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Mid-February: can you sow already?

"Jelle, can I sow now?"

It's barely February and I hear this question a lot. You'll see social media posts from people who have already started. But the weather out there is still nasty: cold, rainy, and the wind is strong. So, let me get right to it.

Sowing in February? No, better not. 

Even for indoor pre-sowing, it's still way too early.
De Makkelijke Moestuin in winterstand
The Planty Garden in winter mode


This last stretch of winter makes everybody antsy.

I understand the itch: sowing, caring for, and harvesting your own vegetable garden is a lot of fun. You want to get right to it.

We're all waking up from our winter sleep: bags of MM-Mix are hauled in, garden boxes are bought or built, and we see plenty of pictures of greenhouse-like structures placed on top. All in the hopes of getting an early start.
Sjouwen met Makkelijke Moestuinmix
Stocking up for the spring


Getting excited about your garden-to-be and dreaming of mega-sized harvests is great. Just don't be tempted to sow too early.

There's a simple reason: the temperature is usually still pretty low. There's nothing more frustrating than finding your young plants frozen and miserable after a night of severe frost. Believe me, it's the worst.

Another factor is daylight: the days are still pretty short. Most plants have a kind of biological clock, so the seeds stay dormant if there's not enough sunlight.

Boring old garden boxes

Unfortunately, your garden boxes are just going to stay a little bit boring a little bit longer.

Just like mine. They're empty and messy, except for a few hardcore overwinterers:
Palmkool na een flinke nachtvorst: die kan er wel tegen!
The dino kale after a frost: tough as ever!

Okay, but what about pre-sowing?

Nope, not yet. You'd better wait until the days get longer.

And yes, I know: blogs, newspapers, and magazines tell you how much fun it is to pre-sow your seeds on the windowsill.

But save yourself the trouble: The plants won't get enough light to grow well. It's also too dry and warm indoors for most kinds of vegetables.

They grow too fast and get long limp stems:
Slappe zaailingen op de vensterbank
Weak seedlings in the windowsill
Pre-sowing indoors is not the easiest. Few people manage to keep plants alive indoors for more than a month. By that time they are so weak and exhausted, they usually don't survive the transition to the outdoors.

So unless you're very experienced and/or have the fancy lamps and facilities that nurseries use, I'd put it off as long as possible.

So, when then?

Lamb's lettuce is the first vegetable you sow directly into your garden box. You could do that right now. Snow peas, sugar snaps, and winter peas can be sown starting next week. But if it is still cold, it will still take a long time before you'll see the first seedlings.

If you have a cold frame or greenhouse, you can sow winter purslane and spinach already. Or they'll grow well under an MM-Muts crop cover as well.
Winterpostelein in winterbak
Winter purslane coming up beautifully
You can sow lettuce and other vegetables outside in March.

But it all depends on the weather. Sometimes you get beautiful spring weather at the end of February. But that doesn't mean much, because in March it can get super cold again. 

Here in the Netherlands, we've even had snow flurries at the end of April. 

What do you pre-sow?

I usually do indoor sowing in the spring. For all the summer vegetables, like tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini, I put it off as long as I can. Tomatoes are end of March at the earliest. The others: end of April / beginning of May.

But for the most part, I sow vegetables directly into the garden box. I do this at the time indicated on the seed packets and in the app. The plants come up stronger than their indoor brothers and sisters. 

Moral of the story? Later is better

Lathyrus of siererwt
Ornamental pea in the Planty Garden
I learned this lesson in 2009. My mom pre-sowed her ornamental peas in March. They stood under lamps in the pantry for 5 weeks and turned into beautiful plants.

She planted them outside in April. Then she sowed a few more next to them, directly into the soil mix. Guess what? After a month, they caught up with the pre-sown plants. Later they bloomed even more.

So, I skip pre-sowing whenever possible. I recommend you do the same, especially if you don't have a lot of experience. Sowing just a little later is early enough.
Lege bakken, half februari
Empty garden boxes in mid-February

Starting together March

We like to start every year on March 1. Experienced and first-time gardeners can join us and open the season together.

February is a great time to get your garden ready. And on March 1, we let loose!

Want to join us? I'll see you then 🙂

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