February 2008


Updates for February 2008.

The Food Garden in February

feb08_blog1Be in no rush to sow outdoors, with the exception of broad beans, whose large seeds have an amazing and unusual ability to sit quietly in cold, wet soil, growing little by little in any milder spells. Much of their late winter growth is below ground, invisible to us, enabling them to make plenty of new stem and leaves in early spring. I even sow some leftover seed closely, at a spacing of 30x3cm (12×1″) to have a few growing tips for salad in May. They possess a strong, beany flavour and come at a time when salad leaves can still be a little scarce, and their flowers are also tasty in salad.

The spring-like weather in January has brought on un unusually bountiful harvest of winter salad leaves in the polytunnels and under a cloche. Outside there are more leaves than usual of Red Russian kale, chard, lambs lettuce, rocket, land cress and winter purslane, as well as leeks, sprouts, kale and parsnips.

feb08_blog2Most of my beds are covered in an inch or so of compost which went on in the drier weather before Christmas. If you can reach your beds or soil with a wheelbarrow, in any drier weather, this is a good time to cover bare, weed free soil with some well rotted organic matter. If there are many annual weeds, lay cardboard first to deprive them of light and spread the compost on top of it.

There is still time to order seeds if you have not yet done so. I recommend looking at www.tozerseedsdirect.com, www.seedsofitaly.com and www.tamarorganics.co.uk for an excellent choice of varieties. Tozers are one of the last independent British seed companies who do a lot of innovative breeding and offer a most impressive selection online. Seeds of Italy sell Franchi seeds whose quality, quantity and germination rates are impressive, although I feel they could describe sowing dates and growing methods better on the packets – especially their amazing range of chicories which are so little understood in Britain. See my new book for explanations of how to grow them – it is available from late March.

If you want to buy plants rather than growing from seed, take a look at the interesting choices from www.rocketgardens.co.uk.

Another aspect of planning, if you want to sow and plant by the moon, is to find a good diary or planner with dates for the whole year, and a nicely laid out wall chart can be found at www.lunarorganics.com. It is a little easier to use than Maria Thun’s Sowing and Planting Calendar, which is so thoroughly researched that it can almost be intimidating in all it’s detail. I use her timings where possible but for gardeners who are starting out with sowing by the moon, Lunar Organics’ chart is easier to follow.

Finally, for those who like their food gardens to be as beautiful and stimulating as they are productive, have a look at this link, www.thinkingardens.co.uk, to see a debate about where creative gardening is going in Britain, and to what extent vegetable growing can be as ornamental as, well, ornamental gardens. A different kind of beauty, where the gardener has a more intimate involvement, seeking food from the soil. It can be a difficult relationship if crops fail but the potential rewards, when they come, are an avenue to exciting dialogue with soil and plants and offer the chance to enrich both our meals and the environment.

Charles Dowding.