February in the garden
If you are lucky this month you’ll feel the first warm rays of the late-winter-turning-to-spring sun. It’s great to be reminded of warmer and longer days ahead, and sunny February days make working outside far more enjoyable. But winter still has its grip firmly on us so still expect some cold, wet or snowy days ahead. When you can’t get outside to work, carry on with your seed selections and tidying up the garden shed, greenhouse and cold frames. If you haven’t planned your crop rotation on the veg patch yet, put this down on paper and pin it up in your shed.
Outside, now is a good time to make new vegetable beds, the ideal size being one metre wide by three long. If your compost heap hasn’t been turned for a while, get on with this and use any mature compost in your newly created beds or dig lightly, if the ground isn’t frozen, into existing beds and under fruit trees and bushes. If you need to order any additional bare root fruit bushes or trees do this as soon as you can this month as availability and planting time is running out. Make sure new trees are staked well as winter weather and early spring winds can easily push new plants out of position.
Make any new vegetable beds now. The ideal width is one metre by however long you want the bed, although three metres maximum is a good workable, maximum length. You need to be able to reach into the beds without trampling on the soil so if your plots are wider that one metre, consider putting in some paths for easy access. If space allows, it’s useful to have a separate nursery bed to start off seedlings such as those in the brassica family (cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli and kale) that transplant easily.
Keep on spreading organic manures over vacant ground, remove weeds and generally make sure soil is in tip top condition, ready for an early start in spring. Warm up soil for about two weeks prior to sowing seeds direct or planting out. Simply cover bare plots with horticultural fleece, black polythene or even newspaper: the warm soil will help to get your seeds and young plants off to a good start.
If you bought seed potatoes last month, don’t forget to chit them. Place in shallow wooden or cardboard trays (egg cartons are perfect) and leave somewhere light and frost-free for new sprouts (chits) to develop over the coming weeks.
If you grow fruit there’s a variety of jobs that need some attention before Spring. Finish pruning apple and pear trees. Make new strawberry beds and order virus-free stock. Cut back to ground level summer and autumn fruiting raspberry canes and mulch around the plants. Cover stone fruit such as apricots, cherries, nectarines or peaches with fleece to protect blossom from frost and birds. And continue taking hardwood cuttings from healthy currants, gooseberries and raspberries.
There’s lots of seed that can be sown. I find it easier to start seeds off indoors, whether in a greenhouse, on a windowsill in the house or in a heated propagator. Next, I prick out seedlings into modules and gradually get them used to the outside, keeping tender plants protected, before planting little plug plants or similar direct into the veg bed. I find this method produces a much higher success rate than sowing direct into the ground and you have a bit more control over the plant growth whilst young seedlings are maturing. Some seeds will not germinate without some heat so read information carefully on packets before sowing.
- Broad beans
- Calabrese (aka broccoli)
- Chicory and endive: for a cut and come again crop
- Globe artichokes
- Lettuce and salad leaves: sow in little batches every fortnight
- Red cabbage
- Salad onions
- Summer cabbage
- Summer cauliflower
- Summer Turnips
- Tomatoes: these will need some background heat to germinate
- Lift the last of the root vegetables like parsnips and celeriac
- Lift Jerusalem artichokes as you need them: they survive all winter in the soil (but do make sure you get every tuber out, otherwise plants will grow again in the spring)
- Pick winter cabbages and cauliflowers
- Pick kale, leeks and sprouting broccoli
- Continue to inspect stored produce and remove any that are rotting: it only takes one to infect the whole crop
Philippa Pearson is a professional horticulturist and gardener, and she looks after a large estate in Hertfordshire amongst other projects. A keen and passionate gardener all her life, Philippa lives in rural Cambridgeshire where her ever increasing organically maintained vegetable and fruit garden provide a year round harvest of interesting crops, despite being on heavy clay.