All year round vegetable sowing and planting guide
This is the third draft of my guide to growing an abundance of vegetables all year round, especially in the so called Hungry Gap. The “jobs for the month” sections have been expanded in this version and I have new photos!
I’d love a bit of feedback on how useful it is, but also on any improvements, corrections or other changes.
There are some alternative guides out there that I highly recommend. Charles Dowding has a very useful one that covers a few more varieties than mine, his is distilled from a very humbling (for me) 36 years of experience! The Garden Focused web site allows you to build a bare bones guide completely customised to your needs, which is really fantastic.
- When I say module sow I almost always mean into modules, normally 40 cell trays
- If I say pot sow I mean sow many seeds in a single pot to prick out into, normally 12 cell modules a few weeks later
- When I say plant I mean planting modules into the ground
- When I say direct sow I mean planting seeds in the ground
- I almost always germinate indoors at home or in the polytunnel. If at home ideally in a south facing sunny spot. After germination I quickly move to a cool greenhouse/polytunnel. In summer I normally germinate in a cooler bedroom (it can be too hot on a window sill) and move onto a bench outside, because I don’t have any space in the greenhouse or polytunnel for seedlings
- Light is almost always more important than heat, once plants have germinated!
- This document describes what I do, it’s not intended to be a prescriptive guide for others, although it might be very useful as a start point.
- We grow in the North West of England, on the coast, it’s windy, but not that cold. Our first frosts are in Mid October and our last are in Early May, temperatures rarely get below -5c and in winter we have many days above freezing, it doesn’t snow much.
For more information about what, where and how we grow please read our Frequently Asked Questions document and/or watch the video.
- Observe your plants, keep on the lookout for greenfly, whitefly and other pests. Look for plants doing well or suffering and try to figure out why. Walk around allotment sites and look for anything that’s growing well at this time of year, maybe consider growing it too.
- Research things that you observe, try understand what you are seeing and why.
- Experiment with different varieties, different timings, different amendments, keep learning
- Diversify your plantings, don’t just plant a single variety in one bed at the same time. It’s much more resilient to sow several batches of different varieties and plant in different places, it helps with successional harvests too
- Relax, if you read gardening books they can be over-whelming, listing hundreds of pests and diseases. You could go a little crazy trying to protect against them all and most of it would be unecessary. Instead take basic precautions like a good quality net and try and grow healthy plants with minimum amendments (just 1-2″ of compost). Then observe, research and experiment to solve the particular problems that YOU have in your environment.
- Try interplanting but be cautious. It’s easy for one plant to overwhelm another, or for one to finish leaving a bed under utilised while you wait for the other to mature.
- Keep productive plants and living roots in the soil for as much of the year as you can, when plants finish leave the roots in the soil to decay and replant.
- Keep soil covered with a mulch of compost, manure or wood-chip, try not to bring soil to the surface, it will be full of weed seeds. Don’t disturb the soil and don’t dig unless you have to. When planting dib a hole with a spade/fork handle, or push a trowel into the soil and pull it towards you to make a hole. See Charles Dowding’s web site for obsessive advice on this topic.
Jobs: Prune grapes, fruit bushes, apple and pear trees. Put down new wood chip on the paths, before the weeds get started and while there’s not much else to do. Start chitting those potatoes, although if you want super-early ones start in December. Give everything a good clean and tidy while you still have time!
I don’t recommend sowing seeds in January, but there are some specific circumstances where it might be worthwhile.
- Module sow broad beans indoors – in 30 cell trays – to fill in any gaps in the over-wintered broad bean bed
- Pot sow very early lettuce, but only if you want to replace August/September sown winter varieties with tastier alternatives that will heart up by June, when they are replaced by tomatoes and peppers. I pot sow and prick out because plants are often leggy at this time of year and it allows me to replant them deep
- Module sow spring onions, to inter-plant with salads into the cold-frames
- Module sow peas – 3 to a cell in 12 cell trays – to plant at the back of cold-frames, where they can get an early start
- Module sow radish, a mix of Cherry type and French Breakfast, will mature in succession
- Container sow early carrots (Amsterdam forcing) indoors or in a polytunnel. If germinated indoors, move to a greenhouse/polytunnel after gemination and then outside in April
- Pot sow a batch of very early kales (Black Magic, Dazzling Blue, Dwarf Green), prick out and grow on in 12 cell trays in a polytunnel to plant in spring with frost/wind protection, just as winter kales are finishing
- Pot sow a batch of very early sprouts, to be planted close together, to be harvested for leaves. Grow on in a polytunnel to plant in spring with frost protection, for the hungry gap
- Container plant super early potatoes indoors and then as soon as they breach the surface, move them to a polytunnel or greenhouse, but protect with fleece at night. You can keep sowing these every two weeks in February and March, until you plant your first earlies.
- If you have a frost free conservatory, try a couple of cucumber and tomato plants
Jobs: Finish pruning planting/moving any bare rooted trees and fruit bushes, mulch the fruit trees with wood chip, putting any amendments down first. Continue chitting potatoes (don’t bother with main-crop varieties though). Bring early strawberries into your greenhouse or ploytunnel.
Mid-February is really the start of the seed sowing season, providing optimum conditions for a few favourites. However, you will still need to sow almost everything under cover.
- Plant garlic outside if you have any gaps in the autumn planted beds
- We always have a few stored garlic bulbs showing signs of life in February. We take these and plant them in shady areas of the garden, that aren’t suitable for anything else. They won’t mature into new bulbs, but they are great for green garlic in spring.
- Pot sow early brassicas (cabbage, calabrese, kohlrabi, cauliflower) if you didn’t plant them in October and over-winter them, like I do, otherwise wait until March
- Module sow spinach for an early crop, or to succeed your September sown plants when they go to seed in April
- Module sow spring onions and keep sowing them every month, except maybe July when it might be too hot for them to germinate and thrive
- Module sow a big batch of loose leaf lettuce varieties to replace your August/September sown winter varieties (grown under cover) in mid Feb. These will need protection when planted out in March, start harvesting in late April
- Module sow your maincrop onions and shallots (which keep), to succeed your over-wintered varieties (some varieties don’t keep well)
- Module sow a few Bolthardy beetroot, if you have somewhere warm and light to plant them in March, you might be better to sow them in October and over-winter them if you want them really early
- Module sow radish and keep sowing them every few weeks until May, then skip them until mid-August as they don’t grow well in summer, we substitute cucamelons for them in our salad mixes in summer
- Module sow sweet and hot peppers, provided you have somewhere warm to germinate them and somewhere very light and frost free to grow them on, otherwise wait until March. I sow 1/4 of mine in February and the rest in March
- Module sow broad beans towards the end of the month, if you didn’t over-winter them, don’t bother much later as they freeze so well, they are best finished with by the end of June, so you plant something else
Jobs: Plant new asparagus crowns. Your over-wintered onions, brassicas and lettuces might benefit from a little blood fish and bone, or poultry manure, depending on whether you applied compost and other amendments in autumn. Cover early strawberries outside with cloches (remove during the day once they start flowering). Finish mulching (with wood chips or manure) and feeding berries with a high potash fertiliser. Keep an eye out for Sawfly larvae on gooseberry and currant bushes, they can strip them in 24 hours!
Everything that you sowed in February, you can also sow in March, especially if you don’t have good protected/light growing spaces. However, you will still need to sow almost everything under cover.
- Early March is the best time to pot sow a few summer cabbage, we don’t bother though as we have so many other brassicas available!
- Plant any new asparagus plants
- Keep sowing successions of peas, radish and spring onions
- Module sow Boltardy beetroot and plant out with protection in April
- Pot sow celery and celeriac by mid-month. If you want celery in your polytunnel you can sow it in late February. I actually sow mine at the end of the month because it grows too fast in my warm grow room.
- Late March is the best time to pot sow your autumn/winter brassicas: red cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kalettes, savoy cabbage, Hungry Gap kale, you will be potting them on and then planting them out in early May. You get another chance in early April if they fail!
- Late March is also the perfect time to pot sow calabrese and early varieties of purple sprouting broccoli (like Early Purple and/or Sante) for a summer harvest
- Don’t be tempted to sow Chard, be patient or module sow Perpetual Spinach instead
- Early March is the time to start pot sowing tomatoes (in a warm place or propagator) that will be planted out in a conservatory or heated greenhouse in May
- After mid-March module sow a few sweetcorn, and climbing summer squash to be planted in a/greenhouse in April, but keep your fleece handy! Cucumbers that will grow in a heated conservatory or greenhouse can be sown now too.
- Early Parsnip can also sown direct in the ground now, but I sow mine in early May.
- If you have space in your polytunnel I think it’s a good idea to sow a dozen climbing French beans and Runner beans indoors, to be planted in containers and wrapped in fleece if frost threatens in April when they are planted out.
Jobs: Prune mature plum trees. Cut the tops off the field beans (leave the nitrogen rich roots in the ground) and weed and mulch (mushroom compost) the bed, ready for planting the winter brassicas (sprouts, cabbages and kalattes) in May. Saw the tops off the winter sprouts, cabbages and kalattes (leave roots in the ground). Chop up the field bean tops and spread them on the weeded bed and mulch the ground with home made compost and mushroom compost, ready for planting the summer and winter squash plants in June.
If you are running late everything that you sowed in March, you can also sow in April, but it’s not recommended indoors as you will need all of you window sills for your April sowings. Outside though, that’s a better option.
- Although early in the season I recommend only Bolthardy beetroot, you can now start sowing other varieties, especially my favourite Burpees Golden, which has really tasty leaves too
- Although you can eat beetroot leaves, you can also sow the more prolific leaf beet/perpetual spinach
- Module or pot sow leeks, if module sowing you can plant 3 seedlings per cell, if pot sowing use a large plant pot and then separate leeks out individually and plant deep in a few months
- Module sow New Zealand spinach in early April (end of April if planting without protection) with a view to planting out in a cold-frame in early May, provided it’s protected from frost. We will be harvesting it by July instead of true spinach, which we think is a waste of time in summer
- Module sow chard towards the end of the month, otherwise you risk it going to seed too early
- Early April is finally the time to start sowing tomatoes (in a warm place or propagator) that will be planted in a polytunnel in mid-late May, ideally when night time temperatures are above 10c. Wait until late April for outdoor tomatoes.
- Late April is also the time for large module sowing (in a warm place or propagator) your main-crop cucumber, courgette, squash, sweetcorn that will be planted outside in early June
- Direct sow early varieties of carrots directly in the soil, be sure to protect them from carrot fly
- Mid April is the best time to plant potatoes that will spend all of their life outside, but I wait until late April/May for my main-crop varieties. If you plant in mid-April, make sure you have fleece handy to protect from a late frost in May.
- Module sow cucamelons in mid April, with a view to plant them out in polytunnel hanging baskets in May, they take a very long time to germinate! We use them instead of radish in our summer salad mixes
- Late April I plant a dozen oca tubers in 12-cell modules, to plant out in late May/June. We harvest oca in winter as an alternative to radishes
- Module sow golden purselane in early April (end of April if planting without protection) with a view to planting out in a cold-frame in early May, provided it’s protected from frost. We will be harvesting it by July as the favourite ingredient in our salad mixes
- If you have space you can pot sow a few cauliflowers for summer, I like Graffiti, which is a lovely shade of purple
- April is the best month for pot sowing cabbages for winter, we sow a mix of January King and Savoy, having already sown red cabbages in March for Autumn and early winter.
Jobs: Plant the winter brassicas (sprouts, kalettes, red cabbage and first succession of savoy) and the main crop calabrese and summer purple sprouting broccoli
If you are running late everything that you sowed in March, you can also sow in April, but it’s not recommended indoors as you will need all of you window sills for other May seedlings. Outside though, that’s a better option.
- In early May we pot sow a second batch of bush tomatoes in containers for a later harvest
- Module sow indoors in a warm spot or propagator summer squash, winter squash, French and runner beans, to plant outside in June, you could take a risk and sow in April and Plant in May too, but I think the risk is better if you have a polytunnel!
- May is your last chance to plant out leeks
- Early May is the ideal time to plant you main-crop potatoes
- May is also the best time to module sow your main-crop beetroot for autumn, winter and spring (we harvest and store ours in October to make room for garlic and broad beans. You can also sow beets for winter/spring storage in June
- May is the best month for direct sowing carrots if you can protect them from carrot fly. If you pick the right mix of varieties they will keep into winter. I plant a few parsnips into my winter carrot beds, they all stay undisturbed and under nets together. It’s getting warm now, so be sure to keep your carrots damp until they germinate (I cover mine with hessian sack cloth until they germinate)
- I don’t grow much swede, but if you do, module sow it now
- Late May is also a great time to module sow a small batch of loose leaf lettuces, to replace any of your February sown ones that fail a little early
- May is the last chance for pot sowing cabbages for winter, we sow a mix of January King and Savoy, having already sown red cabbages in March for Autumn.
Jobs: Summer prune your plums and cherries. We grow organic, except for apples, which we spray for codling moth in Early June and late June, otherwise we loose about 2/3 of the crop! Once strawberries have finished fruiting root runners to create new plants.
If you are running late or sowing outside almost everything that you sowed in May can be sown in June, but it’s getting a bit late for potatoes and parsnips.
- We like to pot sow a third batch of tomatoes in containers for a late polytunnel harvest in autumn, after we have removed the cordon varieties (which we grow in the ground) from the polytunnel on 5th October to make way for the winter salads/spinach etc.
- We direct sow our last batch of main-crop carrots (Stromboli) in early June, to be harvested in late Autumn. Ironically our slower growing winter carrots (Eskimo) were direct sown in May
- Early June is the time to module sow your beetroot, to be planted out in July (after Garlic and Broad beans in my case) to be harvested for storage in October
- The beginning of June is also a great time to module sow another big batch of loose leaf lettuces, to replace your February sown ones. These will last until the end of summer
- Pot sow your main purple sprouting broccoli crop for a spring harvest. Plant it out in July with some protection from the heat and butterflies!
- Early June is also the perfect time to pot sow calabrese and Romanesco cauliflower for an autumn crop
- Pot sow a new batch of kale for autumn/winter, consider sowing it direct as it doesn’t like being transplanted in the summer heat!
- Module sow a few cucumbers, to provide a late crop in the polytunnel
- We like to module sow radicchio in late June, to provide crunch and colour to the winter salad mixes
- Module sow chard and perpetual spinach now for autumn and winter
Jobs: Summer prune your plums and cherries. Water heavily once or twice a week (depending on rain) to encourage deep strong roots, don’t provide a sprinkle every day! Summer prune gooseberries, red and white currants.
- Module sow a few cucumbers, to provide a late crop in the polytunnel
- Pot sow a half dozen peppers, if you have space to over-winter them in pots in a conservatory or sunny window sill. We harvest the last fruits in January and early fruits in spring
- Mid July is a great time to module sow a large batch of loose leaf lettuces. These will last you until early autumn, when under-cover lettuces take over, although they might benefit from some protection from mid-September. Be sure to germinate these somewhere away from summer heat.
- Module sow kohlrabi in mid month, as it likes to mature in the cool weather
- July is the last chance to sow chard and perpetual spinach for autumn and winter
- Although we have a plentiful supply of New Zealand spinach until October, if you have space you can module sow true spinach again in late July, although it’s probably worth waiting until early August
Jobs: Pinch out the tops of climbing beans. Cut out last years growth of summer fruiting raspberries, while it’s easy to distinguish old and new wood. Continue taking strawberry runners. Lift onions and plant (or prepare for) your next succession, in our case that’s field beans (in next year’s brassica bed) and salad greens for late autumn.
Although in summer and spring timings don’t really matter, they become critical for veg that will be eaten in autumn and winter. Just a few weeks late and your plant’s won’t mature in time, so you might need to experiment with these dates for your micro-climate. Occasionally you will sow too early, in which case it’s easy to sow a few spares a week or two later, just in case!
- Early August is key for module sowing spring onions to eat in autumn, late August to mature in late winter/early spring. Be sure to germinate these somewhere away from summer heat.
- We also do a last sowing of Kale at the beginning of August, destined for either the polytunnel or one of our deep cold-frames. It grows slowly in Autumn, but by late winter it’s taking over from our outdoor plants and it lasts into May, when the outdoor plants have gone to seed (we eat the flowers though)
- If you like to grow over-wintered onions (Japanese) sow them in early August and plant out in late September or October. Since we want these as early as possible we put some of ours in a low tunnel, which we remove some time in March, letting the onions fend for themselves. The tunnel goes over early French beans, which need it a lot more!
- If you want some extra variety in your winter salad mixes sow claytonia, mustards, pak choi and salad rocket. We plant claytonia and salad rocket outside, the others do better with protection by October
- Early August is the time to re-start module sowing true spinach, so that it’s ready to replace the New Zealand spinach by the first frost. Spinach does fine sown in Autumn too, but will often not be ready for harvest until March
- If you have some way to protect it, also module sow a batch of winter lettuces in early August. We will protect ours with low tunnels and cold-frames towards the end of September or early October depending on the weather. I like Roxy, Freckles, Navara and the best of all: Grenoble Red.
- Late August is a good time to module sow corn salad (lambs lettuce), if you want it to mature in January, which is when we really need it! It’s one of the few salad leaves that survives outside, so it’s great for filling up patches of bare soil!
- We also restart sowing radish in August, to mature in the cooler weather of autumn. We keep sowing it until mid October.
- Finally we sometimes sow a batch of carrots in containers, which will stay outside until October and then mature over-winter in the polytunnel. We are switching over to growing winter carrots in the ground though.
Jobs: Cut back this years fruiting blackberry canes, leaving non-fruiting ones for next year. Lift squash, beetroot and main-crop potatoes at the end of the month if you need the space for winter crops, we always do!
Timing’s become even more critical in September, so all the same cautions apply! We clear our main polytunnel of the summer crops in October (normally the 5th) leaving only a few tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers in containers if we have space. Most of what we sow in September is destined for this abundance of space and since it’s the highest value space we have, it needs particular care. Germinating seedlings becomes a bit of a challenge because light levels are reducing, window sills are still warm, which means leggy seedlings if you don’t take care!
- We module sow a big batch of spinach, baby leaf kale and winter lettuce at the beginning of September. Although summer lettuce can be ready to plant in 3 weeks, in autumn we leave five weeks. All of these are destined for the polytunnel or low tunnels.
- Now is a key time for sowing brassicas that will over-winter in a greenhouse or polytunnel and then be planted out as space opens up in late winter, almost always in the polytunnel or cold-frames. We pot sow: spring cabbage, cauliflower and clumps of Brussels sprouts (for leaves in spring).
- We will also continue to module sow spring onions, which will be interplanted into lettuce beds for spring
While September sees us sowing into modules for planting under-cover, October switches focus to planting outside and into the ground into beds recently cleared of beetroot, squash and potatoes.
Jobs: prepare and apply compost to the beds you cleared in September, ready for the next crops: onions, garlic, broad beans etc. Prepare all of your September harvested fruit and veg for storage.
- In early October I have a lot of spare containers that previously had cucumbers and tomatoes in them. I pop in last direct sowing of carrots for spring
- Direct sow a variety of broad bean suitable for over-wintering. Don’t sow too early otherwise the plants will be too tall to withstand the ravages of winter
- Direct plant garlic in the ground
- If you grow over-wintered onions from sets, you can plant them now, as well as suitable shallots, but I like to grow mine from seed and plant them in October. However, be aware that they will occupy ground that could be used for other crops between October and March/April and yet only give you onions a month earlier than seeds sown in February, which yield superior onions. So don’t plant too many!
- We always plant next year’s spring brassicas in this year’s squash bed, which we clear in October, mulch with compost and direct sow with field beans. The bean roots feed the soil ready for the brassicas, the bean tops feed us with spinach-like greens in late winter and early spring
- It’s also worth pot sowing a second succession of brassicas that will over-winter in a greenhouse or polytunnel and then be planted out as space opens up in late winter, almost always in the polytunnel or cold-frames. We sow: calabrese, spring cabbage, cauliflower and clumps of Brussels sprouts (for leaves in spring).
- We also sow our last batch of radish in early October
The sowing is almost over for the year now. You will be potting on those over-wintering brassicas though and there is still a window of opportunity if you are running a bit late on October’s sowings.
Jobs: Mulch any beds that come free with compost, plant any under-cover space that comes free with small lettuces, mizuna, spring onions, spring cabbage. Make leafmould.
- Be quick and sow garlic and broad beans if you didn’t last month
- We also take all of our small – left over – garlic cloves and plant them 2” apart for green garlic in spring. We plant them in the un-used edges around the raised polytunnel beds and cold-frames
- Although it’s frowned upon, I also like to module sow a couple of trays of lettuce and just let it mature slowly in the greenhouse over winter. I always find at least one or two polytunnel or cold-frame beds that would be better stripped and replanted in February and having these stocky little plants ready is a real gift.
I don’t really recommend sowing anything in December, but if you really must, sow spring onions.
Jobs: mulch any beds that come free with compost, plant any under-cover space that comes free with small lettuces, mizuna, spring onions, spring cabbage. Reapply wood-chips to paths, cut back autumn fruiting raspberries, remove previous years summer fruiting canes. Prune gooseberries and generally tidy up.