Although often the coldest month of the year, February is when the allotment year really starts – after the cold and wet days of January there should be more opportunity to start working on the soil, particularly if it is free draining.
The days are starting to get longer so there’s more time to get crops started under cover and tend to the plot. Winter is starting to recede and spring is on its way. It’s time to prepare beds for the year ahead. The days are unpredictable and the ground can be too cold or wet to guarantee plant growth but that shouldn’t stop us from taking our chances and start planting crops.
In greenhouses, polytunnels and on windowsills some of the earliest sowings can be made, giving summer crops a start for the season ahead. Peas, carrots, beetroot and lettuce can be planted out under cloches.
Seed potatoes are ready for chitting early seed potatoes, and you should dig some organic matter in ready for their planting. If you have a soil thermometer, when the reading is above 7degC you can consider whether or not to plant out the chitted potatoes and sow the first seeds of the year.
Outdoors - garlic and shallots, broad beans, fruit trees and bushes,
Under cover - peas, spinach, broccoli, tomatoes
Dig over your plot,
Add well-rotted organic material
Chit seed potatoes.
Last chance to prune hard fruit trees
Winter salads, kale, Brussels sprouts, swedes, cabbage, leeks, parsnips
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.