February is a month that both excites and frustrates me as a gardener. Daylight is reaching a crucial number of hours this month, some seeds can be sown but it’s important to remember it’s still winter.
I’ve not sown anything over winter. I know many people will have sown chillies and tomatoes and onions in January, but I think it requires much more resource and doesn’t offer any significant advantage. For me, finding the most efficient way of doing things is important because it reduces stress and means our time (often limited) is better used.
What I’m sowing
When February arrives I’m thrilled to finally scratch that gardening itch and sow the first seeds of the year. But I’m cautious in what I should actually be sowing. I use Charles Dowding’s Vegetable Growing Diary, which outlines the crops he is sowing and the jobs to be done each month of the year. It’s a fantastic resource for those of us who often thumb through their seed packets and struggle to decide on when particular crops should be sown. Just let an expert tell you.
Charles’ diary starts in February.
“The diary starts now because it’s a lot about sowing dates, and mid-February is top time for the first action under cover. Light levels are suddenly improving, and on sunny days, the warmth builds fast under glass or polythene.”
Charles Dowding, Vegetable Garden Diary.
Temperature and day length are two primary environmental factors that affect plant growth. Plants have varying levels of temperature requirements to grow, but day length (actually it’s the length of the dark periods) has a much more universal effect. And when it comes to plant growth, the magic number is ten hours.
The benefit of waiting until February to start sowing seeds then, is down to the day length reaching that key 10 hours but also plant management. By this I mean a big part of the problem with sowing plants early in the year is the temperatures outside are prohibitive to many plants, especially heat loving tender crops such as chillies, tomatoes and aubergines.
There is a huge stress I find, as suitable indoor space is limited, in managing the young plants until the weather warms up and the risk of frost has past. By sowing in February as opposed to January, the time until last frost is reduced and it means less windowsill juggling and leggy seedlings.
Chillies, peppers and aubergines
I didn’t have the best results growing chillies and peppers last year. This was mainly because I grew them in pots that were not big enough. The result was poor growth and the plants were susceptible to drying out during the summer months. This year I will grow the chillies and peppers directly in the bed in the polytunnel. This will allow them ample space and will also ensure the roots do not dry out as easily.
Apart from the Peter ‘Penis’ Pepper, I have not bought any new chilli, pepper or aubergine seeds. This is part of my New Year decision to be conscious about my consumption in gardening and everyday life. I have, no doubt like many of you, stacks of seed packets that all have a cost attached and are just sitting in a large tin on the kitchen shelf. I am determined to make use of these this year before buying more seeds.
The chillies, peppers and aubergines have been sown into mini soil blocks. I bought a soil blocker last year after reading about them in Elliot Coleman’s books. Head over to my Instagram Profile and you will see a highlight button labelled ‘Soil Blocks’. Click on this to see how I tried and utilised soil blocks for growing seedlings last year.
Radish, onions and Beetroot
Over the next few weeks of February, I’ll also make the first sowing of radish, onions and beetroot. These will be multi-sown in modules and planted out in their beds in a few weeks time. I tried multi-sowing beetroot last year and it was an incredible success. Simply sow 4 or five seeds into a single module, pot or soil block and let them germinate as a cluster.
Four or five seems to be the appropriate number of plants in each one. The seedlings can be planted out as a clump and when it comes to harvesting you can take the biggest ones and leave the others to grow bigger. Again, this is a technique Charles Dowding uses in his market garden, you can see him doing it in this video.
Since late autumn, as well as mulching my beds, I’ve been working on the remaining area of my allotment that I’ve not really loved or turned into usable growing space since I took on the plot 3 years ago. It’s covered in brambles and couch grass.
I’m splitting the focus between creating a few new beds and area ready to build my long awaited shed. This such a good time of the year to do this. Because everything is dormant and lying still. The only fight is time. And the restriction of light and good weather.
How are your winter jobs coming along?
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