I don't feel quite right these days when I'm not actively growing things; in winter my green fingers begin to itch, and boredom and frustration creep in, and it's a huge relief when February arrives and I can justify getting a few early seeds started. I used to wait until mid-Feb - Charles Dowding recommends this as there are ten hours of daylight or more from this time and seedlings are less likely to get leggy - but I sometimes feel that my chillies and things are a bit behind, so this year I started sowing slightly earlier; at Imbolc, which marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.
So here we are; my first (slightly leggy) seedlings are tucked up in the heated propagator, the seed potatoes are chitting, and I've even treated myself to a nice new cloche to get some things started early outside in the raised bed.
Last year I vowed not to bother with peppers and chillies this year and concentrate on plants that would actually crop for me instead; they're a lovely idea but without a polytunnel or greenhouse they just don't seem to be worth it here, and end up a waste of space. Of course, when I actually got round to sowing it was hard to stick to that decision - I just wanted to sow as many things as I could get away with, and I had to remind myself of those past failures! But I did allow myself two varieties: 'Basket of Fire' chillies, which I'll grow under a bell cloche to see if that helps them along, and some 'Ancho' chillies which I did really well with a couple of years ago. I also started some 'Bonica F1' aubergines, and two each of three early tomato varieties; 'Latah', 'Stupice' and 'Jen's Tangerine'. I'll sow some more when I sow the other tomatoes in March, and see if the early start really made any difference... Germination has been excellent, except from the 'Ancho' chilli seeds which are a bit old. I'll set the seedlings deeper when I pot them up, to counter the legginess.
I've also started some 'Monarch' celeriac, and some 'Golden Spartan' celery - a variety we saw looking particularly impressive at Wisley last autumn. (It's no guarantee we'll be able to replicate the success of the Wisley gardeners, of course!) We've never succeeded with celeriac yet, so let's hope it's third time lucky... These seeds are in an unheated propagator indoors on a windowsill.
Potato varieties chosen this year include 'Pentland Crown' and 'King Edward' which both did well for us previously, plus 'Desiree' on the recommendation of several Twitter friends. I've always steered clear of red-skinned potatoes, mostly due to a memory of eating them weirdly soaked in vinegar at a French friend's house as a child... But they've gotta be worth a try, right? For earlies to grow at home, I really wanted 'Accent' - we grow them at FoodSmiles and they produce extremely well and taste delicious - but couldn't seem to find them except by mail order, with a £5 delivery fee of course! So I settled on 'Home Guard'. Then, at Seedy Sunday in Brighton last weekend, there they were; I picked up not only six 'Accent' but six 'Yukon Gold' to try too! We certainly won't be short of potatoes this summer...
My new cloche is from Harrod Horticultural; a rigid plastic thing that slots together in sections, so I can extend it in future if I want, and it seems very sturdy indeed. It has indentations in the roof to collect rainwater and let it drip through tiny holes to water the plants, so it shouldn't dry out beneath and is easy to water, and it's so much simpler to handle than faffing about with fleece, which I detest. As soon as I've cleared space (the right space) on the raised bed, I'll get it in place, let the soil warm for a week or so, and then start sowing early carrots, spinach, lettuce, radishes, rocket and spring onions under it.
So off we go! Another growing season begins. Isn't it funny how every one is just as exciting as the last? :-)