You are hereFebruary 2011, sowing and preparing
February 2011, sowing and preparing
a plant of flower sprouts in January - leaves eaten by pigeons, some delicious sprouts to pick, they are a cross between kale and brussels sprouts
Winter has seemed long already, but my father liked to remind me of Candlemas Day on February 2nd as marking winter’s halfway point….Luckily it also marks something more inspiring, the arrival of some lighter mornings, to complement the lighter afternoons we have already.
Another February landmark is in mid month when sunlight at this latitude reaches close to ten hours a day, enough for plants to make healthy growth if temperatures are high enough. I always notice the difference in polytunnel salad plants whose leaves become firmer and glossier, and a little larger at each of the weekly picks.
picking leaves of mustard in January, growing in a tray of cow manure: from left, Green in the Snow, Red Frills and Pizzo
and these lambs lettuce, sown 8 September, have survived outdoors with no protection (they are growing between young strawberry plants)
Plants in the tunnels and greenhouse have survived this cold winter in good shape, apart form some lettuce in the less aerated bottom tunnel, which at 60 feet long, with only two narrow doors (always open through winter, night and day) has too little fresh air for some plants.
Looking ahead, if you have a propagating space there is plenty to sow now, starting with lettuce, spinach, early cabbage (such as Hispi and Derby Day), onions, spring onions, parsley, orach, dill and tree spinach. One plant of the latter is probably enough for most households!
lettuce seed of different varieties - there are about 350 seeds here
ten days later, I am pricking out seedlings - the one on left should have been deeper
All the seeds I mention will germinate in a cold greenhouse, but can be speeded up if you have room on a windowsill. I started some lettuce like that in January because I needed photographs for Amateur Gardening magazine (a late February issue), and seedlings became leggy in the relative lack of light, so I pricked them out as deep as possible to make plants sturdy again, now in the greenhouse and frozen as I write this.
All the winter frosts have been great for breaking up lumps of manure and compost on the surface. I run a long-pronged manure fork through it on the beds’ surface, or use the fork in a tapping motion downwards on the beds to knock out lumps. The best tilth is from my own compost which has broken down to a beautiful soft humus, most inviting for sowing, but I am not planning any until sowing parsnips in March. However, broad beans can be sown now, and will take the best part of a month to emerge.
This is a time of year to be patient with sowings. Seed packets like to give optimistically long windows of opportunity, maybe hoping some early sowings will perish in cold soil and more seed has to be bought! Throughout spring, as growing conditions improve, later sowings tend to catch the earlier ones and are often more healthy.
in late January these endive and spinach are looking healthy, from a late August sowing, cloche cover was put on in November, with a gap at soil level to allow air through
But indoor sowing in dry, warmer conditions is different because glass and polythene can trap the increasing amounts of light and convert them to warmth. Fleece also does this to some extent, and keeping the wind off is a big help to plants. Towards month’s end you can even be sowing tomatoes, peppers, chilies and aubergines in a protected space, but only if some warmth is given, especially for the first ten days or so while seeds are germinating. They need more warmth to germinate than their seedlings need to grow - so it is good to germinate seeds in the house, even in the airing cupboard, as long as you remember to bring them into light as soon as shoots appear.
look what the deer have been doing to my swedes! they have also nibbled parsnips, down to a three or four inch depth
but these Cheltenham Green Top beetroot have not been noticed: the fleece cover does not stop animals, except perhaps rabbits, but it has helped beetroots to survive the worst frost