‘The exception to the rule are chillies’

Sow chillies now but otherwise it’s time to do some plotting and planning

Thank God January is almost over: it is never an easy month and is made worse by the desperate need to do something, anything, in the garden combined with the ability to do very little. Now (and truthfully spoken, February, too) is not the month to start sowing. The light levels are still too low, the day length too short, the weather too dismal. The exception to the rule are chillies, which benefit from the longest growing season you can eke out. And perhaps leeks and onions, but only if you have heat on which to germinate them and a greenhouse or polytunnel to move them into, because there’s no point in getting them going now only to have to kick them outdoors too early because you’ve run out of windowsills.

Instead, it’s time to do some plotting and planning. Take a long dark evening and go through all your seed packets. Sort into one pile anything that is more than three years old or has only a smattering of seeds. Now you can take stock of what’s left and order new seed. Be systematic, otherwise you’ll go online and order what you think you need only to find you have eight packets of some strangely named squash and no radishes.

This is also the moment to sort out your storage. Seed needs to be stored somewhere cool and dry in an airtight container. Ideally this would be at around 5C, but unless you have a huge fridge, somewhere consistently cool at around 10-15C is fine. The worse place to store seeds is in the greenhouse or on a windowsill, where temperature and humidity fluctuations will ruin them quickly.

Now, because that desire to sow something is strong and hasn’t necessarily gone away despite all this tidying, you can have fun with the all the out-of-date seeds. Anything that might make a good microgreen, herbs, brassicas, salads, radishes, peas and broad beans can be sown on your windowsill for salads and garnishes. Sow thickly (germination may be low due to viability), but something will come up. Harvest when the seedlings are a few centimetres high like you would cress.

If you have leftover annual flower seeds, mix them together and, later in spring, sow them in a strip for cut flowers or just to please the pollinators. For those packets where you have only a pinch of seed left, mix like and like together – different lettuce, radish or carrot varieties, for example – to make rainbow mixes that can be sown in pots or in the ground later in spring.