Cloching for an early crop

Warming up your soil by cloching will help germination greatly, particularly when it comes to carrots, parsnips, parsley, spinach and beetroot. These seeds all need warm air temperatures of approximately 10C/50F before they even think of starting, so don't waste time if temperatures are too low. They also need warm soil and covering the ground beforehand, for ten days or so, will help enormously and dry it out a little, ensuring better germination. If it's very wet, a cloche will also prevent your seeds from becoming waterlogged.

Which Seeds to Buy ?

Use early carrot varieties for speedy crops because they mature much faster. The blunt-ended, almost coreless carrot 'Early Nantes' is an excellent variety, however, if you
only have room for one, go for 'Amsterdam Forcing' because this variety matures about ten days
earlier. It also responds well to cloching, because its finger-sized carrots are sweet with a good orange colour.

Carrots normally take between 10 and 20 days to emerge through the soil, however parsnips are much slower, taking 30 days at least. They can also be reluctant to germinate so it's far better to opt for a modern F1 parsnip like 'Gladiator' than a traditional one, as the hybrid vigour of 'Gladiator' gives you a much better germination rate. Parsnips have large papery seeds which blow away easily, so never sow them on windy days and if the soil is dry, water the drill well as this will keep the flyaway seeds in place. Whenever seeds are sown, cover the area with chicken wire and sticks to prevent cats and birds from unearthing them.

Parsley is another member of the umbellifera family (just like carrot and parsnip) that can be sown in pre-warmed ground. 'Extra Triple Curled' is a good performer and a short row at the end of your carrots is ideal. The seeds of these umbellifers do lose viability far quicker than most though, so check the dates on the packets and ditch any that are old. If you allow your parsley to flower and produce heads of mustard-yellow flowers they will mix well with easy annual flowers like Calendulas, orange Eschscholzia (Californian poppy) and Papaver (poppies). Sprinkle seeds of the handsome maroon-eyed orange Calendula 'Indian Prince', the frilly Eschscholzia 'Mission Bells' with any poppy seed to create waves of colour. These simple annuals are highly attractive to all pollinators, which will then go on to fertilise your beans and fruit.

Spinach 'Bloomsdale' can also be sown now. It produces dark-green rounded leaves and these rounder-leafed varieties tend not to bolt (ie. run to seed early) as often as those with triangular leaves. Sow every four weeks from March to July for a continuous crop from May to September. Beetroot 'Boltardy' is an excellent variety for early sowing as it tolerates extremes of weather without bolting. Both have large nobbly seeds that need sowing thinly, because each seed can produce several plants.


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