early for the biggest bulbs. Choose an appropriate variety such as ‘Kelsae’ and sow one seed per large module. You’ll need a heated propagator to start them off.

Sowing Tomato seeds into pots - sprinkle seed thinly and evenly over flat moist compost - © John Swithinbank/GAP Photos

Sowing Tomato seeds into pots – sprinkle seed thinly and evenly over flat moist compost – © John Swithinbank/GAP Photos

Things are warming up
A heated propagator is also essential if you want to grow the hottest chillies. Habaneros, Scotch bonnets and Nagas benefit from a long growing season. Start them off in pots or modules now, with at least 25ºC of heat.

Broad Bean seedlings in recycled loo rolls - © Jonathan Buckley/GAP Photos

Broad Bean seedlings in recycled loo rolls – © Jonathan Buckley/GAP Photos

The very best beans
Shop-bought broad beans aren’t a patch on home-grown ones. These hardy, deep-rooted veg can be sown in early spring. Either create rows outdoors, 40cm apart, or sow seeds into root-trainers or toilet rolls.

Pea 'Tall Sugar Snap' grown under a perspex cloche - © Jonathan Buckley/GAP Photos

Pea ‘Tall Sugar Snap’ grown under a perspex cloche – © Jonathan Buckley/GAP Photos

Mind your peas
Autumn sowings of winter-hardy peas should resume growth as the soil warms. Cover rows with cloches to encourage a speedy start, or sow spring varieties to play catch-up.

Young tomato plants in 9cm pots on greenhouse staging - © Gary Smith/GAP Photos

Young tomato plants in 9cm pots on greenhouse staging – © Gary Smith/GAP Photos

Green tomatoes
If you plan to grow this crop in a greenhouse, you can begin sowing them in February. Being a tender crop, ample heat is essential, so fire up the heated propagator. Good light is crucial too, if you’re to avoid leggy seedlings.