This is the exciting time of year when the first seedlings start to appear and we start to find time to visit our plot in the evenings. These are the months that transform our plots from mostly soil to an almost complete array of vegetation.
The weather is getting warmer, the days are getting longer and it is time to plant and sow outdoors. Established plants will need feeding, seeds need to be sewn, and young seedlings will require potting on.
But watch out for frost during May (by June there should be no risk), keep plants watered as we move into summer, and keep slugs and other pests at bay.
These are also very important months for keeping on top of weeds – conditions are also right for these to grow - so regularly hoe and hand pick out weeds. Hoeing also helps the ground to retain moisture – find out other ways of doing this in the newsletter article below. As we move towards early summer remember to: earth up your spuds – applying earth around the base of plant stems will reduce tubers’ exposure to frost as well as keeping them in the dark to stop them turning green; thin out direct-sown crops such as spinach, carrots and lettuce; and move leeks and brassicas to their final positions.
Remember to ventilate your greenhouse on warm days, and consider using blinds or shades to avoid excessive temperatures, and damping down pathways to maintain moisture levels (and discourage mites).
The ‘Hungry Gap’
February is truly in the 'Hungry Gap' - the period from January until late spring/early summer when there is not much to harvest – mostly the last of the winter crops - and very little growing outdoors, The main exceptions are:
Parsnips, Brussels sprouts, Kale, Chard, Leeks, Cauliflower and Winter Cabbage – harvest from January.
Rhubarb – harvest forced rhubarb from January, outdoor crops from March.
Purple Sprouting Broccoli– harvest from March to May.
Spring Greens, Salad Leaves, Spring Onions– harvest from March.
New potatoes, Radishes – harvest from April.
Asparagus – harvest From end April.
Outdoors - second earlies and maincrop potatoes, carrots, beetroot, parsnips, squashes, French & runner beans, sweetcorn.
Under cover - tomatoes, aubergine and other fruiting veg.
Erect pea-sticks and bean supports.
Prepare seed beds.
Prune cherry and plum trees.
Keep an eye on pests – slugs/snails, aphids.
Rhubarb, spinach and chard, spring cabbages, asparagus.
A well planned plot will have some well-developed brassicas as we head towards winter: various types of kale, cabbage, sprouts and broccoli. Give them a helping hand by:
Salad crops develop quickly, and there are a wide variety – sorrel, lettuce, endive, kale, radicchio and mustard leaves - to suit various conditions.
They can be grown in seed drills, broadcast over an area of ground or grown in containers. Either way, they offer a fresh and tasty alternative to bags of supermarket salads.
As salad crops can outgrow weeds, watering and pests are the main concerns for salad growers. Watering every two days may be necessary during long dry spells if salad crops are grown in compost rich beds (daily watering may be necessary if they are grown in small pots).
Slugs are the main pest, and can be treated with pellets, nematodes, or regular picking off. Ants and aphids can also be a problem – ants can be kept in check if the surrounding soil is kept moist. Aphids can be squashed by hand if they are not tackled by ladybirds or beetles.
Regular collect leaves when they are ready to harvest. If leaves start to sag after harvesting they can be recovered by soaking in cold water.
February is time to prepare seed potatoes for planting by ‘chitting’ them – storing them in such a way that they start to sprout before being planted in the ground.
The potatoes should be spread out over a single layer in a cool, dry place which is free from the risk of frost. Large, unused egg boxes are ideal for this, allowing air circulation between each seed potato.
Ideally the storage area should be bright but the seed potatoes should be out of direct sunlight. After a few days the potatoes will then grow short stubby shoots which will help the potato plants to grow when they are planted out to get them off to a fast start when planted out. St Patrick’s Day is the traditional day of the year to plant potatoes.
There is some evidence that you can grow larger potatoes by breaking off the weaker shoots just before planting, leaving only the three or four stronger shoots to grow.