Sowing seed outdoors
- Start sowing the earliest vegetable crops as soon as the soil is around 5-6°C. If the grass is growing – that’s a good sign. Heavy clay soils will take longer to warm up. A black plastic sheet will help to speed things up. In a couple of weeks the soil will be ready for sowing.
- The earlier you sow broad beans the more likely they are able to avoid the ravages of black fly.
- Towards the end of February in the south of the UK try sowing parsnips. ‘Up north’ wait until March or later. ‘Avonresister’ is early maturing variety and although it has been around for some time, it has very good resistance to canker. ‘Gladiator F1’ is the world’s first hybrid parsnip producing a heavy crop.
- Spring onions can also be sown directly in the soil now.
- It is your last chance to plant garlic this month.
- Shallots: Buy as bulbs. Each bulb will divide to produce a clump of 5-6 shallots. ‘Longor’ can be planted in February. Plant as a second crop on previously improved soil (good organic muck or fertilizer). Alternatively dig in some compost.
- Jerusalem Artichokes: The fibrous root system of this vegetable makes it an ideal crop to grow to break up uncultivated ground. Above ground, tall stems provide good cover for birds and amphibians, crowd out weeds, and provide a temporary windbreak. ‘Fuseau’ the ‘non-knobbly variety’,
- Chinese Artichokes: Also known as Crosnes du Japon. A hardy perennial vegetable. An easy vegetable to grow, the tubers are pleasantly mild in flavour and can be eaten raw or cooked. It prefers a fertile, moisture retentive soil – add garden compost and well-rotted leaf mould. Harvest once the foliage is killed off by winter frost. Dig them up only when needed, covering the rest of the crop with a thick mulch of straw or hay. This month, plant them in a polytunnel or under cloches
Sowing under cover
Hardy crops that are usually grown outdoors can be sown under cloches or in the soil beds of a greenhouse or polytunnel. The following crops are suitable to sow under cover now:
- Lettuce – loose-leaf or seedling varieties are best
- Baby beetroot – use an early variety, resistant to bolting
- Salad onions
- Peas – mangetout or sugar snap are best
- Potatoes – compact early varieties
Protect these crops with horticultural fleece in single double or even triple layers if frost is forecast. Sheets of newspaper or old net curtains can also be used for frost protection.
Sowing in trays and modules to transplant
- Raising plants to transplant outdoors (or under cloches or in a greenhouse/polytunnel) gives you a head start on the season. It is simple to provide extra warmth for a few pots and trays – in a warm room, or on a heated bench, but remember plants at this stage need good light levels as much as warmth. The downside is that plants need constant and regular checks at least twice a day to ensure their welfare. And if the plants reach a stage where they need to go out we are at a time of year when even the most careful ‘hardening-off’ cannot prepare them for a cold snap that could sneak up at any time until well into March.
- Seeds to sow in trays and modules
- Baby beetroot – plant these out as modules without disturbing the roots.
- Kohlrabi – plant these out as modules without disturbing the roots.
- Early cabbage
- Early cauliflower
- Bulb onions
- Spring onions
- Globe artichoke, tomato, asparagus, celeriac, celery, lettuce and onions can be sown in a heated propagator this month.
Growing in containers
Growing in pots, tubs and trays is another way of getting a head start on the season. Vegetables to sow now for container growing include:
- Broad beans (‘Witkiem Manita’ or ‘Green Windsor’), carrots (Nantes or Amsterdam groups), loose leaf lettuce (try ‘Amorina’, ‘or ‘Belize’), salad onions and spinach (‘Giant Winter’ or ‘Matador’). Keep watered and cover with fleece if frost is forecast.
- Plant a few pots of potatoes for an early crop – if you have somewhere frost free to keep them.
Pest and disease prevention
- Dig up any weed potato plants growing from tubers left in the soil from last year, as they are the overwintering carriers for the potato blight fungus.
- Bury stems and stumps of overwintered brassicas, as soon as they have finished cropping, in a compost heap, or in a trench in the ground. This will help reduce the population of mealy aphids and whitefly which otherwise would simply move on to your spring planted crops.
- Clear up any plant debris, and remove diseased leaves from overwintered crops; put them on the compost heap.
For pictures and ideas of what you can sow in February try this Garden and Leisure site here or the Thompson and Morgan site by clicking on the site below and following the relevant tabs.