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First Sowing of the season - Onions and Leeks

After making my own plan I’ve realised I am actually a few weeks behind where I should be at this time of the year, add a little bit of sunshine and the panic is already starting to set in. Remember – Don’t panic and stick to the plan, but it is time I need to get some seeds growing.

From the list I have made, I already know that there are a large number of seeds that need to be planted at this time of year. Cabbage, Leeks, Lettuce, Onions, Peppers…. The list goes on, but please remember planting all the seeds at the same time needs a lot of space and planting them takes quite a few hours. I prefer to sow a couple of different seeds every week, from experience it all falls into place when it needs to.

The back of the seed packet may say ‘February to April’, that doesn’t actually mean sow the seeds on the first day in February, it means a period of 12 weeks when the seeds can be sown. If the seeds are sown at the start of February, they will be strong enough to go in the ground when we a safe from frost and if you sow the seeds in the last week of April you will still get a crop at the back end of the year before the frosts return.

So on with my first sowing of the season – Onions and Leeks.

The Leeks are an easy one, I’ll stick with a variety that has been a success for me (and the plot) over the last 4 or 5 years (Giant Winter by King Seeds). If planted around now, they should be planted out in the ground around early May, realistically I can start taking the smaller crop around late July (diameter approx. 1.5cm) when the young plants will be tender and flavoursome and continue to harvest week on week. The good thing about this variety, and leeks in general, is that the mature plants are very hardy against frost and will last in the ground over until the new year. One problem that I’ve found in some varieties is the old the plant becomes the texture becomes harder, someone’s known as ‘woody’, the plant is still edible and flavoursome, just a different texture.

When selecting onions, there are several questions that come to mind straight away, the first one for me is, do I grow from seed or set? Growing from seed is basically growing the plant from start to finish, whereas an onion set is a seed that has been sown, left to grow for several months but then harvested and left to dry out, a little bit like a bulb of a flower. The set can then be planted again and the plant will continue to grow to maturity and harvested in the normal way. Both options are available for several varieties of large onions and shallots. On my allotment, I tend to grow with both methods to increase the size of my crop and add variation to the types of onions over an extended period. Depending on the Weather conditions, you should see the onion sets been ready for harvest first (Late June / early July) and then the seed planted onions a little later in the season (Early August onwards).

The variety of white onion that have chosen this year is ‘Globo' by Kings Seeds and for the red onion I have gone with 'Red Brunswick', both have given me success in the past so I’m happy to continue with, both types as I know they grow well on my allotment. The Globo will produce a large white round onion and the Red Brunswick have always returned a quality medium onion, vibrant in colour and excellent flavour.

My Sowing Method for Onions and Leeks

For my Onions and Leeks I tend to start them off in a half seed tray. The main reason is that not all the seeds sown will germinate so if I was to sow them in separate cells space will be lost in the propagator, by sowing the seeds all together in one tray I can allow the seeds to germinate and transplant later when the seedlings are strong enough. For clarity, I am referring to one tray for each variety, not sowing all the seeds in one tray – that would get very confusing.

    • Fill one half seed tray to half way with sowing compost.
    • Place the half seed tray into a full seed tray (with no holes) and water heavily. The water will soak in to the compost and flow out in to the full seed tray. Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes to allow the compost the soak up as much water as possible.
    • Level out the moist compost in the half seed tray, making a level sowing bed for your seeds.
    • Its now time to sow the seeds, work out how many Onions you have space for in your allotment / garden. I’m aiming for 50-60 onions. I now work on the assumption that one 50% of the seeds sown will make it to the allotment, so I need to sow 100-120 seeds. The packet of seeds contains 250 seeds so I need to sow 50% of the packet.
    • Distribute the seeds as evenly as is possible into your moist seed bed in your half seed tray.
    • Once all of the seeds are in the bed, cover with approximately 3-5mm of dry compost.
    • Do not water again at this stage – the heavy water will disturb the compost and some seeds will come to the top of the compost. The dry compost will soak up water from the moist compost on the bottom.
    • Label up your seed tray with what seeds you have sown.
    • Place the half seed tray in a propagator and leave on a sunny windowsill for germination.
    • After about 7 days you should start to seed green shoots as the seeds start to germinate.
    • It’s important that you keep the soil moist, I prefer watering from the bottom and allowing the compost to soak up the water rather than watering from the top and disturbing the seeds / seedlings when they are at such a delicate stage.
    • Repeat the process with each variety that you have decided to grow – Onions and Leeks are from the same vegetable family so this method will be fine for both.
    Half Seed Tray, soaking water Select in your hand how many seeds you would like to sowdistribut the seeds evenily in the seed tray
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