Growing your own Vegetables and Fruit
Enjoy growing and eating fresh veg and fruit when you want it.
Here, help is at hand month by month so you can see what you should be doing on your plot when growing your own vegetables and your own fruit. The weather and where you live make a huge difference to what grows, or not, but doing anything is better than nothing. Use the links above if you want specific information on a fruit or veg, or to see what you should have done last month.
The weather may be cold, the light poor, the ground soggy, but there is plenty to do, inside and out. If you’d rather be in, check through seed and plant catalogues and plan, and even order, what you think you will need. And have a peek to see if any snowdrops are coming through.
In this often dark and cold month it’s good idea to check through January’s list and make sure you’ve done all the preparation work that you can.
Fruit trees and bushes need to be pruned before the end of the month, while they are dormant and before they kick into action. This is an art/science in its own right, so I won’t cover it here, but a short piece is mentioned by each specific fruit in the Dictionary. Do a little, rather than nothing! If the fruit has a stone, eg. Cherry, or plum, don’t prune now, prune in Summer. Prune your winter fruiting raspberry canes by cutting back to the ground – but don’t touch your summer canes. And don’t touch cherry or plum now, leave them till the summer.
Hopefully your seed packets have arrived, so read the instructions and start sowing some early varieties. Broad Bean and Parsnip are usually one of the first, certainly for outside. Do some Broad Beans in pots, and some outside. Don’t overdo it, as you’ll need to leave space for more sowings in March and onwards. It is very hard to throw away seedlings so don’t sow a lot and you won’t have to do this. The weather is still cold, the light poor and so unless you are using a heated greenhouse/indoor windowsill, nothing is likely to get going, but you’ll be less frustrated knowing you’ve done something. Opening a seed packet and sowing is like saying “We’re off”.
Make sure you have ordered certified virus-free seed potatoes and then put them to be chitted. Late varieties may not need chitting, but earlies do. I have read that you should plant out chitted tubers on Good Friday. Well that’s 21 March in 2008, 12 April in 2009, 24 April in 2011. But, Easter follows the lunar cycle, and as we are told, that’s worth following to get great veg.
You are leaving it late, but prepare fruit and asparagus beds now if you have not yet done so. If not, leave until the autumn, so that’s one less job to do now. If you’ve planted some summer fruiting Raspberries, they need supports, so get them in now; and work out what you are going to use to support beans and peas. Autumn fruiting raspberries tend to be self supporting, or you can tie them into wires if you have put them in.
If you’ve had your soil covered, but you know it’s got loads of nettles and brambles, peel some material back and have a go at digging them out, then recover. Do a little at a time, often is much easier than killing yourself with a big job, and you tend to be more thorough. You can keep doing this until planting out which could be months away. Doing something is better than nothing, however small.
If you have perfect soil, then rake it to remove debris that arrives from nowhere, and all the bits and pieces from your compost that rise to the surface over the winter. If you haven’t yet done so, put some garden compost/manure on the beds, and maybe cover with permealay to start warming the soil up.
If you live in a warm, sheltered area you may even be thinking of planting out, but being a northern gardener I won’t do anything till the end of March, early April. Look for weeds in the veg patch, once they start showing you know the soil’s warming up. It’s frustrating to wait, but plants only do well when the conditions are right (either naturally or by artificially protecting them) so be patient. It is better to plant varieties that like the conditions you put them in (ie. early carrots, late cabbages) than trying to force nature into behaving as you want. You know, or will get to know, the weather conditions for your veg patch, so work with them. The south may be warmer, but the north doesn’t have hosepipe bans! Cloches make a huge difference where your patch may be shaded, or you get lots of frost; they stop the frost, warm up the soil and keep heavy rain off the soil.
The size of your plot, and what you want to grow will dictate how much you want to sow, and what type of veg, but below is what you could be doing (not what you have to). With one exception, if you want some, plant your Jerusalem Artichokes and Parsnips this month unless the ground is waterlogged or frozen.
There are boring jobs to be on with as well, like cleaning the mower, washing out old plant pots; but this is a nice job to do on a sunny frosty day, when the soil should be left alone. Also, don’t forget your compost bin. Have a look, is it dry, is it cold? If it’s in a sunny spot winter sun can keep it very warm, and any early grass mowings will be an effective activator to get things going. If you think wildlife may be hibernating in it, wait till March, otherwise, open it up and turn it now, using what you can on the plot.
The weather in February can be a complete mixture. In 2007, early February saw warm sunny days, with temperatures of 10C in the sun, crocuses were out, buds were forming; but at night temperatures dropped to -3C with frozen ground, and snow fell on 8 Feb 2007 after a week of lovely sunny days. In 2008 early February saw the birds out and the smell of spring in the air, and then temperatures plummeted to -5C during the day and -10C was recorded on 16/2/08 in Birmingham. February 2009 started with lots of snow and freezing temperatures all over the country. From 2 Feb the snow lay thick and solid here. February 2010 had day after day of frozen ground, fog and lots more snow. So, enjoy the sun and scenery, but don’t plant out can be the moral of the story for February.
Plant this month:
In Feb 2008 the plot let us pick Kale, the last of the leeks and of course, lots of Jerusalem artichokes. In the veg plot there was Rocket, the last cabbage, Kale and the last leeks. In 2009 the plot was obliterated by snow and everything was frozen solid. If we could have got them out there were still cabbages, beetroot and leeks and of course Jerusalem Artichokes. Feb 2010 was a blur of fog, frozen ground, snow, rain and yet some perfect carrots and parsnips were lifted, and the dear Jerusalem artichoke, and some Kale was still edible, as was the parsley, though somewhat bolted. And chives were just peeping through. Feb 2011 was very windy, but there was not much to eat from the patch except some lovely leeks, and Jerusalem artichokes. The first pink shoots of Rhubarb appeared, and were covered over. The chives are back again. The kale and cabbages look battered! Despite winter 2011 being mild, February 2012 was pretty frozen and snow lay about, so little got done apart from making paths, and fixing raised beds. The Brussels sprouts kept going, and some cabbages survived the rabbits. The last of the parsnips were eaten, and the evergreen Rocket looks like it’s had it! Some purple sprouting broccoli appeared at the end of feb which was lovely, and the first Rhubarb shoots are through. February 2013 saw a bare patch, which was raked and manured and covered, ready for a bountiful year. The chives were just peeping though, and the fruit bushes have buds ready and waiting. February 2014 passed by mild, windy and wet. I saw slugs, and hosta tips, and bulb tips coming through. The crocus and Iris reticulata were out the second week of Feb, and the chive shoots are growing. Buds are on all the fruit bushes, and trees, ready to burst, and luckily I just got the fruit tree pruning done. We had the first and only snow of the season on 12 February but it was gone by lunchtime, to be followed by huge gales that evening that even lifted the artificial lawn! February 2015 has been quite dry, but still with very cold and frosty nights, and some snow. The chives are peeping through, and some crocuses are in flower. Two lots of horse manure from a local stable have gone down on the four veg beds. The fruit bushes have lots of nice fat buds and the golden fennel looks to be peeping through.