January is a Cold Month & There’s No Hurry So Sow Most Veg. But The Days In The UK Are Finally Getting Longer. Here’s What I’m Sowing In My Southern England Garden.
I say southern England garden as so much depends on your growing conditions. As I write this we’ve recently had below-freezing temperatures on the south Devon coast where I live, and there’s the promise of more cold weather to follow over the next few months.
If you are at higher altitudes or further north the weather is likely to be worse and your local growing conditions need taking into account. That’s why the advice given on seed packets is very general guidance at best. Don’t rigidly follow it, ask others in your area what works for them, experiment, and take notes for the next year and beyond.
Below is my sowing list. It suits me but will not suit everyone, even those in my part of the world and I see a lot of people saying not to sow anything until mid February. It’s point of view I’m not going to argue with … life’s too short. Also bear in mind that some crops can be started in the house or greenhouse and grown in a greenhouse or tunnel. Also bear in mind that some crops can be harvested as immature plants. For example broad beans can be sown very densely in containers or the beds under glass or tunnels and harvested as fresh shoots. They don’t have to be grown to maturity, though I intend to grow some of my broad beans for pods.
Some of my gardening colleagues advise not sowing anything in January. They saw they too often get problems planting out later in the season when the weather is still poor. I’ll not argue with their experience. But my experience is that when I planted out tens of thousands of lettuce and celery in Bedfordshire (a cold county) in March I had no problems. Admittedly the wind sometimes removed every leaf from plants, but they always sprang back into growth and we had high quality crops. Some of my crops here are also for growing under cover for leaf or shoot crops.
Here’s What I’m Sowing in January
Broad beans are at the top of my list all winter. They tolerate the cold and germinate at very low temperatures. Having said that, if you sow into a cold wet clay or frozen soil they will not grow, They will rot!
And working wet soil is a bad idea anyway .. so don’t attempt to direct sow anything when it’s too wet. What you can do is to sow in pots and transplant when conditions improve. I use “whalehide pots”. Don’t worry, there are no whales involved. Whalehides are pots that can be planted in the soil at transplanting time and will then decompose.
Just top them up with compost, sow a broad bean an inch or just over deep in them and put them in a sheltered spot. A windowsill is OK provided it’s not to warm. A cold frame is even better. I’ve even shoved them under a hedge where they are sheltered from the wind. Even if it snows they get protected and you should get a high germination rate. The main thing is to give them plenty of light once they push up their cotyledons.
Peas are as hardy as broad beans. I’ll be sowing some in large pots for pea shoots in the next few days. They can be started in a cold greenhouse then placed outside when you need the space for spring sowings. And if you’ve no greenhouse they could go outside from day one. They’ll take longer but will grow given time. But beware mice. They will welcome a feast of pea seeds if they find them. Protecting the top of the pot with well-secured fine wire mesh helps! In the old days, gardeners soaked their peas in paraffin before sowing but that’s not advised today.
An alternative sowing method is to sow in an old gutter. Drill a few drainage holes in it first. Top up with compost and then sow. Once the crop is established they can be transferred to the garden soil by gently sliding the rooted mass of plants out of the gutter into a sallow drill/trench. It’s fiddle but doable!
The above applies to peas for shoots or pods.
The image of the pea shoot here was taken on December 30th, sown in an unheated greenhouse, during the freeze, on December 11th. Peas are tough little blighters and will germinate at very low temperatures. I’ll be sowing more in January.
Sprouted Seeds & Microgreens to Sow in January
So far I’ve covered a few things to plant in the garden. But veg isn’t restricted to the garden. There are a host of seeds that can be sown as microgreens or sprouted seeds.
Back to the greenhouse and garden ….
I’m seeing an increasing number of people recommend aubergines should be sown now, I disagree. Unless you have a heated greenhouse I believe it’s far too early for aubergines. They are a warmth-loving plant and need leaving a few months in my experience.
I’ve grown chillies on a commercial basis and sowed them much later than now. But chilli aficionados tell me that the earlier you sow the hotter the chilli. That’s fine if you have a warm place to grow them, but heating greenhouses is very expensive …. I know I had half an acre of heated glass at one time. Single glazed greenhouses are a great way to increase global warming! I prefer to work with nature, not against it.
As someone that grew 10,000 plants or more a year I can say that I think it’s far to early for most gardeners to sow toms this month. People tell me I can keep a few plants going in pots in the house until its time to plant them out. But that means they will have flowered and set fruit by the time I can safely plant them out.
Even as a commercial grower I didn’t start this early. Though a few friends, with huge commercial setups, started sowing in October or November. Their heating bill was eye wateringly high. And today, with current energy prices the figure will be huge.
My guess is no amateur could match their equipment or expertise. Don’t go there yet!
It’s not too early for cauliflower. Sown now they could be harvested in June/July. Start them in plug trays and transfer to pots until bg enough to plant out. Varieties such as All The Year Around seem to work well in gardens.
Alternatively, sow them in drills in the greenhouse border and then plant out when conditions are good. But be careful to ensure they grow without a check or they could bolt before heading properly.
I shall be sowing Figaro shallots in a few weeks. They did well from early sowing last year and I’ll be multi sowing them in modules again. Figaro are a banana shallot and easy to handle in the kitchen as they are far less fiddly than traditional shallots.
We are well into leek harvest at present and now is a good time to start our summer crops of leeks. Varieties such as Lyon Prizetaker will be ready in August. If you prefer an earlier crop go for Nipper when give an excellent crop of baby leeks. Seed is very hard to find and I may just have bought the last of it! From a spring sowing, they can be cropped in ten weeks. This time of year they will take longer but still give a relatively quick crop that can be followed by a crop of lettuce, carrots, beet, beans or whatever you prefer.
January is the month for sowing prize winning onions for exhibition showing. They grow huge bulbs .. that are largely inedible. So I prefer to wait a while and sow a variety such as Bedfordshire Champion in another six weeks at the earliest.
Lettuce are tough little blighters. I’ve sown in January, planted in the field in late Feb, and seen the wind strip every leaf off the plants. A few weeks later the plant has then thrown new shoots and sprung back into life. From these “decimated” crops I’ve harvested superb outdoor lettuce crops in May.
Keep the plants in the greenhouse border and a crop sown now and grown in a cold greenhouse can be harvested as hearted crops in April. The same date sowing will give leaves for harvesting much earlier and can be harvested several times before following them with a warmth-loving crop such as Toms or Peppers.
Kale sown now will give you leaves from baby plants in the spring. Grow them as a catch crop to be followed by something else when you’ve had your fill. They are a quick crop that fills a gap. They will also fill pigeons if you don’t net them!
Spring or Salad Onions
Let these onions live up to their name. Sow now in modules for early spring onions to add to salads etc.
Early cabbage can be sown in late January. Sow one seed to a module (two seeds and thin to one if you prefer) or in seedbeds and plant out once they have 2-3 true leaves. When planting them out aim to plant deep as this gives them a better root system and prevents the wind from rocking them about.
If your light levels are good you’ll probably get good roots quite quickly. But if not you’ll get plenty of leaf and that’s also edible in salads. Pick small leaves before they go coarse. If you take a few leaves at a time they keep growing and you can make multiple harvests over a long period.
Planted outdoors in cold wet soil carrots are very unlikely to germinate. But sown in a container in a greenhouse, in good light, they will germinate very well. The result will be finger-sized carrots in about 16 weeks. Last year I sowed in mid-February and had some excellent crops. This year I’ll sow in mid-January. Due to day length they will not crop a month earlier but I should be able to crop a week or ten days earlier.
So that’s my advice on What To Sow in January. There are more monthly sowing advice pages on the site .. just use the search bar to find them.
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