Your organic vegetable garden in February 2014
Now is the time to start sowing the first of the early crops. Click here to find out just what can be sown now.
Picking now at Ryton Gardens in unheated tunnels and greenhouse: sown September 2013
- Get organised: Once the growing season starts, it is nice to have all the necessary equipment to hand. This is a good time of year to:
- collect plastic bottles and make bottle cloches
- make your own plant labels from used plastic containers,
- gather together supports such as pea sticks for climbing plants and other essentials
- check fleece, netting and other crop covers for holes and buy more if they are in tatters
- scrub seed trays, modules and pots with hot soapy water or with Citrox disinfectant (available from the Organic Gardening Catalogue)
- Buy your seed potatoes now if you haven't already got them. Store the tubers in a light, cool (10°C), frost-free spot and leave them to sprout. This is known as chitting. Egg boxes make good chitting trays. Make sure you put the tubers with the 'eye' end - where the sprouts will grow from - upwards.
Rhubarb forcing pots
- Rhubarb is usually eaten as a fruit, but it is technically a vegetable. Rhubarb plants can be 'forced' in January and early February to produce a crop of delicious, slim, pale pink stems. Cover established plants with a large up turned bucket (at least 45cm/18in high), purpose-made clay forcing pot or even an empty plastic compost bin. This is to keep the growing shoots in the dark. Stems should be ready to pull in 3-4 weeks. Slip in a slug trap, if there is room, to protect the tender stems from these pests.
- Carry on harvesting kale, sprouts, chard and other hardy crops.
Digging in Grazing Rye
- Start to dig in overwintered green manures such as grazing rye and winter tares. Remember not to follow rye with a direct sown, small seeded crop such as carrots or parsnips as the decomposing rye foliage can temporarily inhibit germination. Leafy crops such as cabbages and spinach beet do well after tares, thriving on the nitrogen released as the foliage and root nodules decompose.
- It's easier to dig in a well grown green manure if you cut down the top foliage and leave it to wilt for a few days first. Or cover it with a light excluding mulch of cardboard or black plastic.
- If you have a no dig veg plot, cover the green manure with a light excluding mulch of cardboard or black plastic to kill the plants off before sowing or planting new crops.
- 'Top dress' overwintered crops, such as autumn planted onions, broad beans and spring cabbage, to give spring growth a boost. Use a good rich garden compost or chicken manure pellets.
Feeding the soil
What you feed your vegetable plots with will depend on what you are going to grow next, what was there last, and the basic fertility of your soil. Root crops and legumes (peas and beans) should thrive without any additional feeding.
Well-rotted strawy manure
ready to dig-in
- Other crops may benefit from a dressing of manure, well rotted compost or an organic fertiliser. Use compost at a rate of up to 2 shovels full per square metre, manure at half that rate. Fertilisers don't help improve soil structure – so, on poorer soils it helps if, at the same time, you can add a low fertility soil improver, such as leafmould or try the Organic Gardening Catalogue for a proprietary soil improver product.
- Compost trench: Continue to add raw vegetable kitchen waste to your compost trench. The trench should be one spade deep, preferably where your runner beans will grow this year. Cover the waste with soil, as soon as you add it, to prevent foxes or other animals from scavenging.
- Find lots more advice about planning for the new year here
Growing conditions can vary dramatically across the country, and also even within a locality. If you are new to growing and are unsure about exactly what to do when, try asking other vegetable growers nearby. And be guided by the weather and soil conditions.
Sowing advice from Garden Organic
If you are new to gardening, you may find our activity sheet ‘Sowing seed’ helpful. This is just one of the many practical activity sheets that are available on our website.
- If the soil and growing conditions are right, now is the time to start sowing the earliest vegetable crops. If the grass has started to grow, that's a good sign that the soil is around 5-6°C - warm enough to allow the hardiest seeds to germinate and grow. If you have a heavy clay soil that is slow to warm, wait a few weeks. Seeds sown in too cold or wet a soil are unlikely to thrive.
- To help the soil warm up more quickly, pull back any organic mulches, then cover with cloches or sheets of clear or black plastic. Put these in place a couple of weeks before sowing.
Sow broad beans
Broad beans, are best sown early so the plants are well grown by the time blackfly appears. These beans are very hardy and will thrive in early spring conditions. You can find a good selection of varieties in The Organic Gardening catalogue
- If the soil has warmed up towards the end of February then try sowing parsnips. In more exposed and northern areas it might be best to wait until March or later. The variety ‘Avonresister’ is an early maturing variety and has very good resistance to canker, and ‘Gladiator F1’ is the worlds' first hybrid parsnip producing a heavy crop.
- Salad onions ‘White Lisbon’ or ‘Purplette’ can also be sown directly in the soil now.
- It is your last chance to plant garlic this month. Several varieties are available from the Organic Gardening Catalogue
- Shallots: An easy crop to grow. Each bulb will divide to produce a clump of 5-6 shallots. ‘Longor’ is suitable for early February sowing or try ‘Red Sun’ in March, both are available from the Organic Gardening Catalogue. Apply a low-to-medium soil improver (such as garden compost), if the soil was not improved from a previous crop.
- 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. Order ‘Fuseau’ the ‘non-knobbly variety’, now from The Organic Gardening Catalogue.
- Chinese Artichokes: Also known as Crosnes du Japon. A hardy perennial vegetable. The tubers are favoured for their pleasantly mild flavour and can be eaten raw or cooked. An easy vegetable to grow. Prefers a fertile, moisture retentive soil – add garden compost and well-rotted leafmould. Harvest once the foliage is killed off by winter frost. Lift only when needed, covering the rest of the crop with a thick mulch of straw or hay. Direct sowing 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. They will romp ahead and give welcome fresh produce at a lean time of year.
Sow lettuce under
- The following crops are suitable to sow under cover now
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.
- 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
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 for example. But remember - the seedlings that appear will also need some warmth - and good light levels.
Sow in trays and modules
- Baby beetroot (M)
- Kohlrabi (M)
- Early cabbage
- Early cauliflower
- Bulb onions
- Spring onions
Newspaper pots are cheap and
easy to make. Plant the whole
thing once seedlings have grown – no
need to disturb the roots. Click here
for instructions on making paper pots.
- 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’). These are all available from the Organic Gardening Catalogue. Keep watered and cover with fleece if frost is forecast.
For more advice about growing veg in containers click here
- Plant a few pots of potatoes for an early crop – if you have somewhere frost free to keep them . Click here for factsheet on growing potatoes in containers.
- Dig up any weed potato plants growing from tubers left in the soil from last year, they are known as 'volunteer' plants as they are the overwintering carriers for the potato blight fungus, a serious and common disease of potatoes.
- See our factsheet on Potato blight for more information on this disease
- Bury stems and stumps of overwintered brassicas as soon as they have finished cropping. Bury them 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.