Alys Fowler

Grow a little January surprise

Read top tips from Alys to make the most of your seed store and get your year off to a sprouting start.

This January is starting off so mild that everything is a little confused. I have daffodils a month early and bulbs popping up everywhere. The winter is far from over and there may be cold spells ahead, but it seems only fitting to make the most of a benign beginning.

I was clearing out my seed store and scattered a leftover packet of lettuce seeds on some empty pots. I thought I’d take a gamble rather than consign them to the bin. Days later I saw tiny roots sprouting. I know that these tiny seedlings have a lot stacked against them to produce whole heads of lettuce, but I am confident that I might get some baby salads leaves with a little care before the end of the month.

My advice then is to tackle your seed store for a little January surprise. If you have any spare pots filled with compost and something that you can fashion together to make as a cloche I suggest sowing any half opened, soon to be out of date packages and having a go.

You want to aim for the seeds to be roughly a centimeter apart and perhaps tickle the soil a little before sowing to remove any errant weeds to make a nice bed to start their life off. Then gently nudge the seeds into the soil, they need light to germinate so don’t bury them and cover with a cloche, a pane of glass or a plastic propagator lid and with luck they will germinate, particularly if you put the pots somewhere out of the worst of the weather. Lettuce, radishes, early peas, wrinkled types rather than smooth, oriental greens, mustards and kales should all germinate micro leaves.

If you have a covered porch, mini or unheated greenhouse then this would be an ideal location as the added extra protection will ensure germination. If you have no such space, you can still germinate all these and more on your kitchen windowsill.  If you don’t have pots use takeaway trays. They make ideal micro green trays.

Punch some holes in the bottom of the container and use the lid as a tray. Initially you can keep the lid on to act as a propagator lid and then when you see the first signs of germination you can whip it off and use it as a tray to collect water. Make sure the compost stays moist, but don’t water again until you see the first signs of life.

You can start cutting the leaves when they are roughly 5cm or so high. You won’t get more than one cut because the seedlings are so close together and there’s not a great deal of root run. With this in mind, it makes most sense to use up left over seed packets or buy very cheap seeds, for pea shoots you can use dried peas from the supermarket or try health food shops for fenugreek and mustard seeds. Likewise, basil, parsley, watercress, amaranth, spinach and any brassicas all make highly nutritious tasty micro greens. It’s a good excuse for a clear out and there’s nothing more pleasing than vibrant new growth on dull January days.