February in the Garden
January flew by without too much hassle from the weather. Often it is a painful month for a grower, but as the mild weather continued we were able to get things done (in t-shirts!) that would usually lead to frozen fingers and toes.
We took a break at the end of January to visit family and friends in France only to return to temperatures of –9.8ºC. In a way this weather is welcome – as it may help to kill off, or slow down the reproduction of some of the pests and diseases that have been thriving in the mild, damp weather.
Our sowing begins in February and will start with tomatoes (more than 10 different varieties), peppers, chillies, aubergines, spring onions and onions (we are trying two new varieties to us this year – Long Red Florence and a white Italian onion called Musona White). We decided to try sowing onion from seed this year as opposed to from sets. This is a much cheaper option and if done at the right time and treated well can result in onions as big as those planted as sets and also seems to result in lower levels of downy mildew (Peronospora destructor) which can cause onions to rot in storage. All of these seeds will be sown in module and seed trays and raised in the propagation tunnel on benches with soil warming cables to provide gentle heat, which aids germination.
We will also be sowing carrots in the polytunnel in the next week or so (if the temperature gets slightly warmer again!) to get early bunching carrots that we can pick from early May.
Our seed potatoes arrived whilst we were away, so the first job to do is to chit them. This is a process of laying the potatoes out in a light, frost-free place to allow the shoots to start growing. This gives the potatoes a headstart before planting them (which for us is usually in middle of March – once the soil has drained and warmed up), and is said to bring the time of harvest forward a little. We are growing four varieties this year; le Ratte, Linzer Delikatess, Valor and Pink Fir Apple.
We have planted rhubarb, and will have more coming as well as a few soft fruit bushes (from which we will take cuttings over the next few years to increase our stock). We will also be dividing the raspberry canes and planting another couple of rows of these as well as a row of comfrey. Comfrey is a wonderful plant whose long roots bring up potassium from deep in the soil. The leaves can be cut throughout the growing season and we use them as mulch for tomatoes to provide potash and encourage flowering and fruiting.
So…although the garden is still in a slumber, we will be preparing for the growing season this month and should be kept busy.