It’s a satisfying time of the year for the vegetable grower; now we can sow a number of seeds under cover to start the growing season. So even if it’s snowing outdoors, we can busy ourselves indoors getting the first crops underway.
This month we’re visiting the RHS flagship garden in Surrey, RHS Garden Wisley, gleaning great ideas on growing. Their well-tended fruit garden as well as their vegetable garden are great for inspiration.
They grow in containers as well as in raised bed and open soil, demonstrating that growing is possible for all, regardless of space (or lack of it!). So even if you have only a balcony growing your own crops is feasible.
Enjoy the start of the new growing year.
Jobs to do...
In February we start to notice the days becoming that little bit longer, and so a few more daylight hours to take advantage of. Give vacant areas of soil and good deal of manure or bulky compost. Make sure the manure is well-rotted. Very fresh manure can be too concentrated in nitrogen and burn roots of developing crops. When adding manure or compost evenly distribute it in the soil to encourage even growth. The benefits of manure include;
- Added nutrients to the soil
- Improved soil texture for just the right amount of moisture retention for roots
- Encourage beneficial earthworms
- Encourage beneficial bacteria
Over the winter frost action will have played its part in breaking up soil clumps into that create a good soil structure and texture. With the addition of manure you can dig the beds to provide a crumbly surface perfect for sowing seeds and transplanting young plants into once the spring arrives.
You can give the soil a head-start in spring by laying down some horticultural fleece which will warm up the soil, but still allow air to get through so the soil doesn’t become stale.
Once you receive your seed potatoes you can prepare them before planting in March. This simply means exposing the seed potato tubers to light and keeping them in a cool position like an east-facing window sill.
This enables the base of the shoots (called the eyes) to become strong and stumpy rather than long and weak, so that once you plant the seed potatoes they’ll produces stems that are strong rather than weak and spindly.
Keep the seed potatoes out of the ground while the ground is at its coldest and wettest will reduce the risk of rot too.
Cover dormant rhubarb crowns (parts of the part where roots and stem meet) with a 10cm (4in) layer of dried leaves or straw. Exclude from the daylight with an upturned container or purpose-made rhubarb pot.
If you are using an upturned container, make sure it is secured down with a brick or rock. In 3-5 weeks light-coloured, succulent and sweet stems will be ready for the picking.
February is a great month for harvesting parsnips- they’re likely to have been touched by frost, intensifying their flavour, for a lovely accompaniment to wholesome winter dinners.
Dig up with a border fork, preferably when the soil is not frozen and take care not to damage the edible roots with the fork tines.
If you want to store parsnips, either heel them into soil until use or store in airy boxes in a dry shed or garage.
It may be worth leaving a parsnip or two in situ, to grow on in the spring. They are very decorative ornamental plants, used in past Show Gardens at RHS Chelsea Flower Show, and attract beneficial pollinating insects to the plot.
Test the pH of your soil to really get to know it. Testing how acid or alkaline the soil is crucial for you to learn which crops are going to thrive and which are going to struggle more.
If the soil is too acid or alkaline, crops will find it more difficult to take up certain micro-nutrients essential for good development. The pH extremes are likely to provide soil environments that are favourable to unwanted pests and diseases.
If the soil shows up as too acid you can neutralise it using lime. Conversely, if too alkaline, add seaweed-based feeds to bring down the alkalinity.
This month we visited the RHS flagship garden in Surrey so we could glean inspiration from their well-kept fruit and vegetable plots, and see how kitchen gardens can look handsome even in mid-winter.
Lovely bays can be grown in the ground or pots. Harvest their leaves all year round to add to delicious sauces and casseroles.
A herb pot need not stand vacant at any time of year even in the grip of winter. Just opt for the right herbs that can withstand the weather.
Green manure can be grown in attractive shapes; so attractive and ornamental, as well as useful.
Cloud-pruned rosemary decorate the kitchen garden perfectly and add good structural impact.
Pruned pear trees- Producing lots of fruiting spurs even in a small place, these restricted pears appreciate a good helping of manure each year.
Root vegetables are great to grow for yourself; you can enjoy good harvests all-year round, on this family of vegetables alone.
They are good for the vegetable plot in the long-run too. The swollen roots break up the soil as they develop, to improve its structure and with its ability to hold just the right amount of moisture.
Take a look at three recommended varieties and some useful pointers when growing this family of vegetables.
Carrot Sweet Candle – F1 hybrid for vigour and disease resistance. A handsome, show-worthy variety!
Parsnip Gladiator – F1 hybrid, with RHS award-winning attributes. An easy-grow rewarding variety.
Radish Marshalls Mix – a zingy and colourful collection of radishes to add to your summer salads.
The best tips and troubleshooting for root vegetables
Prepare the soil well
For successful harvests, the key is to prepare the soil well before sowing. Root vegetables prefer a well-drained soil that retains a degree of moisture. Dig the soil well in winter prior to sowing and add bulky compost. Fresh manure is to be avoided as it’s too strong and causes crops to branch. This is what causes ‘forked’ carrots. They also prefer a soil that is almost neutral in pH – so very slightly acid. If your soil is particularly acid add lime which will increase the pH.
Feed the right fertiliser to improve size and quality
Plants put on good root growth mainly through the intake of phosphorous. In winter you can feed a great number of ornamental and cropping plants with a feed high in phosphorous. With vegetables like parsnips and radishes you want to enhance the swollen root as much as possible. Feeding with a high phosphorous feed (e.g Bone Meal Root Builder) NPK 4:20:0 will bring on strong root growth.
Root vegetables as ornamentals
Why not add one or two vegetable plants to your flower bed. Parsnips and carrots belong to the umbelliferous family of plants that not only produce tap roots but also lovely delicate lace-cap flower heads that look like clouds floating about delicate thin stems. Parsnip is a great-looking plant in the flower border and has been used in show gardens at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show for its airy, and delicate growth that wouldn’t be out of place in a cottage garden.
Root diseases to watch out for
A disease that carrots, parsnips, swedes, turnips and radishes are all susceptible to is black rot, which spoils root crops rendering them ugly and inedible. You’ll notice black lesions forming on carrots near to the carrot heads when they are in store. On turnips, you’ll see a black ring formed on the inside edge of the crop when they are in store. When growing, if you notice the leaves are yellowing and have black veins. You can prevent this disease, exasperated by warm and wet summers, by practicing crop rotation and making sure the soil is well drained.
New to Marshalls
Raspberry Black Jewel - A unique black raspberry which makes a delicious and versatile super-food.
This variety is set to be a hit – with so many health benefits it’s a must for any home-grower wanting to harvest vitamin-rich berries from June. As juicy as blackberries but with the perfumed flavour of raspberries, the fruits are lovely to eat fresh from the plant or added to smoothies rich in antioxidants and vitamins.
- Sweet fruits ripen as early as June
- Easy-to-grow plants produce up to 400g (14oz) berries in one year
- Super-food rich in cancer-fighting anti-oxidants and vitamins
- Makes great smoothies, wine, jellies and jam
- Attractive white blush on stems and fruits
- Praised by grower and presenter James Wong as 'Homegrown Haribo'
Read our blog on this exciting home-grown crop, with suggestions on tasty recipes and other fruit you can try!
Apple ‘Little Pax’ - great flavour and intriguing story
‘Little Pax’ is a dessert apple variety producing bumper harvests of flavoursome fruits on trees suitable for all gardens. A rich, aromatic dessert apple, it has a sweet flavour similar to honeydew melon and a subtle but lingering champagne-like quality. It has a firm, crunchy skin which gives way to a smooth, juicy flesh.
Each year ‘Little Pax’ produces an abundance of attractive mid-season spring flowers in pure white and delicate shades of pink. The flowers attract bees into the garden, making it an excellent pollinator-partner for other apple trees and it’s great for wildlife.
Grown onto a M9 dwarfing rootstock, ‘Little Pax’ is the perfect choice for growing in a large container or direct in the soil in a garden of any size.
Read about its mysterious origins….
Not so long ago, one small tree – with no name and of unknown origin – was gifted to St Cecilia’s Abbey in Ryde on the Isle of Wight.
Benedictine nuns at the 19th century Abbey planted and nurtured this sapling in their beautiful and peaceful walled gardens overlooking the Solent. In this quiet and safe haven, the tree was able to flourish, and soon after produced the most stunning spring blossom, followed by a bumper harvest of exceptional apples in late autumn.