January 2011


Updates from January 2011.

January is a quiet month, and how much needs doing depends on how you finished the autumn. Some harvests should still be possible because undug soil with a mulch of compost freezes less hard than dug soil.

We had 33 frosts between 24th November and 27th December, but still harvested some lovely parsnips in mid December and they are extremely sweet.

Hare/rabbit and pigeon damage to Romanesco broccoli

Hare/rabbit and pigeon damage to Romanesco broccoli

Also there were still plenty of salad leaves, right up until Christmas, a mixture of residual autumn growth in cloche and tunnel together with endive and radicchio plants that were lifted by early December and stored indoors in trays, with some soil on a small residue of roots to keep them alive. Then we took them apart for their best leaves to put in the salad mix when needed. I still have a few of these amazingly resilient plants to use in January; from a harvesting point of view they have been easier than outdoor leaves, which were frozen through most of December and afforded few picking opportunities. You can harvest frozen leaves but they risk breaking when being handled.

The cold weather has caused new challenges, especially from the ravages of hungry wildlife. Even where I have netted vegetables, pigeons have been voraciously pecking leaves through the netting. Snow weighed some of the nets down to ground level, sitting on top of cabbages and red russian kale, but at least the pigeons could not then reach the leaves.

Boxes of salad leaves in the greenhouse

Boxes of salad leaves in the greenhouse

Salads such as endives, spinach and mustard have survived well under an outdoor cloche, and survival rates of salad plants in the polytunnels is really impressive, in spite of two nights when I recorded -12C inside a tunnel. The plants are not fleeced and ventilation is given at all times from both ends of the tunnels, because salad plants prefer being cold to being damp and stuffy.

This was confirmed again when I received a question from growers who had been losing plants where fleece was used and there was insufficient ventilation.

January is perhaps the quietest month in a vegetable garden, but do take any opportunities to undertake some of the following, to help you be ready for busier times ahead.

Preparing ground

de-clodding cow manure after frostComposting Spread well rotted compost or manure on any bare soil as soon as possible, so that frost has time to soften the organic matter before spring raking/forking of compost that was spread before Christmas. In any unfrozen and drier weather, use a rake or fork to knock around any larger lumps of manure and compost on the surface, creating a softer tilth for sowing and planting.

Although it is possible for a few vegetables, there is actually little to gain from sowing seeds in January, unless you want competition winning onions and are able to give heat.

Sowing, planting

Lambs lettuce under a posh cloche; the un-cloched ones survived too

Lambs lettuce under a posh cloche; the un-cloched ones survived too

Although it is possible for a few vegetables, there is actually little to gain from sowing seeds in January, unless you want competition winning onions and are able to give heat.

Harvesting

Roots such as parsnip and swede can be lifted, leeks too; if birds and animals can be kept at bay, there may be kale, brussels sprouts, and cabbages such as savoys and January King. A few salad leaves should be possible undercover and some lambs lettuce outside