With spring tantalisingly close, February is the perfect time to head back to your vegetable plot or allotment and get it ready for another year of sowing, growing and enjoying your harvest! Here are our tips for what to do now if you’re planning to grow your own food this year.
Preparing your beds
The most important job you can do this month is to prepare your beds for sowing. Clear the area of weeds and stones, and dig over, incorporating plenty of compost or well-rotted manure. This helps to aerate, drain and warm the soil, preparing it for the coming season. Don’t forget to leave an area of the vegetable patch without manure, though, for your carrots, as manure can make their roots fork and distort. If you rotate crops, then planting them next year in an area that had manure this year will be perfect.
Clean and place your cloches
Get your cloches ready now so that they can get to work on warming the soil for early sowings. Clean them well with soapy water and rinse, before setting them in place a few weeks before sowing.
Sowing and Planting
In the greenhouse
Aubergine seeds can be sown in the greenhouse now, as can asparagus peas, both of which will be ready to harvest in the summer. Asparagus peas are, in fact, not at all related to the asparagus (which can be planted out next month), but are actually scrambling legumes with pretty, deep red leaves and seeds pods that have a delicate, asparagus-like flavour, hence the name.
For salad lovers, sow cucumber, tomato and sweet pepper seeds, provided that the conditions in the greenhouse are warm enough.
Beetroot seeds can be sown undercover now, and will add an injection of colour and earthy flavour to your kitchen by June – beetroot and goats cheese risotto anyone?
Deliciously bitter chicory can also be sown under cloches for an early summer harvest.
If you are after speedy results, two of the fastest crops to mature are radishes and peas, so sow now for an early May treat.
Spinach and lettuce leaves will also provide quick results, if sown under cloches, and will provide nutrition throughout the whole season.
If the soil isn’t frozen, hardy broad beans can be sown directly into the seed bed. Sow 5cm deep and 23cm apart, either in double rows or blocks, staggering the planting to make to most of the space.
If the ground isn’t waterlogged or frozen, raspberry canes and blackberries can be planted out, as well as rhubarb crowns – if you resist picking all the rhubarb stems in the first year, you will be rewarded with armfuls of stems in year two!
Garlic can be planted all the way from October through to February, so there is still time to get this hugely popular vegetable in the ground. It will grow well in any sunny, fertile site, with the individual cloves being broken up and planted just below the soil surface, 15cm apart and in rows 30 cm apart. It is best not to plant garlic bought from a supermarket, as these may carry disease, so, instead, it is a better idea to buy them from a garden centre.
Other Key Jobs
If you are planning to grow potatoes later in the year, you must allow them to ‘chit’ first. Chitting your potatoes means to let them sprout, and this will help them to grow faster and stronger.
To ‘chit’ your potatoes, in February – March put them in a tray with shoots facing up. Place the tray somewhere light, protecting them from both extreme cold or heat. Leave for around six weeks, until the sprouts reach 1.5 – 2.5cm long.
Slugs will start raising their ugly heads around this time of year, so start thinking about what your line of attack will be this year.
Clear the ground under trees and bushes or weeds, and have a general tidy up of any fallen debris such as branches, in readiness of the coming season.
Whether you are new to seed sowing or an old hand at it, our top tips should provide all you need to know to ensure a bumper crop!