It’s the start of the New Year and with it comes a new growing season.
Things never slow down for gardeners and there are jobs to be done even if we’re not sowing or harvesting. And any time spent actively outdoors brings mental and physical benefits – what better excuse to get down the plot?
January is usually one of the two coldest months of the year and many planned trips to the plot are likely to be disrupted. When that happens it’s an opportunity to review the year, plan ahead, sort through old seeds and restore tools. If there is a break in the weather, try and complete any winter digging – spreading compost/manure - while there is still time for the frost to further break down the soil and cover any prepared ground with plastic sheeting or tarpaulins to prevent soil becoming water logged.
Now is not the time to be tempted into rushing things – it’s the time to be disciplined and patient. If the weather stops you from getting out on the plot stay in and get organised.
The ‘Hungry Gap’
January marks the start of 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 - Fruit trees and fruit bushes. Garlic sets, shallots, hardy peas and broad beans (Aquadulce varieties).
Spread manure over empty beds.
Clean pots, store produce, and plan for the year ahead.
Start to chit potatoes.
Parsnips, swedes,hardy winter brassicas: cabbages, kale, Brussels sprouts.
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.