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. If you remember, December 2010 had been the coldest on record, yet December 2011 was distinctly average, and in fact seemed balmy up here with temperatures of 10c for Christmas shopping. December 2012 was so wet, but the bulb tips were peeping through, just as they have been this year after a mild autumn. Frost is good to kill off pests and diseases, but you can’t dig, harvest or even clear frozen ground!
When you can get out make sure you’ve at least put a top dressing of manure or compost onto your soil. If the area of soil you are planning to use is new, you can cover it with some mulching fabric (keeps light out, but lets water in, and keeps the soil warm). Try not to walk on the soil, but if it’s new (or covered in brambles and nettles and goodness knows what else) and you want to dig it over, then do so. Digging is satisfying and keeps you warm, but do too much and you’ll be bent double for a week. Some people think that digging messes up the soil’s structure and you should do as little as possible. Instead, create airholes and drainage channels by forking, and then cover the soil in organic matter to encourage worms to pull it down into the soil. Believe me, it’s a back-friendly option, as is growing come comfrey that has lots of uses and nutrients for your soil.
Have you got a compost bin or area ready? If not, get it started, it’s essential and a long term commitment, so you may as well do it now. Reckon on two years before you get some useable compost. If you can’t have one, dig compost trenches in your soil. It’s best not to empty compost bins now as you may disturb a hibernating animal, or frog.
Also, plan for some water butts. Sure you don’t need them now, but you will later on, but the rains come now. Find a down pipe, or put guttering on a shed, or some buckets you can tip into a water butt, so that you can start storing your water now. Plan your plot or garden so that you will not use a hosepipe, and only water from butts by watering can. This means maintaining good soil, using mulches and not having to many water-hungry pots.
Inside, you can be planning what you’d like to grow, looking at seed catalogues and going online to browse, and getting items ready to sow seeds. You can buy all sorts of trays, propagators, root trainers or you can make your own by recycling the plastic trays and pots that are usually thrown away as part of your everyday household rubbish. Keep yoghurt pots, plastic ready meal trays, plastic fruit trays, toilet roll inards, in fact anything that might be useful. Make your own pots from newspaper, and let friends and family know you’d love their unwanted seed trays, and plant shop bedding trays. Conventional wisdom says you should thoroughly clean all your old pots and trays, ready for planting. Also think ahead as to whether you need a cloche or two to protect young plants, and some sort of anti-slug control. Plant labels are essential, so look out for bulk-buy bargains, as you’ll waste a lot of time if you don’t keep track of what you’ve planted, and where.
Buying seeds is a very personal choice. There are loads of companies who deliver by mail order, or you can visit your garden centre, or even your local supermarket and hardware store. And if you can’t be bothered with seeds, many companies will deliver small vegetable plants to you at the right time, ready for you to plant out into your garden. Have a look at Home Grown Garden’s Useful websites to help you here.
By the end of the month you should have some seed packets ready to hand, or on the way to you, some compost in which to grow them, and an idea of where you will be putting the young plants in the garden. If it’s your first year then look at a crop rotation plan that shows you which crops to grow together, and which should follow on the next year. How you do this depends a lot on the amount of space you have, and the range of crops you want to grow, but it is important that you don’t grow crops in the same soil each year. Pests get established and nutrients are used up if you do. As a minimum, rotate every three years, so keep a record of what you plant each year, just three or four big squares on a lined pad is enough. And write down what you plant, so they go in the correct place this year and you can move them on to the right place next year. Mind you, if you do the ‘square foot garden’ everything’s such a muddle that plants rarely stay in the same place.
Make sure you have ordered any early potatoes that will need chitting as this can take six weeks or more. If you have prepared the ground, order any fruit bushes, trees and permanent veg plants you want to put in this spring. If you haven’t do it now, and if you can’t, don’t order. Permanent fruit needs a good site, so it’s better to wait until you can do that preparation rather than rushing in now.
Pruning, trimming, tying up and generally tidying up around fruit trees and plants can be done (but not plums, or cherries - trim them in summer). And if you are planning to plant some new fruit bushes and trees, make sure the ground has been dug over and manure dug in to give them a healthy home in March/April time. Keep any useful looking prunings and twigs to act as plant supports later in the year. Those lovely pea-sticks you hear about are very useful.
Assuming you want to garden organically, it’s time to clear out any cupboards in the garage or hut of your chemicals. Take them to the local tip to be safely disposed of, and you won’t be tempted to use them again. The space left can be used for all sorts of things like safe pest controls. “How many black pots do you need?” I have been asked. It’s like shoes, there are never enough.
Plant this month:
In Jan 2008 at the plot was the end of beetroot and spinach. Chard, cabbage, and kale were ok. Leeks were lovely. At home I was eating rocket, cabbage, rainbow chard, and leeks. The green manure of Field beans were through, but many chewed off. Mustard green manure was looking very good. The garlic in a pot had new shoot popping through.
January 2009 saw still more leeks and beetroot from the plot, plus Jerusalem artichokes with Brussels and chard from the veg plot. Garlic planted in November was peeping through, and a green manure of field beans looked to have survived the frost. Curly Kale had been completely decimated by something, probably pigeons, so netting went over and the new shoots seemed to have recovered.
January 2010 was under snow until 18 January when it started to thaw, but it was a slow and messy process. The turnips look more like rugby balls than tennis balls, the parsnips are hiding but taste delicious, some carrots remain and the kale stands proud. The new brassica look ok considering they’ve been under a blanket of snow for four weeks. But the phacelia has finely gone to rot.
January 2011 seemed to fly by, and apart from some apple and pear tree pruning little was done. Once the snow had gone everything looked brown and flattened. The protective pots over the brassicas had been blown to the far corners of the garden, the leeks were frozen solid in the soil and the creeping buttercup looked healthy and defiant. 100m of permealay has been bought to cover it up this year.
January 2012 was amazingly unproductive, considering how mild the weather was. But it seemed to be wet on a Sunday when I usually visit the veg patch. I did however lift some leeks, and some flat leaved parsley. Plans to reduce the number of beds we use have been put in place, and one large, and mainly unproductive bed under a damson tree is going to be turned over to annual flowers. The green manures make the plot look nice, rather than empty and desolate.
January 2013 started very warm, and then went very cold (-13c) and then the snow came. The month ended warm, wet and windy. I have three spindly cabbages looking at me from the patch, and new chive shoots peeping through. There are buds on the fruit bushes, and the bronze fennel is sprouting from its base. In the greenhouse the autumn sown sweet peas are still there, small but perfect, alongside my new inside greenhouse/outside greenhouse thermometer.
January 2014 was wet and mild, and looked to be heading the way of December. The water butts are overflowing, the ground is sodden and flooded, but everything’s got buds ready to burst forth! When the sun came out it was lovely, and the small green shoots of chives are peeping through. In the greenhouse, some things are looking very healthy. In the south this was the wettest January on record, with flooding everywhere.
January 2015 was sunnier than normal, but still there was torrential rain, snow, ice, all the winter lovelies. But on clear days I did get out, and tipped more manure on to the soil. The buds all look thick on the fruit bushes, and I pruned the apple, taking out a large diseased limb.
January 2016 was very wet, and very windy. In Yorkshire there was flooding again, and the Stray in Harrogate was under water in many places, but no doubt the crocuses will still appear in about a month. Cabbages in the veg patch seem to have a grown a bit, and there are fat buds on all the fruit bushes. Some Purple Sprouting Broccoli seedlings are germinating in the glass house.