February must be one of the most unpredictable months, swinging from grey heavy skies, rain and even freezing overnight temperatures to bright sunny days that tell us we’re almost at the end of a long winter. It’s the last available time to get our soil ready and feed it as much as possible before the growing season starts. The first signs of life in the garden lift our soul and signal to us that it’s all about to happen – if the ground isn’t wet, soggy or frozen take this time to sow your first seeds directly into the ground. And enjoy the little miracles that remind us that the seasons are part of the endless cycle of life - after winter comes spring, slowly but surely.
Sow, plant, propagate
- Plant shallots in a well prepared and rich soil. Use your own wood ash to make your soil more nutritious and welcoming.
- Plant Jerusalem artichoke tubers directly outdoors. They will grow to become very tall plants so make sure they don’t overshadow any other crops you’re planning to grow.
- Sow artichoke seeds indoors for planting out in April or May.
- Provided the ground is not wet and soggy, sow pea, spinach and broad beans in the area you’ve dedicated to legumes. Peas and broad beans will need some form of protection if the weather is particularly cold. If the ground is wet and soggy wait until its drier – broad beans in particular really hate it.
- Sow parsnips and radishes together as they are good companions. Parsnips germinate really slowly – alternate a row of parsnips with a row of radishes - the latter will grow fast and will mark where the parsnips are going to grow, preventing you from weeding them out by mistake.
- Sow summer cabbage and cauliflowers.
- Start or continue sowing lettuce in succession to ensure you have a continuous crop – this means that every 2 to 3 weeks you can sow some seeds. At this stage you need to protect them by a cloche or plant them outside if you have a particularly protected area of the garden. Lettuces are not heavy feeders so can be planted with pretty much any of your crops.
- Pot on young tomato and chilli seedlings if you’ve started them back in January, otherwise sow them now under protection.
- Divide rhubarb by lifting old crowns and splitting them with a spade – it’s a very forgiving plant and provided you’ve got one healthy bud, strong roots and good soil it should grow without major issues.
- Continue chitting potatoes (see January’s tips).
- Finish planting fruit trees and bushes if you didn’t manage to do so last month.
- Brassicas brassicas brassicas! Kale, Brussels sprouts, winter cauliflowers and winter cabbages should all be abundant at this time of the year.
- Parsnips – protect them in case of hard frost or leave them in the ground and they should be fine till the next month.
- Leeks and Swedes.
- Early sprouting broccoli – if you’ve planted early varieties in the summer you should now enjoy green and purple sprouting broccoli. Keep on picking to encourage more shoots.
- Winter hardy salad leaves.
- If you’ve planted raspberries in the autumn, now it’s time to cut them down to roughly a foot or 30cm. This means that in the first year you won’t have any fruit but you’ll allow the roots to grow stronger and ensure healthy canes which will give you a lot of fruit next year.
- Tie wall fruit to their wires.
- Check blackcurrants for any early sign of big bud mite – if you see swollen buds remove them as they might house the unwanted pest.
- Finish winter pruning apples and pears as they’ll soon come out of dormancy, as well as gooseberries, currants and blueberries.
- Cut back autumn fruiting raspberries - cut back all last year's canes to ground level this month. New canes will send out shoots in early spring and these will produce fruit later in the year. Autumn fruiting varieties are often largely left alone by birds, unlike summer fruiting varieties so there's more fruit for you and they don't need protecting.
Do not prune summer fruiting raspberries in this way. Prune these immediately after fruiting, removing the canes that have just produced fruit only. The new canes will produce fruit next year. See August tips for more on summer fruiting raspberries.
Jobs to do
- As the weather gets better hoe between your spring cabbages and check for slugs on their outer leaves. The same applies to cauliflowers and any other member of the Brassica family.
- Check your soil pH (see details in the January tips). When you’ve determined its acidity or alkalinity you can then make informed decisions on how to look after it. As soon as the soil is dry enough and frost-free, break it down with a fork and apply lime to make it richer and provided much needed nutrients; ash is a good alternative to lime if your soil is on the acidic side. Be mindful that our chalky soils tend to be rather alkaline. If that’s the case, lime will not be beneficial, unless you want to plant Brassicas – a higher pH will prevent club root and definitely help your Brassicas.
- Turn your compost heap, aerate it with a fork and keep it warm by covering it up.
- Finish feeding your soil and spreading well-rotted compost or manure and let the worms do the rest.
- Check any stored produce for signs of decay and throw away withered or rotting vegetables and fruit.
- Harvest and store rainwater in water butts – some recent years have been very wet, but we must be prepared for a dry spring as the weather seems to be highly unpredictable.
- Clean your greenhouse so it's ready for spring planting. A clean greenhouse helps keep diseases at bay and destroys any fungal diseases that may have overwintered in the milder, inside conditions. Clean windows also let in more light which is really beneficial for growth in early spring.
- Swap seeds or make sure you buy or order all the seeds you need as soon as possible as our busiest time is about to start. This might be a good opportunity to chat to your neighbours at home or at the allotment and get precious seeds that your fellow growers have saved from their best crops.
The way we define friends and foes in our food growing areas helps us to look after our crops and ensure their survival. If we step back and look at the bigger picture we often realise that they are all part of a harmonious ecosystem. Encouraging beneficial wildlife is far better than trying to deplete all living pests, as this allows for nature to take care of itself. No pests means no food for other animals, which is not a positive outcome.
Endless information on the topic is available, but essentially the more variety we provide in terms of habitats and plant species the more we welcoming we make our gardens and plots to wildlife. Here are some tips on how to do it:
- Don’t be too tidy – February is still a very cold month and all sorts of wildlife is still in need of shelter. Wait a little longer before cutting your herbaceous perennials and be mindful of hibernating frogs, toads and newts under stones and containers. We found 15 newts at the Harvest demo garden who were hibernating for the winter.
- If you’re gardening on a windy site and planning to grow a living hedge to protect your crops, why not plant a wildlife friendly one? Check the Wildlife Trusts website for detailed information on how to do it.
- Check the Wild About Gardening website for monthly tips on how to attract beneficial wildlife into your food growing area.